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English Speaking Skills: Understanding Gets You to Pronunciation Mastery- Important Reasons for Some Strange Spellings

English Speaking Skills: Understanding Gets You to Pronunciation Mastery- Important Reasons for Some Strange Spellings


Here are two sets of words which give you a sample of words in English that do not follow the rules of pronunciation or spelling of English.

Corpse and corps

Horse and worse

About 70% of the words in English follow the rules for pronunciation (and spelling).  However, 30% do not.  How did that happen?

The story is fascinating. Here are some of the reasons that go all the way back to the beginning of English as a language.

English uses an alphabet which uses letters that come from Latin.  Unfortunately, English does not share exactly the same set of sounds as Latin.

The other sources of problems with English spellings comes from its invasions, thefts from other languages, sloth or laziness (people like to do things in the simplest way), caprice or chance, mistakes, pride and the simple fact that all things change.

Invasion and theft

First, the Romans invaded Britain in the 1st Century AD and brought their Latin alphabet.

Then in the 7th Century, The Angles and Saxons took over Britain, along with their language.

Beginning in the 9th Century, Vikings occupied parts of England and brought their language (including “they,” replacing the Old English “hie”),

Then Norman French conquered in 1066 – and replaced much of the vocabulary with French, including words which over time became beef, pork, invade, tongue, and person.

The English pushed out the French (but kept their words).

A few centuries later, Britain began to acquire territories around the world – America, Australia, Africa, India.  With each new colony, Britain acquired words: hickory, budgerigar, zebra, bungalow.

The British did trade with everyone and took words as they traded.  We call that  “borrowing.”  When we “borrow” words, for some words we adopted the pronunciation but changed the spelling: galosh (from French galoche), strange (from French estrange).

For other words, we didn’t change the spelling, but we changed the pronunciation: ratio (originally like “ra-tsee-o” in Latin), sauna (the Finnish au is like “ow”), ski (in Norse, said more like ‘she”).  Or we kept the spelling and to a good extent, the original foreign language pronunciation: corps, ballet, pizza, tortilla.

Be sure to watch our English Speech Tips videos and Accent Reduction Tip videos  for more English pronunciation and accent reduction exercise.

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Rerun from Feb 17, 2016

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