We help you speak English clearly.
Free Speech Lesson

English Speaking Training: Why Some English Words Have Strange Spelling –Etymological Spelling

Blog # 179 for Wed. Aug. 12, 2020  English Speaking Training: Why Some English Words Have Strange Spelling –Etymological Spelling 

Did you ever wonder why some words in English have such strange spelling?  The strange spelling gets in the way of accurate English pronunciation.  For most English words, maybe up to 70 to 75%, you can use the rules of pronunciation for the 14 vowel sounds and 26 consonants.  However, you must have 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 typical English pronunciation rules or changes in pronunciation.  Other words etymologically spelled are indict(Latin indictare),  receipt (Latin recepta)  subtle (Latin subtilis).

Add this phenomenon: when the spelling was changed, sometimes the pronunciation was changed.  Enter the “th” sound.  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.  But, 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. It also enables our subconscious to focus on and intuitively understand the  meanings of many related words. Put another way, our mind recognizes patterns of word meaning  based on etymological spelling.

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. 

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

Frblg4­_01102014  copyright 2020 Clear Talk Mastery, Inc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Captcha *