A to Z

Read the title of today’s post aloud.

When I was a child I heard or read somewhere that one calls numbers–the counting ones, not the major mathematical constructs with multiple ten spots added to their rears–in the language in which one first learned them.  thus, a child who learns to count in a monolingual Spanish household will “always” translate back to uno-dos-tres (with lightning speed) later in life even while counting apples in a grocery in Denmark.

I loved this tidbit–whether fact or not–from the first, perhaps because my own rudimentary counting was absorbed simultaneously in English and French and I’ve caught myself wandering between the two when counting (although not when balancing a checkbook or doing anything arithmetic that is more sophisticated than what one might conduct on one’s two hands).  It’s given a fluidity to my understanding of “number facts,” although not the one my third grade teacher might have wanted me to absorb.

On the other hand, although I can spout the (or an) alphabet in English, a couple Romance languages and–stumblingly–in Ancient Greek, the English version is my true north.  But now, of course, it is more like my true not-quite-north, as its final letter isn’t pronounced here as it is in the US.  And I continue, even after a year during which I’ve heard “zed” repeatedly both in casual, idiomatic parlance (the same idioms as I know and have known that involve “z”, such as the title above) and as information proffered when spelling, etc., I am still caught up full stop.  Zed is not my deux.

What would it take for it to become so? In a year, I’ve been able to transform some other subtleties of language, including simple spelling rules.  But what I’ve absorbed, I realize, is largely the written, not the spoken–or, more accurately, the heard.  I see “z” as “see” even when I hear “zed.”  Do ears acclimate later than eyes, or do mine?  How is it that great leaps can be made in personal custom–changing my lunch habits, for instance–but that last letter remains exotic?


5 Responses to “A to Z”

  1. Marg Says:

    My friends give me grief when I am back in Canada for saying “zee” and not “zed” with a “your so American” dig so there is hope I suppose. On the other hand, I have been living South of the border for 14 years now so it may take some time :>). There are also a bunch of words like out and about and roof that are pronounced differently and most of the time I’m not sure anymore which way they are to sound in which place. And those are usually the ones that get a you’re Canadian, eh response down here.

  2. yvette Says:

    Well, it’s taken nearly 25 years but I automatically saying “zee” now, instead of “zed”. It’s a little harder when you have 3 accents to choose from and sometimes your brain scrambles them together and then you sound like you’re from Turkmenistan (or maybe you just sound like an idiot).

  3. halifaxing Says:

    And less than 24 hours after writing this post, I faced a group of 30 today and unwittingly said “A to Z[ee]”. They looked at me blankly–I assume they heard “A to C” and thought my range was bizzarely limited. Then I corrected myself and they smiled in an indulgent sort of way: “Oh, she sorta speaks English after all.”

  4. Marg Says:

    I must admit I just can’t say Zee39.50. It has to be Zed39.50.

  5. carole Says:

    does anyone know why the link to yvette’s name leads to the page it leads to?

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