Talk:English orthography

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Correspondance tables: Original research?[edit]

Hi everybody, althought i like the correspondance tables and would like to improve them, I wonder if they could be considered original research, and someone could ask to remove them! Tomthumb2014 (talk) 15:16, 10 October 2014 (UTC)

Orthography reform[edit]

Have there ever been any efforts at orthography reform, to bring spelling and pronounciation closer together? --AxelBoldt

I always liked this one by Mark Twain. --Zundark, 2001 Nov 18

Axel - there have been dozens of efforts, in fact it deserves an entire article of its own. None of them have been successful, with the notable exception of Webster's efforts to simplify American spelling. (The colour -> color, catalogue -> catalog stuff).

Do not forget that in the 1970's or so, China changed it system of "Romanisation", using the unused letters or letter combinations for uniquely Chinese sounds: X="sh", j; z; zh. Since China is big and important place, its use of these letters means that they are no longer free for English to redefine them in its own right, as suggested by Mark Twain and others.

This is wrong. x=s and q=ch only before an i or ü, zh=j before other vowels, c=ts, z=ds, and s, sh, ch sound the same as English. And who says English has to follow Chinese anyway.

It is noted, that the spelling reform proposed by Mark Twain is inconsistent with the new Chinese usage; why don't these reformers co-ordinate their efforts?

Letter(s) Twain .... China

CH ...... C ........ ?

SH ...... Y ........ X

TH ...... X ........ ?

TH is a European-only sound.
There is already a page on Spelling reform, and the first section covers English. It should be linked from this article.
Mark Twain appears to have been joking, though I don't know his actual views. But the idea of progressive change makes sense. --Singkong2005 13:03, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
I think how foreign languages spell their words are not really relevant to English spelling. All languages have their own different spelling systems, the fact that "x", "zh" or "q" are used in the romanisation (pinyin) of Chinese sounds does not affect how these letters are used in English words. LDHan 12:19, 6 March 2006 (UTC)

"International English" and "Commonwealth English" nonsense[edit]

BTW - I am rewriting this entire series of articles, getting rid of the "International English" and "Commonwealth English" nonsense (except for noting that they are terms in the computer industry) and rewriting everything in terms of "Written American English", "Written British English" (which research shows are the two accepted terms in for the orthographical systems in all reference texts) and then treating all of the spoken variants on a regional basis, as is the current approach. - MMGB

Wow - big improvement! I'd still like to see the two domnant orthographies of contemporary English acknowledged.- MMGB

The page now says:

American English spelling diverged slightly from that of British English, partly as a conscious attempt at rationalisation, partly to distance the newly-independent United States from Great Britain, but the changes are so small as to make hardly any difference, and merely make work for proof readers and sellers of spell-checking software.

I'm not an English native speaker, but this "slight diversion" in the English spelling sometimes drives me nuts. In a Wikipedia page about English orthography, there really should be more about this topic than this small piece. Which is British and which American? color or colour? traveler or traveller? centre or center? encyclopedia or encyclopaedia or encyclopædia? organise or organize? catalogue or catalog? At a bare minimum, the most common differences should be mentioned. (Or a new page about this should be written (if it hasn't already) and a link to it should be on this page.)

This is now linked (differences between British and American spelling) in the second section. Singkong2005 12:10, 27 October 2005 (UTC)

The terminolgy of these different spelling is sometimes an issue on its own. People do sometimes insist on "Commonwealth English" instead of "(written) British English" and "International English" (oh the horror) instead of "(written) American English". --Adhemar

This is a really useful essay. --MichaelTinkler

I'm confused. Since there is no central body like "l'Académie française" or la Real Academia Española that regulates the English language, who decides what the "standard" spelling of English is ? For example, the Oxford English Dictionary, which is presumably the reference for British English, recommends the -ize spelling as in organize, organization, etc. Nevertheless, The Times, The Economist, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the UK government, and indeed most people in Britain write organise/organisation instead. On the other hand, we hear the preferred American spelling is canceled. Yet, many Americans write cancelled.
I assume that some degree of consensus on what the standard British/American English spelling is must exist; otherwise, there could not be automated English spell-checkers and English-speaking children could not be taught "proper spelling" at (in ?) school. In fact, if a standard spelling of English did not exist and writers, publishers, newspapers, educators and civil servants could simply write as it pleases them, the whole debate about the need for English spelling reform would be in itself pointless. For someone who lives outside an Anglophone culture, I guess it is difficult though to imagine how a standard orthography may be established without official legislation that defines it !Mbruno 17:14, 25 May 2007 (UTC)

Adding my first ever comment on Wikipedia here. The issue of how English spelling works and how it can be taught has been my main focus, first as a classroom teacher, and now as a graduate student, education researcher. I'd like to suggest that before going too far down the line of questions touched on here including the ideas of spelling reform, who 'decides' on standard English spelling (US vs. British?) and the like, we should first address the question - does a clear understanding of the purpose and convention of English spelling exist? The answer, I discovered in my 10th year as an elementary teacher (and horrible speller), is a surprising, but easily demonstrable "yes". Chomsky and Halle (1968) are frequently cited for identifying that for the purposes of representing the meaning of English words to those who speak the language, English orthography is "nearly optimal". Venezky (1970, 1999) also provides excellent work outlining the workings of how English spelling works to represent meaning. My own introduction to the workings of English spelling was through a set of teacher resources called Real Spelling ‹› by Ramsden (2001).

I'll offer just a couple of examples to highlight the surprising order of English spelling in words that are regularly treated as evidence of its irregularity. Consider the word ‹does›. This is treated a s "sight word" in schools and students are taught to memorize the spelling as it doesn't follow conventional phonics rules. Accepting this presentation of the spelling <does> makes the error of blindly accepting an assumed premise that the point of English spelling is to represent pronunciations with corresponding letters.

While the conventions for letter-sound correspondence (more precisely grapheme-phoneme correspondence)are a fundamental element of English orthography - it is just one of three interrelated elements that combine in meeting the fundamental purpose of any orthography - representing the meaning of words to those who speak the language. The three elements that inform English spelling are morphology (bases, prefixes, and suffixes - word structure), etymology (connections of spelling-meaning through word origins and between words) and phonology (grapheme-phoneme correspondences). Finally there are orthographic conventions such as "Complete English words avoid ending in the letter ‹v›, write ‹ve› instead".

Back to understanding the spelling ‹does›. If we look at the structure of this word, it is easy to establish that it is built on the base ‹do›: I do; she does. Thus the structure can be written as a word sum (a linguistic tool that shows the underlying structure of written words) like this: do+es → does. Note that this spelling employs the identical structure of the word ‹goes› that is never treated like an irregular spelling: go+es → goes. The convention that the ‹-es› suffix for the third person is used instead of ‹-s› identifies the reason for the ‹-es› suffix for both these words. What we are not taught in school is that the letter-sound correspondence in English is flexible, as over time it became a principle to represent the meaning units of words (morphemes - prefixes, suffixes and bases) consistently in spelling regardless of pronunciation shifts. Word sums for these two bases reveal that ‹done› do+ne → done and go+ne → gone are equally regular and consistent in terms of representing meaning - and illustrate the fact that English spelling has developed to represent morphemes consistently in our morphophonemic oral language.

Another example I often use to demonstrate the surprising order of English spelling is ‹sign›. The ‹g› is often treated as a frustration to be memorized. However, simply adding the ‹-al› suffix reveals that there is a useful purpose for this spelling: sign+al → signal. In English, words that are related in meaning and structure maintain the same spelling of morphemes to mark those connections. Thus the base sign builds a word family including: design, designate, resign, resignation, signature (sign+ate/+ure) and many other words. As indicated by the word sum for ‹signature›, we also need to learn the consistent suffixing patterns that explain patters for suffixing changes. If you work out the spelling structure of the distinct bases that build the words ‹hoping› and ‹hopping› you can see the value of explicit instruction of the conventions for dropping silent ‹e› and doubling single, final consonants.

