Sunday, June 14, 2015

Spelling vs. Pronunciation

Casey from Gaylord asked why some words are spelled one way, but pronounced another. He used the word colonel as an example.


In some cases, a word comes into English through more than one route. It may then retain the spelling of one, but favor the pronunciation of the other. This happened in the case of the word colonel. It came into English from the Italian word colonello. It also entered English from the French word coronel. The Italian version influenced the English spelling, but the French pronunciation ruled.


In other cases, words that were in currency when Caxton introduced the printing press into England in 1476 had their spelling frozen in place even though their pronunciation later changed. For example, this happened with the words knight, know, gnat, gnaw, wrist, and wrong. This also explains the inconsistency in sound among the words plough, through, thorough, rough, trough, thought, and dough.


Also, in the 18th century, poet John Dryden and his friends, ashamed of the “degenerated” English language, went into a Latinizing frenzy. If a word had originally come from Latin, they reasoned, it should be spelled in a way that gave homage to that heritage. So we ended up with the illogical receipt (< receptus), subtle (< subtilis), debt (< debitum), salmon (< salmo), and island (< insula), instead of the naturally evolved receite, sutill, dette, samoun, and ilande.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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