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English Communication: Fascinating Reasons for Those Unusual Spellings for Some English Words

English Communication: Fascinating Reasons for Those Unusual Spellings for Some English Words


You know that for as much as 70-75% of words in English, the pronunciation follows English language rules tied to the spelling of the word.

But what about the other words?  Why are they spelled the way they are spelled? Knowing the patterns will actually help you master the pronunciation and the spelling!

Here’s more of the reasons:

You know that people like to do things in easy ways.  Some people call that laziness.

People who investigate languages, linguists, call it “economy of effort”.  Speech sounds tend to change  to save effort for either the speaker (omitting sounds) or the listener (making sounds more distinct).

Influenced by Scandanavian and French languages, we eliminated troublesome bits of the complex Old English word inflections.  Thus a word like “hopian” got shortened to “hope.”  Over time, the “e” on the end stopped being said.

In more recent centuries, we simplified some sound combinations: “kn” became “n,” and “wr” became “r.”

We also stopped using – but still write – some sounds. The “kh” sound we spelled gh got changed to “f” as in laughter or just dropped, as in daughter.

That’s not all. Sometimes sounds change, and we don’t know why.  The most prominent example of this in English was the Great Vowel Shift.  From 1400s to about 1700, for reasons that are not clear, our long vowels all shifted pronunciation in our mouth. Before that time, “see” rhymed with “eh”; “boot” was pronounced like “boat”;  “out” sounded like “oot.”  Pronunciation changed, but spelling stayed the same.

Then there is the written English or English in print. Scribes and typesetters will also do things in the simplest way for them.  Scribes came from France and typesetters from the Netherlands and Belgium, where the first printing presses in Britain came from.  They did their written and printed English tasks to the habit they were used to.   The French scribes, with their Latin influence, took the word “cwen” and determined that what they heard was “queen.”  The Dutch typesetters felt that “gost” was missing something, so they added an “h” to make “ghost.”

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 24, 2016

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