Finally, consider the word ‹business›. Countless misspellings I have generated in the past or seen in my students include: *bisniss, *busniss, *bussness, *bizness...

The underlying problem leading to these misspellings is that the speller is trying to rely on sound or perhaps visual cues ("I know there is a ‹ss› somewhere") without structural understanding. A combination of phonology and morphology is required to explain - and thus support understanding of the spelling. The suffix ‹-ness› is a common suffix that always uses the ‹e› and the ‹ss› regardless of pronunciation, thus we can demonstrate this part of the word. This leaves us with a working word sum like this: busi+ness → business. At this point you may have recognized that while there is no word ‹*busi›, there is ‹busy› and the meaning and structure are logically related to ‹business›. Again conventional suffixing patterns, combined with the convention (that needs to be taught!) that complete English words avoid ending in ‹i› reveal the word sum: busi/y+ness → business.

From the earliest ages school children should be taught that the letter (grapheme) ‹s› has a few jobs including representing /s/ (e.g. signal, snake, cats) and /z/ (e.g. design, dogs). If possible grapheme-phoneme correspondences for the word ‹busy› are explicitly taught, in conjunction with the structural aspects of English spelling (etymology is crucial too!)children can learn the logic of English spelling and use it as a context for problem solving spelling - meaning connections instead of struggling with the incorrect model presented in schools.

For more on understanding how English spelling works - visit or my own little site Another excellent resource is Marcia Henry's book Unlocking Literacy: Decoding and Spelling Instruction.

Pete Bowers —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:38, 24 September 2007 (UTC)

-I find the use of "sign" as an example in this page to be questionable at least. Apart from the points brought up above, the simple fact that the pronunciation of the word changes because of the presence of the "g" is enough to render moot any argument about it. In order to avoid confusion with pronunciation, one would have to add other letters in place of the "g", most probably an "e" in the end? What possible benefit would that have? N.P. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:53, 28 November 2011 (UTC)

Spelling of Czech[edit]

Furthermore, in most recent loanwords, English makes no attempt to Anglicize the spellings of these words, and preserves the foreign spellings, even when they employ exotic conventions, like the "cz" in "Czech" or...

Is "Czech" really a loanword of a preserved spelling? If so, please tell which language does that spelling come from. I can only say that the Czech stem for this is "Čech", which engages even a letter with a diacritical mark, so this spelling could not be preserved in English at all. Maybe it is a loanword from Polish, in which the name for Czech Republic is "Czechy" (although unlike in English the "ch" is pronounced like in "Bach", and not like "k")? Blahma 09:10, 31 August 2005 (UTC) identifies 'Czech' as coming from Polish. The pronounciation of the 'ch' in Polish doesn't really matter, we don't have a voiceless velar fricative so words borrowed from other languages with them are usually pronounced as /k/, sometimes as /h/ or /tS/ (english 'ch' sound). Adapting foreign words to fit your phonology is a usual part of the borrowing process. — Felix the Cassowary 10:22, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
Frankly, the explanation on looks suspicious. The Czech word "Čech" was written as "Czech" prior to the Jan Hus orthographic reform in the 15th century, and even though the old spelling gradually faded away, it was occassionally used until the 19th century. It is more natural to assume that the English word comes from Czech than from Polish. This is only a personal speculation, but nevertheless I feel that the "Polish theory" needs a more serious source than a short remark in an online dictionary. -- EJ 20:34, 24 January 2006 (UTC)
The OED gives etymology [Boh. Čech, Pol. Czech.]. The earliest citation with the spelling "Czech" is from 1850. Note the other spellings used contemporaneously, which also follow neither English nor Czech conventions. Joestynes 09:20, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
1841 PRICHARD Phys. Hist. Mankind (ed. 3) III. 416 The Moravians are nearly akin to the Tschechi or Bohemians. 1850 LATHAM Varieties of Man 539 Native name Tshekh (Czech). 1852 Ethnol. Europe 241 Both populations are Tshekh speaking the Tshekh language. 1866 ENGEL Nat. Mus. vii. 265 The national dances of the Czechs. 1879 Encycl. Brit. VIII. 701/2 Czech, or Tsekh, is the national language of Bohemia, and is also largely spoken in Moravia and north-western Hungary.
Thanks. That's interesting, I would have thought the word is somewhat older. So, as I understand it, the English word as such comes from Czech, but its spelling finally stabilized in a Polish form, which survived a mess of other spellings (particulary, German-influenced). As this article is about English spelling rather than language in general, I'm fine with that. -- EJ 20:07, 25 January 2006 (UTC)

Maria's here![edit]

Question: Is it correct that "Maria" in RP rhymes with "here"? I've never heard such a pronunciation (but then I'm not British). —Eric

I had to think about it for a second (the idea that these could rhyme seems insane to this American rhotic speaker), but I *think* that's correct. The dictionaries I checked give "here" in RP as /hI@/ (recoded into SAMPA notation), so to match you'd have /m@'rI@/ for "Maria", which doesn't sound implausable. Brion VIBBER
Hm, FWIW they don't rhyme in Australian English, which is usually compatible that way with RP. Maria has three syllables: /mə riː ə/, whereas here has just one: /hɪə/. Also, in Australian English, Maria is usually pronounced phonetically much like it is phonemically, whereas here is more usually pronounced (at least verging on) [hɪː], so usually they're quite distinct, like player and prayer. Still, there are occasions when here gets a pronunciation like [hiːɐ] so they're sometimes merged in pronunciation. (Usually, there's mergers between ear (ere, eer, ier etc.) and (as in idea, theatre), but not between ear (etc.) and ia or io (as in idiolect).)
That's only for Australian English mind—and perhaps only my ideolect. Still, I'd imagine it holds more generally for Australian English and Received Pronunciation.
Felix the Cassowary (ɑe hɪː jɐ) 13:44, 28 October 2005 (UTC)


This article needs to tell the untrained reader what orthography means. Kingturtle 21:47 May 5, 2003 (UTC)

See orthography. FilipeS 15:25, 25 November 2006 (UTC)
Is orthography too technical (as for academic specialists) rather than for a general readership as it should be and without being too like like any level of teaching text? WP:NOTTEXTBOOK WP:NOT PAPERS "Texts should be written for everyday readers, not for academics. Article titles should reflect common usage, not academic terminology, whenever possible." I suggest we re-create this article using Writing system as a parent article however whilst 'English Spelling' re-directs here the article really ought to stress the historical story of literacy and spelling formalisation alongside the history of technical linguistic study rather than only induct into technical terminology and perspectives of the academic field of orthography? Othography as a branch of linguistic study is not the only respectable lens to choose and as the writing article shows plain language is possible. A general reader is starting as only a student of spelling and punctuation and this article need look like an expansion on literacy as in the background to teaching of phonics and tricky words but certainly also the general depth behind spelling as written representations of spoken language. Kathybramley (talk) 11:06, 13 February 2012 (UTC)

Jo is old[edit]

The page says:

Since the 1970s and possibly earlier, affectionate versions of women's names that sound the same as men's names have been spelt differently: ... Jo and Joe.

Jo March was the female protagonist of Little Women, published in 1868.

Yes, but Jo was a boy in Up the Faraway Tree, published 1951. See The Magic Faraway Tree series#Updates. jnestorius(talk) 01:47, 28 July 2006 (UTC)

Norman spelling[edit]

The article says:

"The pronunciation /ʌ/ (normally spelled u) of written o in son, love, come, etc. is due to Norman spelling conventions prohibiting writing of u before v, m, n due to the graphical confusion that would result. (v, u, n were identically written with two minims in Norman handwriting; w was written as two u letters; m was written with three minims, hence mm looked like vun, nvu, uvu, etc.)"

