English spelling is much less phonetic than other European languages such as Italian, German and Spanish. Why is this the case?
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English spelling is much less phonetic than other European languages such as Italian, German and Spanish. Why is this the case?

England is a country on an island, and consequently has been invaded by people from many different lands in its history, each group of invaders bringing in its own spelling practices..r
English spelling is much less phonetic than other European languages such as Italian, German and Spanish. Why is this the case?

It began as a phonetically spelled language, but the pronunciation of English changed rather dramatically (the Great Vowel Shift was one such change) and the spelling didn't keep up. Attempts at reform in the direction of a more phonetic spelling have had limited success. Even Noah Webster was unable to get all of his suggested reforms accepted. There is no English language academy to enforce such changes, and in America, when President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the Government Printing Office to adopt a list of
300 reformed spellings recommended by the Simplified Spelling Board theBoard refused to go along and the Congress voted to prohibit any government funds to be used to effect the change.
For many years The Chicago Tribune newspaper used a number of simplified spellings. They finally gave up on matter, however.

Some of the spellings suggested by reformers other than Webster have become the usual spellings in American English, but most have not.

In addition to all that, the tendency in adopting foreign words into English is to retain the original spelling (minus accent marks, usually) and use an English pronunciation. This leads to spellings such as "eau de vie" and "lasagna." Then you have the spellings which were once spelled phonetically but which the etymological respellers got ahold of, like "debt" and "phoenix" (formerly "dette" and "fenix").
Then you have weird cases like "avoirdupois" which has a traditional English pronunciation, a newer French-influenced pronunciation, and which, when it was respelled by the etymological respellers had the original "de" replace with "du" (by an "ignorant 'improver'" as the OED2 puts it).

Raymond S. Wise
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
E-mail: mplsray @ yahoo . com
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
retrosorter filted:

English spelling is much less phonetic than other European languages such as Italian, German and Spanish. Why is this the case?

England is a country on an island, and consequently has been invaded by people from many different lands in its history, each group of invaders bringing in its own spelling practices..r

Invaders? No, no they brought us freedom, Gawd bless 'em.

Ross Howard
English spelling is much less phonetic than other European languages such as Italian, German and Spanish. Why is this the case?

Because printing got started in England in 1476, just as Middle English was finishing its sound change into Early Modern English (called the Great Vowel Shift). Before printing, spelling was phonetic, was meant to be read aloud, and was not standardized, much like handwriting today is not standardized. Everybody spelled things the way they thought they ought to be pronounced.

Caxton, looking for some regular way to print books, hit on a fairly conservative way of spelling Middle English, which is what we use today. Of course, we don't speak Middle English anymore, but English spelling *is* standardized. It just doesn't represent Modern English, that's all. And it didn't take effect immediately; a century after Caxton, "Shakespeare" was famously spelled twenty different ways.
This is why Canterbury Tales looks* like English, but when we hear it as it was spoken, it doesn't *sound like English.

By contrast, there were not large sound changes between the medieval and modern versions of other European languages, though some sounds were lost, which accounts for the silent letters in (e.g.) French.

For more details, consult Crystal's "Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language".
-John Lawler www.umich.edu/~jlawler Univ of Michigan Linguistics Dept "Truthful words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not truthful. Good words are not persuasive; persuasive words are not good." -Lao Tzu
Then you have weird cases like "avoirdupois" which has a traditional English pronunciation, a newer French-influenced pronunciation, and which, when it was respelled by the etymological respellers had the original "de" replace with "du" (by an "ignorant 'improver'" as the OED2 puts it).

Sometimes words have a traditional English pronunciation, a similar French pronunciation, and a French sounding pronunciation that nobody who knows French would consider. An example would be lingerie, which in English and French should end with a long e sound, but more and more people are pronouncing with an "ay" ending for no apparent reason.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Mon, 13 Dec 2004 13:48:09 -0800: "Hagrinas Mivali" (Email Removed): in sci.lang:
Sometimes words have a traditional English pronunciation, a similar French pronunciation, and a French sounding pronunciation that nobody who knows ... with a long e sound, but more and more people are pronouncing with an "ay" ending for no apparent reason.

And they pronounce the vowel of 'lin' as in the French word for 'the year' (l'an), which is wrong.

Ruud Harmsen - http://rudhar.com
Sometimes words have a traditional English pronunciation, a similar French ... are pronouncing with an "ay" ending for no apparent reason.

And they pronounce the vowel of 'lin' as in the French word for 'the year' (l'an), which is wrong.

Lahngeray? Never heard it. Is this true?
P.
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