Why ghoti gives me the tiotce

I am usually a reasonably measured person but I have just about reached my limit. Four times in a little over a week I have encountered somebody using ghoti as an argument against using an aspect of systematic phonics instruction. For those unfamiliar with the term often misattributed to George Bernard Shaw, the expression ghoti (pronounced like ‘fish’) is supposed to be a clever wordplay using a number of the grapheme-phoneme correspondences found in the English language. In this case ‘gh’ as /f/ from enough, ‘o’ as /i/ from women and ‘ti’ as /sh/ from notion.

I even read in a recent paper the use of phtheighchound (not entirely tongue-in-cheek) to be pronounced as taken. Take it as a challenge to work out the what words the GPCs in that nonword are taken from.

What gives me the tiotce is that each of these examples involves clear ‘illegal’ applications of the GPCs: ‘gh’ is never /f/ at the beginning of the word and ‘ti’ is never /sh/ at the end. Yet this doesn’t stop the seemingly incessant delivery of this ‘word’ as a key component of an argument against use of a systematic phonics program or using decoding as the primary reading strategy. It is infuriating because the ignorance of such ‘illegalities’ would never be accepted in other areas like mathematics. I have never seen someone argue that, although 1 + 1 = 2, you could rearrange the components of the expression to give 1 1 + = 2 and so that rearrangement somehow invalidates the principles that underpin the equation.

We know that English has a deep orthography and it is not a transparent alphabet but that is not reason enough to ignore that regularities exist and that systematic instruction in phonics is a key component in teaching kids to read.

So, I will not be teaching my kids to ghoti but I will be teaching them to read.

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2 thoughts on “Why ghoti gives me the tiotce”

  1. I agree; ghoti is not an argument against teaching phonics and phonemic awareness. I think it’s an argument for teaching orthographic conventions as well ;). But it might be a weak argument against teaching synthetic phonics? After all, GPC depends very much on orthographic context, and teaching children to read artificial words – words that have no context – phonetically might confuse them when it comes to real words. I wonder?

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