But first of all, why would the Normans need to spell "son", "love", etc, which are English words? And secondly, according to my Old French professor and textbook, "u" for "o" is particularly Anglo-Norman where other forms of French would have "o" (the pronouns "mon" and "ton" for example were spelled "mun" and "tun" in Anglo-Norman). The stuff about the mimins is true but I am not aware of any orthographical changes that happened because of it (and, in fact, because scribal abbreviations often replaced m and n with a symbol there would be no need to avoid the combination of -un or -um in the first place). Adam Bishop 19:57, 4 January 2006 (UTC)

After the Normans invaded England in about 1066, French became the language of learning and culture and English more-or-less stopped being written. Some time later, it started to be written again, by people who were literate in Norman French (even if they were born speaking English). "Normans" mightn't've needed to've spelt "son", but people who only knew "Norman spelling conventions" would've. (I don't know about the spelling of o vs u in Old French so can't comment.) One orthographical change that has come about because of the stuff about minims is that i's nowadays have dots on them. A second one is that in English, words like son, love, come are spelt with an o, to minimise the confusion. —Felix the Cassowary 02:28, 5 January 2006 (UTC)

article name[edit]

"English spelling" should be high up on a list of corny (not to mention unencyclopedic) article names. Why is it called "English spelling" instead of "English orthography" like it should be? If this were simple:, I'd understand, but it's not. Whoever's bright idea this article name was should notice that our article on English phonology is at English phonology, not English sounds. Tomertalk 03:34, 14 February 2006 (UTC)

This is not the way wikipedia policy guidelines have it: Wikipedia guidelines say 'everyday language where possible' - see orthography section below where I've explained and quoted and linked to the relevant section.Kathybramley (talk) 11:16, 13 February 2012 (UTC)
  • Support. 13:18, 20 June 2006 (UTC)
  • Support--WilliamThweatt 03:58, 14 July 2006 (UTC)
  • 'Oppose Kathybramley (talk) 11:16, 13 February 2012 (UTC) (wanted to register this despite it already having been changed)

Spelling patterns[edit]

Could we/I add a list of the spelling patterns of english here? Cameron Nedland 15:50, 17 February 2006 (UTC)

For example? Tomertalk 05:26, 1 March 2006 (UTC)
For example, tion, cian and sion usually make a shun sound, etc. (we should do the pronounciation parts in IPA)Cameron Nedland 23:39, 2 March 2006 (UTC)
I've added some and I'll put more later.Cameron Nedland 02:18, 3 March 2006 (UTC)

I converted them to a tabular form for more easy reading. Keep going! Would you also like to do the reverse (same spelling, different pronunciation)? −Woodstone 13:09, 4 March 2006 (UTC)

Gods bless you! I don't know how to make the charts, but you're a hero in my book. I'll see what I can do about the reverse.Cameron Nedland 16:21, 4 March 2006 (UTC)

I still can't figure out what I'm doing wrong with the charts.Cameron Nedland 20:58, 4 March 2006 (UTC)

I fixed it. Note that you can use the button "Show preview" to have a look at the result, without creating an entry in the history. After it's right you push "Save".
Tables start with {| and end with |} (in column 1); a new row starts with a line with only |- and then | on the next line; a new column starts with ||; there should not be a | after the row. You will get the hang of it. See also Help:Table. −Woodstone 21:32, 4 March 2006 (UTC)
Thanks again, I'm sorry.Cameron Nedland 21:32, 5 March 2006 (UTC)

I've figured it out now. Thanks.Cameron Nedland 00:13, 6 March 2006 (UTC)

I've made a start on the reverse version. I've tried to give an indication of whether these are normal or exceptions. It would be good to have add another example for each one which would help us determine what is normal and what is an exception. It's definitely a work in progress - you can see I lost the will when I got to 's'!

For the sound to spelling table, please could you state the variety of English - it really helps to know! Also, I was unsure about certain examples: soldier, conscience, biscuit and ocean. At least in my dialect (British), these are all followed by schwa and I think it could reasonably be argued that the following vowel should be grouped as part of the reduced vowel, not part of the consonant. For example, in biscuit I think 'c' is /k/ and 'ui' is /i/, not 'ci' is /k/ and 'i' is /i/. What do you think? Gailtb 23:06, 30 March 2006 (UTC)

I can see what you're saying, I'll have to get back to you on that.Cameron Nedland 01:35, 10 April 2006 (UTC)

On what basis are some proper nouns with unusual spellings listed (Sault Ste. Marie) and not others (Etobicoke, Beauchamp, Featherstonehaugh, etc.)? Poslfit

No basis, go ahead and add them (I don't know how those are pronounced).Cameron Nedland 20:18, 5 June 2006 (UTC)

The spelling patterns section says that the dialect is RP, yet many of the examples are clearly American. For example, 'lock' has a low back rounded vowel in RP (turned script a), not an unrounded vowel (script a). Also, the final r in words like car, score, etc. is not pronounced in RP, but is written in the transcription. The transcription actually seems much closer to General American. Makerowner 03:54, 2 January 2007 (UTC)

You're right. The o in lock is pronounced /ɒ/ in RP, not /ɑ/ as the the table suggests.
Actually it's the consonants section which says it's RP, which is correct. Combinations of consonant and vowel letters is also RP, but Sound to spelling correspondences is not. Gailtb 08:10, 27 May 2007 (UTC)

Wikipedia is not a 'how to' or repository as stated in 'What Wikipedia is not' guidelines so examples shouldn't be exhaustive but actually rather carefully pruned? Kathybramley (talk) 11:23, 13 February 2012 (UTC)

Letter-sound pairs in English[edit]

The article which is suggested to be merged here is not really about English spelling. In fact, it is just a table which shows the pronunciation transcription against the IPA. I would be in favour of just deleting it. Any comments? Gailtb 00:15, 31 March 2006 (UTC)

I agree it should be deleted. Being of value for interpreting just one web site it is not encyclopedic matter. However the official procedure RfD should be followed. −Woodstone 08:07, 31 March 2006 (UTC)
I happen to disagree. This has lots to with English spelling because it shows how we write certain sounds.Cameron Nedland 04:07, 1 April 2006 (UTC)
The point of contention is that it contains information pertinent to one website. As the information is already on this page, merge and remove the column. 13:12, 20 June 2006 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

The following is a closed discussion of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the proposal was move. -- Kjkolb 08:58, 22 July 2006 (UTC)

English spelling → English orthography – Rationale: "Orthography" is more encyclopedic and maintains consistency with articles such as French orthography, German orthography, etc. Also, we have English phonology, not English sounds. Would have done it myself already, but English orthography already exists as a redirect to English spelling. … Please share your opinion at Talk:English spelling. —WilliamThweatt 04:07, 14 July 2006 (UTC)


Add *Support or *Oppose followed by an optional one-sentence explanation, then sign your opinion with ~~~~
  • Support --WilliamThweatt 04:15, 14 July 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. More consistent with articles on other languages. −Woodstone 07:06, 14 July 2006 (UTC)
  • SUpport per nom. --Dhartung | Talk 23:38, 16 July 2006 (UTC)
  • Support, consistency is A Good Thing. Duja 08:25, 20 July 2006 (UTC)
  • Support, Apcbg 09:35, 20 July 2006 (UTC)
  • Oppose, what makes words of Latin origin better than those of Germanic origin?Cameron Nedland 22:25, 20 July 2006 (UTC)


Add any additional comments
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

Questionable assertion[edit]

The first line of the article states "English spelling (or orthography), has far more complicated rules than most all other spelling systems used by languages written in alphabetic scripts and contains many inconsistencies between spelling and pronunciation, necessitating rote learning for anyone learning to read or write English", but there really isn't any evidence given to support the claim that it is "far more complicated" than other languages. I also don't see how rote learning is necessary for reading English since you just need a dictionary on hand.

