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English Speaking Training: Understand that Strange Spelling

English Speaking Training: Understand that Strange Spelling


Did you ever wonder why some words in English have such strange spelling?   For accurate pronunciation of many words, you say the consonants loud and clear using the positioning for English, not for other languages.  And for most words, using the English spelling rules for vowels, you can know the accurate pronunciation.

However, you have certainly noticed that some words have letters that you do not pronounce or series of letters that have a different pronunciation.  There are lots of reasons for this strange spelling in these words, but borrowing from another language’s spelling is a major reason.

Throughout history, it has been popular to borrow language and culture from other admired countries.  In Renaissance times, it became popular to borrow Latin spellings for otherwise perfectly typical words.  For example, the word debt used to be spelled dette, but the “b” was added to match the Latin word debitum.

Another example is the word doubt.  Doubt was borrowed from the French douter but was given new spelling based on the Latin dubitare.

This manner of spelling words is called Etymological Spelling.  This system of spelling relies on traditional spelling rules, and not on pronunciation or changes in pronunciation.  Other words etymologically spelled are indict(Latin indictare),  receipt (Latin recepta)  subtle (Latin subtilis).

Add to that this phenomenon: when the spelling was changed, sometimes the pronunciation was changed.  For instance, throne used to be pronounced and spelled  trone…  until the Latin spelling was reintroduced with an “h” after the “t”, and the pronunciation changed.  The word “thyme”  was respelled with an “h” but kept its original pronunciation.

Bankrupt got its “p” from the Latin  rupta.  Baptism used to be bapteme from French, but an “s” was added to match the Latin baptismus.

The difficult thing about Etymological Spelling is that it makes pronunciation difficult.  However,  for written English, it has the advantage of similar spelling of the root word for many words and tickles our subconscious into tuning into  and intuitively understanding the  meanings of many related words.

Nice! Now you understand more about the “th” and why some letters like “b,” “p,” “t,”  and “s” have come into the spelling of particular English words.  The evolution of a language is so interesting!  And these little explanations  will also make such spellings more memorable to you.

For more, see www.aloveofwords.com/209/09/02/renaissance-spelling by Maggie

Next time we explore how fragile is our intelligence and performing of skills.

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