The discussion of whether to pronounce picture file format GIF with a soft or a hard ‘g’ is one that, I’m surprised to find, just runs and runs.
For a lot of internet folk, this is an ISSUE and they are RILED about it.
But, the thing is, I’m looking at that sentence and wondering why no one’s arguing about how we pronounce ‘issue’ and ‘riled’. Where’s the internet campaign to pronounce issue as ‘iss-ooh’ and riled as ‘rih-lud’? After all, those pronunciations make as much sense as our pronunciation of GIF (whether you fall in the hard-g or soft-g camp).
The key word there, by the way, is sense. That’s the trouble: there’s no sense in the English language. And trying to impose sense on something fundamentally nonsensical is just a recipe for anger and frustration.
English is an opaque (or non-transparent) language. This jargon-y term just means English doesn’t follow a regular, consistent set of rules. And, often, words aren’t spelled the way they are spoken.
English is a living, breathing thing; it’s a historical document as much as a language. It reflects the, uh, colourful history of England. ‘Colourful history’ is a polite way of saying we’ve been invaded by other countries. And we’ve done quite a bit of invading ourselves! Every invasion has changed the language we speak just a bit. We’ve picked up hundreds of words from other languages over the centuries, creating a cultural mish-mash.
The result is that speaking English involves using many different language rules from many different countries. ‘Chef’ is French. ‘Choir’ is Greek. The French pronounce ‘ch’ as /shuh/, but the Greeks pronounce ‘ch’ with a /kuh/ sound. Since we’ve assimilated both pronunciations into English, both are ‘correct’.
English also keeps evolving. Back when we used to speak Old English, we pronounced the K in ‘know’ and ‘knight’, but now they’re silent. The internet means that English is changing at an even faster speed, as we share our language all around the world.
GIF is just another flashpoint in the infuriating, lovely and utterly nonsensical language of English.