I agree with your first point, but not with the second. The sentence is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, a claim of something being "far more complicated" is a judgement call and would need a citation. Secondly, "complicated" isn't defined. Does it refer to just the "inconsistencies" and does that make it "complicated"? When I look at Welsh or Scottish Gaelic, for example, the rules and sound changes and lenitions, while somewhat consistent (or, more precisely, predictable), seem very complicated. This needs to be reworded or completely altered. However, rote learning is indeed necessary for "reading"...if one requires a dictionary on hand to distinguish simple words like "through" and "threw" or "their", "there" and "they're" than one can't truely say they can read English.--WilliamThweatt 04:37, 3 October 2006 (UTC)
English spelling has COMPLICATED rules, it is TRUE. I am Italian, in my language, for example, splelling rules are very easy, see written by French, not by Italian, about ORTHOGRAPHY. In Italian what you write you MUST read. Why in English you write "Happy" instead "Hapy"? as a matter of fact you don't read the second "P"! Why in USA COLOUR is COLOR? For a Italian who do not know other language it is a no sense. Everyone can learn to read Italian in 2 moths; but for English it is impossible: there are not rules! so how I can read English whitout a dictionary? Ask it to an Italian, a Spanish etc.--Vu Duc Thang 20:57, 10 November 2007 (UTC)
". . . for English it is impossible: there are not rules!" Actually, VDT, there are rules, but few of them are absolute and most native English speakers are not consciously aware of most of them - things just 'sound' or 'seem' right or wrong to us. In your example of 'happy', for instance, the doubled consonant 'p' is not itself pronounced, but it indicates that the preceding vowel 'a' is short to rhyme with [water]-tap, rather than long to rhyme with [video]-tape, as it would in 'hapy' if such a word existed. This works for many other words of similar pattern, such as tinny/tiny [like the metal tin]/[very small], holly/holy [spiky plant/religious] and so on. For an adult to learn English as a written foreign language you really do need a good textbook of grammer and orthography, as well as a dictionary.
As for the differences between English and American spelling, they're all the fault of the Americans, like most other evils in this world  ; ) . (talk) 10:47, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

Spelling examples[edit]

The way in which sounds are mapped to letters in the "Spelling patterns" table seems rather odd and inconsistent to me. For example in the word "guilt" the "gu" is said to represent the sound /g/, and yet in "build" the "ui" is said to represent the sound /ɪ/. You can't have it both ways. Similarly, in "hate", the "te" is said to represent /t/, and yet in "rate", the "e" is apparently part of "a•e", which in combination is said to represent /ei/. Either the "e" is considered part of the consonant sound, or, in combination, part of the vowel sound. I don't think you can claim both. If I looked further I could probably find some more examples.

There are numerous other examples I would question, to do with unsounded letters. For example, are the "s" in "debris", the "p" in "receipt" the "g" in "reign" etc. etc, really part of the spelling of the vowel sound (as is claimed), or are they just not pronounced at all? I would say the latter.

This is not a subject I know a massive amount about, so I am not going to make unilateral changes. However, I would be interested in others' opinions. Matt 22:32, 13 October 2006 (UTC).

With regard to gu versus ui, yes, you can have it both ways. English spelling is not consistent. FilipeS 15:24, 25 November 2006 (UTC)
My point has nothing to do with whether or not English spelling is consistent. My point is that when deciding how the letters in a word like "guilt" map to spoken sounds you cannot reasonably claim both that "gu" represents /g/, and that "ui" represents /ɪ/. Matt 23:01, 11 December 2006 (UTC).
It depends. If you're talking about the spellings "gu" and "ui" in same place of the same word, I might agree. If you're talking about those spellings in different words, then one can indeed say that "gu" represents /g/ in some words, and that "ui" represents /ɪ/ in others. Your mistake is that you expect the same graphemes to always have the same values, regardless of which word they're in. English spelling just doesn't work that way. Nor do several others, by the way. FilipeS 23:09, 11 December 2006 (UTC)


I agree with the first statement. I have various other questionable examples too ... particularly the /ɔː/ sound and how it is distinguished with the use of bold and the example words themselves. If you were to look at the Oxford English dictionary you would see that this sound is not pronounced with an "R", typically it is spelt with one though. E.g. the example cord is pronounced /kɔːd/ therefore surely the /ɔː/ sound should be highlighted as cord? Also the example door ... it has 2 sounds /d/ and /ɔː/ therefore it should be represented as door. Another questionable example is sure ... surley it ishould be represented as sure?.

I have various other suggestions too from the Oxford Engligh Dictionary that are not included here ... roar /rɔː/, or, more /mɔː/, pour /pɔː/. Silent letters should be included in the sound spellings as that is how they are represented visually in the English language. The same goes for tape and rate ... they can not be represented as tape and rate. One or the other ... I propose the former, the silent letter should cling to it's adjacent letter.



This article needs to be reorganized. It reads like an essay about why English spelling is bad. Rather than do this, the article should describe English orthography. This means showing what is regular and what is irregular where the regular and irregular spellings occur. It should also describe the function of the letters. Some letters directly indicate sound values (e.g. a in can indicates /æ/), other letters indicate something about the sound value of another letter (e.g. e in cane marks the a as a corresponding tense vowel /e/), other letters indicate word origin (e.g. y is used instead of i to indicate /ɪ/ in words with Greek origins), and other combinations of letter serve to distinguish between homographs and homonyms (e.g. a...e and ea in brake vs. break).

Also, the article should address the assumption that alphabetic writing should be strictly phonographic (one symbol per sound). This includes discussing underlying morphophonemic forms and including the ideas of linguists such as Noam Chomsky & Morris Halle. Also, the idea has been suggested that English spelling is, in fact, in many ways like a logographic system.

But, most of all the article needs references to support its assertions. – ishwar (speak) 21:57, 7 November 2006 (UTC)

"It reads like an essay about why English spelling is bad" - oh yes! Agree! I hated that! English is cultural-art, not clunky badly designed, and since further broken, machine! This is though often true of the way grammar punctuation and spelling are taught too and I don't think it helps! I think we need a rough equivalent of this article to follow off the Writing System article and include a range of perspectives not just this one bourne out of academia. Othographic study and a particularly critical-sounding rendering of it is not the only respectable lens through which to view English written language. It deserves to be described by it's own internal understanding first - and although English has developed for centuries alongside this rather critical comparative approach in the UK unlike European neighbours there has not been an actual legislative council discussing and ruling on written language conventions: the language belongs to the people and is reflected by the lexicographers etc who write it down; although the process is partly cyclical the language keeps being claimed by or ascribed to authorative viewpoints but they don't really have it! :) Kathybramley (talk) 11:53, 13 February 2012 (UTC)

/e/ and /o/ in English?[edit]

I don't think these phonemes exist in English. At least, in the best known dialects. English speakers typically have trouble pronouncing these sounds right in foreign languages. What English does have, and that's how most English speakers try to say these sounds, are the diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/. FilipeS 15:21, 25 November 2006 (UTC)

