The orneriness of the English language

From Nine To Noon, 9:36 am on 3 July 2015

Geoff NunbergWhy is spelling so hard even for literate adults?

Why should "inoculate" have one 'N" while "innocuous" has two? "Resistant" has one “A” in it, while "temperamental" has two.

Professor Geoffrey Nunberg is an American linguist, researcher and professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He's a longstanding commentator on language on American NPR. His latest book is called The Ascent of the A Word.

He says English-speakers take a perverse pride in the orneriness of our spelling, which can trip up even literate adults. And he argues that spelling competitions, like the famous Scripps National Spelling Bee which is televised in the United States, are much more about entertainment than English.

Professor Geoffrey Nunberg talks to Kathryn Ryan.