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Phonetic alphabet could improve life

Last week, I learned of an incredible construct that has the power to enrich our entire globe.

It's called the International Phonetic Alphabet, and it would save those of us with unavoidably unpronounceable names approximately 20 pain- staking verbal corrections each month -- add in written renditions and you can easily double that estimate.

Imagine what one could do with that extra time. Why, I could learn Hebrew, or master that plinking sound talented people can make by flicking their finger on their cheek; I could invent a new type of screwdriver head, or watch all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls and eat twice my weight in cherry cobbler.

You see why I'm so hyped up over this?

The International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA if you've got a fondness for acronyms, like I've developed since exposure to Hamline's many on-campus examples, consists of characters denoting every fundamental speech sound used in any language on planet Earth.

Spelling with this alphabet guarantees all words can be said correctly when judged by the characters they're comprised of. This is obviously not the case with English. Take Irish (happy St. Patrick's Day!) writer George Bernard Shaw's example: how would one pronounce the fictional word "ghoti?" Georgie Porgie suggests "fish."

Say what?

GBS claims that English is so messed up, and our letters so ambiguously related to our phonetics, that we could take the "gh" sound from the word "rough," the "o" sound from "women," and the "ti" from "nation" and come up with a new way to write about what Catholics are having for supper on Friday.

The man makes a valid, if delightfully ridiculous, point.

So, guys, what's taking us so long to put the IPA into everyday action? Are we going to wait until those who chronically suffer the unutterable agony of knowing a mere seven people outside their immediate families consistently say their names correctly weaken us to the point of -- gasp -- failing to care?

I should certainly hope not, folks, and yet I see evidence to the contrary plaguing the good-but-confusingly-named people of the world.

I myself spent seventh grade health class in needless anguish because of a teacher who not only couldn't say my name, but pronounced it differently every individual day of the trimester. Barely surviving such distress, I make it my mission to ensure no more innocents are thus sentenced to lives of pained identification.

Adopting the IPA as our new spelling system would promise a better life the next generation of uniquely named firefighters, police officers, airline attendants, and funnel cake stand workers. Plus, my name looks super pretty in its IPA transcription. It's got this funky symbol that looks like the twirled line from a treble clef. Practical and aesthetically pleasing? Who could resist?

I came across this potential catalyst for revolution in my Language Phenomenon class, which I took largely because any class with "phenomenon" in the title has to be cool, not knowing how far its phenomenality could carry.

It's taught by this adorable old man, who wore an off-white turtleneck for the first two weeks of class, and only this month wore a shirt that didn't cover his neck. The blatant immodesty stirred quite a scandal.

Still, you can't help but like the guy who enlightened us to the power of the IPA, has a palpable passion for linguistics, and instills us with seeds of wisdom like, "If you bring children into this world, don't keep them in a closet," and "I would discourage you from becoming prophets" because we'll inevitably be hated by our own nations and it's just "not a nice job."

I must admit, though, that I have a single qualm with my professor, whom I otherwise find absolutely charming.

He hasn't said my name right since the first week of February.

Thressa Johnson graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends Hamline University in St. Paul.