Sure they do. /e/ is in (British or American) bait and /o/ is in American boat. These are phonetically diphthongs [ej, ow] as are /i/ and /u/ in many British and American Englishes (i.e. [ij, uw]). There is never a contrast between [e] and [ej] or between [o] and [ow]. You dont need to indicate that /e, o/ are diphthongs anymore than you need to do so for /i, u/. You can simply state that all high and mid-high free vowels have off-glides (that is, the off-glides [j, w] in these vowels are predictable unlike the [j,w] in [aj, aw, oj]). However, since this article is not about English phonetics (and it shouldnt be about this), you dont need to state this here or use such a narrow transcription. This broad transcription practice is a standard in many works, (e.g. Kenyon and Knott). – ishwar (speak) 21:15, 25 November 2006 (UTC)

My reason for questioning that style of notation is that it's misleading for people who wish to make comparisons with other languages. I keep hearing English speakers describe the French é sound (say) as "the English 'a' in 'cake'". Using notations like /e/ and /o/ for [ej] and [ow], common as it may be, promotes this kind of error. In any case, it's certainly not universal practice in English. Many dictionaries use diphthong-type transcription. FilipeS 21:28, 25 November 2006 (UTC)

Ok. Well, this aspect of English phonetics is not relevant to discussing orthography. It is not clear that using a diphthong symbolization will show readers that English /e/ differs from French /e/ without a specific note to that effect (they would probably need to go to the French or English language articles). But, specifically mentioning this in the article seems off-topic.
Why would you focus on only this sub-phonemic aspect and not on the off-glides in [ij, uw]? I assume because the difference is rather salient for speakers of other languages? There are other sub-phonemic differences that are rather salient for other language speakers, such as the English voiceless word-initial d which is rather like French word-initial t or the higher starting tongue position of French /e/ vs. the lower starting position of English /e/. Statements like "the a in cake" are for readers who do not want to go into detailed phonetic comparison (actually it would be better compare "the i in kit" to French é). It just depends on how closely one wants to approximate native-like pronunciation.
Anyway, it's not clear to me why this needs to be focused on here as the concern is the mapping of the phonological representation of English to its writing system. Here we only need to indicate phonemes — accurate phonetics is not needed. Actually, I would guess that most American dictionaries (which dont use IPA) use a single symbol to represent /e/. But, I dont feel very strongly about this. It is just unnecessary. Maybe you can ask some other readers' opinions about this to determine if this is the way to go. It is not clear what Wikipedia should use: IPA chart for English and English language are wishy-washy using both symbolizations. One comment about Wikipedia editors: many enjoy using a lot of phonetic detail in their transcriptions (like glottalized syllable-final stops) which is objectionable to some people. peace – ishwar (speak) 23:29, 25 November 2006 (UTC)
LOL. Yes, I've seen some rather scary transcriptions in a few articles. Point taken that this page is focused on orthography, and the present notation may be more convenient in such a context. You've given me something to think about. Regards. FilipeS 23:46, 25 November 2006 (UTC)

Pronunciation of "Hour" and "Our[edit]

I am a native speaker of English, and I pronounce these words VERY differently. In fact, most people I speak with pronounce them differently. I pronounce hour so it rhymes with cower. I pronounce Our like "R" or "are". I think the article was mistaken when it said that hour and our are pronounced the same. I *think* that it meant to say that "our" and "are" are pronounced similarly. I'm sorry for not knowing the IPA alphabet. Davidleeroth 07:28, 7 December 2006 (UTC)

hi. Then, you probably pronounce hour like [aʊə] or [aʊr] and our & are like [ɑː] or [ɑr] (incidentally, some native speakers pronounce are differently from both hour and our). Although they are different for you, they are the same for many other native speakers. The article is not mistaken. You just happen to speak a English that is different from the English spoken by others who have the same pronunciation for these words. Obviously, the example does not work for your English. However, the example does work for other Englishes, and so is a valid example. Whether your pronunciation is very common, I dont know. The hour vs. our example is from Rollins (2004: 69) who speaks a British variety where these words rhyme (and incidentally, they also rhyme in my English). Anyway, other examples (from Rollins, same page) can demonstrate the homophone-distinguishing function, some of which may work for your English (but not necessarily other Englishes): climb vs clime, right vs rite vs write, knew vs new, alms vs arms, damn vs dam, guild vs gild, write vs rite. The example still works, just not for you.
One another note, the difference in your pronunciation between hour and our need not be signalled by the presence or absence of h. Usually h at the beginning of syllables does not indicate anything about vowel pronunciation. For you in our, the sequence our is a rare spelling for the sound [ɑː] or [ɑːr], which is usually spelled ar or a (in particular spelling environments) and ...our is usually pronounced as [aʊə] or [aʊr] (as in flour, sour, devour, etc.). This means that the h in your hour has a different function than the h in Rollins' hour. peace – ishwar (speak) 17:05, 7 December 2006 (UTC)
I am a native British English speaker and I pronounce "our" in both ways - either the same as "are" or the same as "hour". I don't know why I would choose one or the other in any particular situation, except that when emphasising the word ("they're our seats") I'd be likely to use the "hour" pronunciation. Matt 03:02, 4 February 2007 (UTC).
To Davidleeroth: I'm American and I see your point. I decided to look a little further into this and this is what I found. Both pronunciations of "our" is acceptable in American English. One pronunciation is the one that rhymes with "are" and the other pronunciation is the one that rhymes with "hour." I've listed these links to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary for reference: and Take care. 18:04, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

The state of english spelling section[edit]

Violates npov (the entire article is somewhat questionable, but this section is just plain biased).

A more balanced, linguistically informed* would state something like: there are advantages and disadvantages to the english spelling system. Phonemic or phonetic orthographies are easier to learn, and learners suffer less from some forms of dyslexia. English spelling is known to be rather more difficult for both child and adult learners than, say, spanish or italian. However, some researches claim that orthographies where the link between the sound of the word and the visual look of the spelling is less evident or largely absent (not just english, but hanzi and the monstrosity that is japanese - english is a medium between the two extremes, whether happy or unhappy is up to you) enables faster recognition of words and therefore faster reading (or something like that, I don't remember exactly). In an age where even writers read far more than they write, this may be an acceptable tradeoff.

Also, something about how english dialects don't share the same phonology (esp with vowels), so which dialect gets to be the one enshined in the orthography. And, of course, our orthography tends to make clear relationships between words that a more phonetic orthography wouldn't. F'rexample, the 'a' in 'sane' and 'sanity' isn't the same sound, but spelling them 'sejn' and 'saenitee' (or something like that, the 'ae' is meant to be that ligature) would be somewhat confusing.

  • disclaimer: I *am* a linguist, but have never taken a particular interest in orthographies, and make no claim of being an expert on the subject. Moreover, I appear to have misplaced the couple books I have that discuss this, so I've no references at hand (and don't feel like digging through jstor or something). ~beth A
That about faster reading is not true. Even when people read purely phonetic scripts, they read words instantly like in english, not by translating to sounds.
I think the point may be stronger against systems with unstandardized spelling, which is usually more phonemic. English, for example, spelt many words in a variety of ways until the 18th century; in Middle English, spelling was based closely on the sound system, but was virtually idiosyncratic to the individual writer. As a word could have a different form from writer to writer—even sentence to sentence—that instant kind of recognition would be much more difficult. Most modern orthographies (regardless of phonemicity) are rather standardized, with only small variations allowable, so this is not a problem inherent in rational spelling. — ˈzɪzɨvə (talk) 17:44, 19 January 2010 (UTC)
When we say 'allowed' we should be clear there is no authoritative body as in certain other national/linguistic cultures: although OED has a certain authority, especially for certain types of writing purpose, they reflect language and have guidelines towards clarity rather than constrain it or rule on it whilst industry, publishers/media, and certainly educational authorities such as curriculum setting bodies will all have their own 'house-style' or preferred interpretations of current Standard English without being authoritative: I thought that was the 'official' position? There has also been the advent to txt-speak and general acceptance of lower standards in the fast-type arenas of internet social technology; the older internet etiquette rule put forward was to hold to good standards of English yourself whilst being forgiving and silent on the Written English of others; should this be in the article? I think perhaps it should. I need references! But not got all the time in the world!Kathybramley (talk) 12:27, 13 February 2012 (UTC)

Spelling bees[edit]

"Intimate knowledge of the rules and idiosyncrasies of English spelling is generally seen as a sign of education and intelligence, spawning competitions known as 'spelling bees.'"

