Historical Background to English Spelling
Or, Why in the World is English Spelling So Crazy?
The way in which letters are arranged in sequence to produce the pronunciation of a word is referred to as spelling or orthography. In some languages, such as Spanish, the correspondence between the letter and the sound is fairly straightforward as each letter or letter combination almost always represents one certain sound. For example, compare the Spanish maleta with its English equivalent suitcase. The pronunciation of the vowels a and e in the former remains relatively constant across words, whereas that of u, i, a, and e in the latter is far from being stable across the English vocabulary, ...view middle of the document...
However still, despite the bad reputation English spelling suffers from, hundreds of millions of English learners all over the world have managed to overcome it as they strive to improve their knowledge of the undisputed international language, used daily on millions of Internet sites – all in English. A perfect tool to help you in the process of mastering English spelling is the WhiteSmoke online grammar and English writing software, which relies on cutting edge artificial intelligence algorithms that provide contextual proofreading any text you write in any application.
Historical Background of English Spelling
When the Anglo-Saxons started arriving at the British Isles around the 5th century AD, the Germanic roots of their language gradually created the core of Old English vocabulary, similar to modern German words, such as father, mother, daughter, son, under, hand, house ,and cow. These were originally spelled and pronounced differently, but were transformed due to later linguistic changes. Additional contact with the language of the indigenous Celts and ongoing word borrowing from Latin speaking merchants, Roman conquerors and Christian monks have resulted in more words that integrated different spelling systems ( street, plant, altar, kitchen, butter, wine).
The Viking invasions of the 9th century brought an influx of spelling conventions from Old Norse, which in addition to contributing words such as want, take and sky also caused the Old English word schirt to be written as both shirt and skirt, with the meaning of the two later diverging to denote two different pieces of clothing.
Middle English saw a dramatic influence on English spelling with a torrent of Norman-French words coming into use starting from the 11th century. It is estimated that about 40% of currently used English words are derived from French, which has obviously brought with it yet additional spelling conventions (not changed for reasons of prestige), and word roots and suffixes that formed longer English words than before ( parliament, justice, ornament, pleasure, establishment, foundation etc.)
Printing was at its early stages and there was still no set spelling standard, which would only later be canonized in dictionaries and language manuals. Divergent spellings for the same word occurred very often, sometimes even in the same sentence. This resulted, for instance, in the letter o bearing three different pronunciations in l ove, grove, and prove; the consonant digraph th replacing older letters; and o sounding like u in come, son and love.
From the 15th century onwards, the phonological phenomenon known as the Great Vowel Shift caused numerous vowel pronunciations to change into those more familiar to us today and thus marked the transition into Early Modern English. The spelling, however, remained as it was and still represented the Middle English pronunciation, adding another dimension to the bewildering English spelling saga.