My my. Someone's a tad bitter about getting second place! 03:45, 4 September 2007 (UTC)

b in "subtle"[edit]

I added the silent "b" in "subtle" in the "exception" column. This was reverted by User: Ish ishwar. Yet it seems exactly analagous to the silent "h" in "vehicle" which is in the table. What is wrong with it? Cheers. Grover cleveland (talk) 19:12, 19 January 2008 (UTC)

It is not that same as the h in vehicle. The h in vehicle is there underlying and maybe even on the surface depending on dialect. In some dialects (including mine), vehicle’s h is pronounced; in other dialects it is not. However, probably most dialects pronounce the h in the related word vehicular (with its change in word stress). (Many dictionaries, including the Oxford English dictionary, list both variants.) Remember that English orthography is mostly morphophonemic (or very abstractly phonemic), so the same morphemes are often spelled the same even if their pronunciations change from derived word-form to derived word-form.
In contrast, the b in subtle is never pronounced. And in fact, its history is different. This word was originally spelled sutle or suttle (+ many variant spellings throughout history) and was borrowed from Old French soutil (or sotil or sutil). So, the English word never had a b sound in it. Later during the Renaissance, the b was added to the English spelling because there is a b in the Latin spelling of the related word subtīlus, and they thought that Latin was a cool language. Because their admiration of Latin, this word was even spelled subtile in early Modern English.
So, these are quite different things: (1) a letter that optionally represents a sound in certain words with certain stress patterns depending on dialect and obligatorily represents a sound in other words with different stress patterns; (2) a letter that does not represent any sound and originated from basically folks playing spellings because of particular cultural attitudes. – ishwar  (speak) 21:51, 19 January 2008 (UTC)
Thanks for your explanation. However, I am not clear on why the historical explanation for the spelling is relevant to the current table, which I understood to be a synchronic representation of the relationship of spelling to sound in contemporary RP and GA. In both "vehicle" and "subtle" a written consonant is not pronounced (at least in RP) -- the historical explanation for this is extremely interesting, but to someone trying to work out how to pronounce an English word today, not entirely relevent. I still don't see why "subtle" doesn't deserve to be listed in the table as an "exception". Grover cleveland (talk) 23:14, 19 January 2008 (UTC)
Right, so I did remove your edit rather hastily without a proper explanation. So, sorry about that. To answer you a little better, I think that the whole sound correspondences sections (in both directions: sound to letter and letter to sound) need to written with a lot more explanation. So, it's good that you've been working on this. Firstly, a general comment: it is a little misleading to simply label these h’s and b’s as simply "exceptions" or "silent". It kind of leaves the impression of a ridiculous, completely disordered spelling system, which it is not. There are different types of "exceptions" (which are, in large part predictable, according to some constraint); there are different types of "silent-letterness" (e.g., the t which is not pronounced in often but is in oft vs. the b which is never pronounced in subtle, subtlety, subtly, subtler, etc.).
For this b in subtle, I think that it is preferable to treat it not as two units b + t, but rather as a single digraph unit bt (just like ch and sh are considered single units), which is a rare alternate (really unpredictable, i.e. required to memorized) spelling for the more usual t. Other words with bt include doubt and debt. This is because this silent b does not occur with all possible letter combinations. And since all these bt spellings have the same origin (scribes "latinizing" spelling), there could be footnote explaining the origin. Other rare digraph spellings of the usual t are pt (receipt), ct (indict, victuals), tt (butt, cf. but), th (thyme), tw (two), cht (yacht).
The situation with "silent" h is a bit complicated. There is
  1. the issue of dropping the h in unstressed positions not at the beginning of utterances on function words like him, her, his, has, etc. (some of these are even contracted) in most dialects,
  2. h dropping in unstressed syllables in old RP but h-retention in modern RP and GenAm like in (h)istórical,
  3. h dropping word-initial stressed syllables in non-RP Englishes as in (h)áppy (thinking of cockney here),
  4. general h dropping in unstressed word-internal syllables like anní(h)ilation in most dialects,
  5. a blocking of this h dropping in #4 when at the beginning of a morpheme as in ahéad,
  6. h dropping in certain consonant clusters as in shép(h)erd (p + h => p), póst(h)umous (s + t + h => s + t ), ex(h)áust (g + z + h => g + z),
  7. dialectal exceptions to #4 and #6 h dropping along the lines of vé(h)icle (but not vehícular, which always has the h with the stress shift), ex(h)ále,
  8. h dropping word-initially in most dialects, as in hour, honest.
And if we try to look at many dialects, we would get more complication, perhaps (like the pronoun it pronounced like hit). Although complex, the general picture is that a potential [h] sound is rather consistently represented with h (although this may rendered somewhat inconsistent due to dialectal variation) and that h also may be present in the spelling when not pronounced, which can be predicted in some situations (according to stress, consonant clusters) and must be memorized in others (again with dialectal variation muddying things up).
So, I dont really disagree with calling the h in vehicle "silent", but "silent" or "∅" should be clarified. And, I would prefer an analysis of b as bt instead in subtle (not my own original analysis, of course).
Am I making sense properly now? So, I hope there will be a great expansion along these lines, where the article will actually describe the English spelling as the system it is. I'm not sure that the table format will really be flexible enough to properly explanation the system. But, until someone has the drive to do this, well... maybe you should just add back in what I took out (because I'm not feeling the motivation right now, although the motivation is tickling me a little). – ishwar  (speak) 05:02, 21 January 2008 (UTC)
See also silent letter. jnestorius(talk) 09:24, 21 January 2008 (UTC)

Dual function letters[edit]

English has a unique feature. Check out this words: do, wind, read and bass. They are important, because they actually have 2 pronouncings each one with a different meaning for each pronouncing. It is unique, because it doesn't happen in other languages with a Latin alphabet. For me, English is an second language, and this aspect makes me difficult learning it. Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese language share this feature, however they don't have a Latin alphabet.


I am sure this is splitting hairs but should the word "Cello" be used as an exception to English orthography given that it is an Italian word? -- (talk) 22:12, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Concatonated/Combined Words[edit]

Should concatonated words such as lawfirm rather than law firm be allowed? If so, will add it to spell checking dictionary.

Concatonated words such as nevertheless rather than never the less do exist already?

Other candidate concatonated words include:

  • upto rather than up to.

Currently (12 Sep 2008) the frequency of the above concatonated words are:

Tabletop (talk) 23:26, 11 September 2008 (UTC)


The article currently says:

English orthography does not always provide an underlying representation; sometimes it provides an intermediate representation between the underlying form and the surface pronunciation. This is the case with the spelling of the regular plural morpheme, which is written as either -s (as in tick, ticks and mite, mites) or -es (as in box, boxes). Here the spelling -s is pronounced either [s] or [z] (depending on the environment, e.g. ticks [tɪks] and pigs [pɪɡz]) while -es is pronounced [ɪz] (e.g. boxes [bɑksɪz] or [bɒksɪz]). Thus, there are two different spellings that correspond to the single underlying representation |-z| of the plural suffix and the three surface forms. The spelling indicates the insertion of [ɪ] before the [z] in the spelling -es, but does not indicate the devoiced [s] distinctly from the unaffected [z] in the spelling -s.

It is partially incorrect, as -es isn't always pronounced [ɪz], for example in volcanoes and other words with the plural in -oes. Lupo Azzurro (talk) 12:27, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

It's ok because that is not the relevant point here. The generalization still holds true that there are three main forms corresponding to a single plural suffix, but the spelling system only distinguishes two of the forms.
The quote does not claim that -es is always pronounced one way. You are right that there is a complication: the [-z] form has two spellings -z and -es (not -oes as you claim). The -es variant occurs before some words ending in o (volcano-es, tomato-es), but not all words (banjo-s, piano-s) although there is further variation here too (e.g. banjo-es). But, again this is not so relevant to the topic in this section. – ishwar  (speak) 20:21, 23 February 2009 (UTC)

Tag pronunciation in IPA[edit]

The ash ligature in IPA represents a sound like the a in cat, as far as I'm aware the word tag would look like this in IPA /teig/ (for the American pronunciation), I may be wrong about the second consonant in it, but I'm pretty sure it has a "long a" vowel sound.Scotty Zebulon (talk) 20:02, 23 February 2009 (UTC)

In the standard language(s), the pronunciation is [tæg]. If you have [teig], then you may speak a different dialect. – ishwar  (speak) 20:12, 23 February 2009 (UTC)
I speak American English, I live in Missoula, Montana, so I probably speak quite differently some words than most English speakers of the world. I just noticed after copying and pasting the pronunciation representation of tag on that page that it has the letter g, but the page displays the g as what appears to be either a Y or perhaps gamma. I think the font may be changing the appearance of the letter g. The part of the page I'm referring to is near the end of the section about how the letter e changes pronunciation of a word when added to the end of a word.Scotty Zebulon (talk) 19:45, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
I just checked the font used there, it says MS Mincho.Scotty Zebulon (talk) 19:48, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

How 'bout dem dialects?[edit]

The section on spelling/sound correspondences surely offends by throwing phony 'correspondences' into the orthography ring. For instance, if anyone ever used the pronunciation thesbian, one would be obliged to spell it that way, and not thespian. Similarly dem bones, dem dry bones can never be spelled them bones. . ., even if the orthographically preferred those bones were to be ignored. The arbitrary label "in some dialects" simply cannot justify "b" being represented by "p" or "th" by "d", and those examples should be deleted (after discussion)—NOT made the subject of a search for citations, as someone has done in one case. Others are "n" for "ng" (fightin'), "f" for "th" (fin), "sch" or "z" for "s" (citisen?!), etc. The case for "wh" = "w" overlooks the Anglo-Saxon origin which causes "some dialects" to stay with pronunciations like "hwat", "hwich", "hwite", etc. Does anyone disagree? Bjenks (talk) 03:04, 13 May 2009 (UTC)


I read the article's discussion of diacritics in English orthography, and as far as I could discern all of the examples given used diacritics as they are used in the original language of the loan word.

Here's my question: Is there a recorded practice in English of using accent marks on foreign loan words WHICH DO NOT OCCUR IN THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE? Is this a justifiable practice? There is a huge discussion about the Spanish word mate, sometimes written in English as maté, even in dictionaries. This would be completely wrong in Spanish. Cospelero (talk) 19:26, 6 October 2009 (UTC)

I can think of several instances offhand: coöperate, to show it's co-operate and not coop-erate (similarly reënter, Boötes, etc.), saké (rice beer), and learnèd, to show it's pronounced as two syllables rather than one (similarly fletchèd, wreathèd, etc.). Maté is correct is English for the same reason saké is: to show it's two syllables like café, rather than one like mate. The diacritic is certainly appropriate if it's not clear your audience would make the distinction otherwise. kwami (talk) 21:10, 6 October 2009 (UTC)
Of course it would have been more consistent to write sakë, matë, but consistenct is not a virtue of English spelling. jnestorius(talk) 13:10, 12 March 2011 (UTC)
But how come that in English, unlike many other European languages (especially French, whose orthography has had such a strong influence on the development of English spelling), there has been such a strong disinclination for a long time to use diacritics, ligatures and other characters outside of the ISO basic Latin alphabet set? While this tendency is certainly more pronounced in American English, the use of diacritics and ligatures has apparently long been perceived as a typical "foreign practice" in the British Isles as well, and their use even in British English seems to be mostly confined to the learned, and has been in the past as well. Shakespeare stuck to the basic set (I know he didn't originally treat <j> and <v> as characters separate from <i> and <u>, but that only reinforces the point if anything), Chaucer has apparently done the same, though I'm not sure about the original manuscripts. Seemingly all other European languages written in Latin letters have expanded the basic set, mostly with ligatures and diacritics (developped out of overwritten or underwritten letters/symbols common in medieval manuscripts), but the English have gone a different, puristic route (was that only after or already before the introduction of printing?). Was that ever a consciously reflected decision or practice – for example among early printers in England? Was there a "Plain Latin" movement or campaign? Was that tendency at least noted? Was it just to distinguish the insular language from the continent? Was it completely fortuitous or unconscious, or both? Anyone know anything about this issue? --Florian Blaschke (talk) 15:51, 29 October 2011 (UTC)

English orthography#Functionless letters[edit]

I don't understand this sentence from the article:

"The deletion of historical final schwas at the end of words such as give and have phonemicizing /v/. "

Could someone add a brief explanation of what is meant? (talk) 18:58, 10 November 2009 (UTC)

Yeah, English didn't used to distinguish [f] from [v] (or [s] from [z], etc.) There was one sound (phoneme), pronounced [f] at the beginning or end of a word, and [v] between vowels. We still see the effect of this in words like leaf vs. leaves, also house vs. houses, bath vs bathe, etc. Anyway, when those final e sounds (the "schwas") dropped out of pronunciation (leaving a "silent e" in the orthography), the other sounds didn't change. Because of this, the old allophonic distinction of [f] and [v] became much more important: it became the only way to distinguish the noun "thief" from the verb "to thieve", for example. That is, [f] and [v] became separate phonemes. kwami (talk) 00:26, 11 November 2009 (UTC)

"the digraph ‹gh› ... never represents the sound /ɡ/ in syllable codas"[edit]

The Phonemic representation section says:

The same letter (or sequence of letters) may indicate different sounds when it occurs in different positions within a word. For instance, the digraph ‹gh› represents the sound /f/ at the end of some words, such as rough /ˈrʌf/. At the beginning of syllables (i.e. the syllable onset), the digraph ‹gh› represents the sound /ɡ/, such as in the word ghost (pronounced /ˈɡoʊst/). Conversely, the digraph ‹gh› never represents the sound /f/ in syllable onsets and never represents the sound /ɡ/ in syllable codas.

The digraph <gh> at the end of Pittsburgh is always pronounced as /g/. Although most Americans know not to pronounce Edinburgh like that, we pronounce Pittsburgh and practically any other American city whose name ends in -burgh exactly as if it ended in -burg. This may seem like a trivial exception, but it is the accepted and by far the most common pronunciation in AE (even of the word burgh itself, as most American dictionaries attest). The word never in the quoted sentence is too strong. I'm going to change that never to almost never, giving Pittsburgh as an exception.--Jim10701 (talk) 20:01, 23 February 2010 (UTC)

bite, bight, byte[edit]

In the 1970s, a campaign in the new computer industry press (especially personal computers), pressed for a new word "byte" meaning "8-bits" and spelled with a "y" to be not quite similar but different enough from "bit" meaning "1 binary digit".

This campaign was sucessful, and the new word became common practice. There is even a magazine called "Byte".

Tabletop (talk) 04:40, 25 April 2010 (UTC)

Confused section removed from main article[edit]

Problems have been noted with bullet points. Grover cleveland (talk) 23:36, 14 February 2011 (UTC)

The basic English spelling system[edit]

English dialects differ little in the pronunciation of consonants, but greatly in the pronunciation of vowels. This also reflects historical patterns: Consonant pronunciation has changed little from Old English times, but vowel pronunciation has changed drastically.

  • this section is very confused. Graphemes are used where phonemes are intended. In the case of <zh>, it isn't even the regular English spelling of that phoneme.

Most English dialects have 24 consonants, as exemplified in the following words and graphemes:
b, ch, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, ng, p, r, s, sh, t, v, w, y, z, voiced th (this), unvoiced th (think), and zh (as in vision).

  • what is "standard Briish English"?
  • "about" 20 vowels??
  • what is a "half vowel"?
  • gives the weak vowel merger as characteristic of "standard British English", which probably wasn't intended.
  • Assuming something like Received Pronunciation was intended, then "fort" and "autumn" are the same vowel, as are "few" and "too". Missing are the vowels of NEAR and CURE.

Standard British English has about 20 vowels, as exemplified in the following words and graphemes:

  1. 19 full vowels as in at, aim, fair, cart, autumn, end, eel, term, it, tie, on, toe, oil, too, fort, up, few, out, could
  2. and the unstressed, sometimes barely audible half vowel (or schwa) as in 'flatten, decide, abandon.
  • "on" is an unfortunate choice because it varies between the vowel of LOT (which was intended here) and that of THOUGHT (which was not, as it is already represented by "autumn").
  • "few"/"too" as above.

Standard American English has about 17 vowels, as exemplified in the following words and graphemes:

  1. 15 full vowels as in at, aim, autumn, end, eel, it, tie, on, toe, oil, too, up, few, out, could
  2. the rhotic vowel as in term
  3. and the unstressed, barely audible half vowel (or schwa) as in 'flatten, decide, abandon.

Note that the biggest difference between the standard American and British vowel systems relates to the letter r, which is always pronounced as a consonant in General American English but which drops out in Received Pronunciation when not followed by a vowel, modifying the pronunciation of the previous vowel in the process.


In RP neither ordinary nor necessary is pronounced the mentioned way. And dispensary might be a counterexample, even in GA. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:34, 17 April 2011 (UTC)

Mini-Article and Article Needed on Non-Modern English Orthographies[edit]

I'd like to make suggestions for the improvement of this article. This whole article reads like it's been written by non-linguists (it's a kind of scientist, they train them in universities now-a-days), in particular, high school grammar teachers. Hence, the focus of the article seems to be on current modern standard English orthography. So I'm going to have to ask these people to lay off me if I make any "grammar errors".

To have a more useful and insightful article, there needs to be mini-articles and articles on the various modern standard English orthographies that exist today ( British and American seem the two that come to mind, though serious attention should also be given of the hundreds of English-based creoles which more-or-less write English words almost exactly as they sound, even in modern British and American dialects ).

Likewise, modern English standard orthographies have a history that is very useful in understanding their "irregularities", or rather, mis-matches between modern dialect pronunciation and ancient dialect pronunciations and their orthographic representation.  ! It is just outstanding that the taboo in modern linguistics on writing systems has led to such a wikipedia article on "English orthography" ! What a shame. I wish the world language was French or German, because at least they would have an article on their orthography touching on past forms. I'd want a part addressing Middle English spellings and Old English spellings as well.

There are also fossilized borrowings of past and present English orthographies in other major and minor world languages, and these deserve at least a note.

Off the top of my head, English modern standard orthographies are (mostly) based on the King James Version Bible of 1611, which set the standard for its day. Before that, English spelling was much less standardized and looked more like French. English spelling goes back as far as language has been written, but especially Germanic languages. English orthography is not un-influenced by non-Roman Scripts, like the various Runes and Ogham. Anyway, English modern orthography represents one or more Middle English pronunciations. Aside from what I've seen and read on the KJV, I've also heard it said that Caxton did a lot toward standardizing English spelling, though my experience has been contrary to that. Before the standardization of about 1611, it seems that there were local traditions of spelling, which included at some points people just writing like they spoke, or wanted others to think they spoke. This 1611 standardization is actually very late in the game, because Latin was the principal language of all writing until about 1850. It had a standardized orthography since about Caesar Augustus 0 AD (and died in 400 AD), maybe a bit before. Middle French orthography was a big influence. All major languages have standardized spelling today, but most minor languages do not, like some obscure Low German language in Bavaria. This is like how there is no standard phonemic* spelling for Southern American dialects : just as they use Standard American Orthography to write their dialects, so local minor languages know the province or country language and use it for writing, writing their own language more as they see fit.

Many ancient languages don't have standard orthography in terms of every word being spelled the same all the time. It makes doing word frequency counts and interlinear translations frustrating, but it's not so bad. Ancient Egyptian and Old Khmer come to mind. But once empires are reached, orthography usually gets standardized.

  • Not "phonetic", "phonemic" : it's a scientific term.

The kind of things you'll see in pre-1611 English are i and y and u and v being switched, extra e's on the end, and a host of other things making it increasing difficult to understand without glosses the farther back you go. Old English had distinct letters for [th] and [dh], whereas Middle English had used Y for [th] and [dh]. Believe it or not, often Middle English and pre-1611 orthographies match modern pronunciations better than modern standard orthographies, possibly because of the writers' dialects or some other weird thing. Maybe the 1611 orthographers wanted an orthography distinct from what came before.

These are the kind of things the article and encyclopedia lack. Non-linguists are especially ignorant and backward on this topic, with their whole "traditional grammar" rhetoric, talk of "silent letters" and such. "Silent letters" were at one time pronounced. All of the endless "rules" of traditional grammars have more logical, more regular explanations deriving from historic realities. Linguists are light-years ahead of the K-12 systems in The West (Europe, Canada, USA, Australia, maybe South Africa, sorry), and it's only because of advances in scholarship of the past 150 years.

English orthography is not only the monumental Standard English orthographies of America vs. the Rest of the Anglophone world. It's also past and present variants in ancestral and sibling (creoles) languages.

And it also has a future ! No doubt, for political reasons, English standard orthographies in 300 years may be completely different. Hopefully they don't treat our spellings the way we treat our ancestors', otherwise they'll end up the way we've ended up.

These are the kind of things the article and encyclopedia lack. Oh, and it's somewhat long and important enough to deserve multiple articles. Dwarfkingdom (talk) 23:05, 8 February 2013 (UTC)

'Ough' words section[edit]

"Finally, there is the place name Loughborough, where the first ough has the sound as in cuff and the second rhymes with thorough." This isn't clear - I can't do IPA but in Britain we pronounce it 'Luff - burruh' of 'Luff - bruh' in line with the way British people pronounce 'thorough'; I have heard Americans pronounce 'thorough' as thurrow, and 'borough' as 'burrow', which would suggest to an American reading this that the correct pronunciation of Loughborough is 'Luff - burrow', which it isn't. Can someone clarify this in the text, please? (talk) 10:24, 19 February 2013 (UTC)

In tis section there is reference to "British English". There are a number of dialects in Britain, one of which is RP. In RP borough rhymes with thorough and letter; if "RP" is meant then "RP" should be used. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:29, 5 September 2014 (UTC)

Historical orthography[edit]

A bit swamped at the moment, but this page seems to lack any treatment of Middle and Early Modern English orthography (in particular, long s and the conflations of I/J and V/U. If I'm not just missing it, could someone whip up something or provide a hatnote or see also link? (If I am missing it, could someone split out a true "history" section so it's easier to find? Right now the history section is—misleadingly—dealing only with "misspellings"... which of course at the time were nothing of the sort.) — LlywelynII 04:22, 20 June 2014 (UTC)