Spelling related to the word for casting spells

·       common denominator: narration, speaking

o     a set of words supposed to possess magical powers

o     to make one’s way letter by letter in reading


You’ll find different words for it

·       spelling

o     connection with speaking, narrating

o     verb medieval, noun Renaissance

·       orthography:

o     a prescriptive term, “right” + “writing”

·       spelling rules are like rules in football or like table manners, not like the laws of gravity!

·       graphology

o     a more neutral linguistic term for the study of a language’s writing system

·       formed by analogy with words like phonology

·       Crystal: a study of the linguistic contrasts that writing systems express

o     grapheme is an abstract unit and usually in angle brackets:

·       <s> is the grapheme, its allographs include s, long s, etc.

·       spelling in angle brackets, phonemic transcription in slash brackets: <knight> /naɪt/

·       we also use combinations of letters: digraph

o      in OE, <sc> represented /š/ in words like <fisc>

§       aftereffect of a sound change from /sk/

·       just as <hw> used to represent sequence /hw/

o      in ME, French scribes replaced it with <sh>: <fish>

English spelling is basically alphabetic

·       Roman alphabet adapted to write Old English

·       there should be a correspondence between graphemes and sounds

·       but there aren’t as many graphemes as there are sounds

·       e.g. Crystal says OE had 27 graphemes for nearly 40 phonemes


English spelling is alphabetic but not phonographic

·       there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between sounds and letters


One letter can represent many sounds, e.g. <i>

·       /ɪ/ in bid, bitter

·       /aɪ/ in high, fine

o     <e> marks “long”

·       /ə/ in sordid

o     unstressed syllables

·       /i/ in pizza, souvenir

o     recent loanwords (post-GVS)


One sound can be represented by many graphs, e.g. /i/

·       <ee> in meet

·       <ea> in meat

·       <ei> in receive

·       <ie> in field

·       <i> in pizza


E.g. /k/

·       <k> before front vowels i or e in king, kernel

·       <c> before other vowels (back vowels, a) or consonant in cat, corn, crappy

o     karaoke looks odd because we would usually have <c> before a back vowel

·       <ck> word-finally in rock, <que> word-finally in pique, <che> in ache


And letters can have functions other than representing sounds

·       fine and fin, meet and met

o     final <e> marks length of preceding vowel

·       hug and huge, rigor and rigid; electric but electricity

o     <e> and <i> mark that preceding <g> or <c> is not a stop

·       breath and breathe, tooth and teethe, house but house

o     <e> can indicate that the preceding consonant is voiced


English spelling is more morphographemic: tends to preserve roots of the words rather than indicate their pronunciation

·       sign /saɪn/ but signature /sɪg /

·       house /s/ but houses /z/

·       breath /θ/ but breathe /ð/


Inflectional affixes often more visually than aurally regular

·       e.g. cats and dogs: both have <s>, but it’s /s/ and /z/

·       e.g.walked, climbed, and thudded: all have <-ed> for /t/, /d/ and /-əd/


Morphological regularity can override “rules”…

·       judgement has established itself quite recently (Bauer, Watching English Change)

o     1900 4/11, 1990 10/3


English spelling reflects history: layers of different conventions

o      Germanic base with Romance superstructure


Old English

·       “overworked” letters: e.g. <s> represented /s/ and /z/

o     modern spelling of house, houses

§       at the end of a word <s> represented voiceless /s/

§       between voiced sounds (in the middle of a word) represented voiced /z/

o     same principle: spelling of breath, breathe, wife, wives


·       “silent” letters from former word-initial “consonant clusters”

o     OE cniht -> PDE knight

§       <-h> -> <-gh>

§       <cn> -> <kn>

·       others: <hw> hwíl “while”


French patterns from Middle English

·       in OE, <c> and <g> also “overworked” (somewhat more ambiguously)

o     /k/ corn, cwen (before back vowels and consonants)

o     /č/ ceosan, cild (before front vowels)

·       French brought in words like cell and city: <c> /z/ before front vowels

o     so <k> /k/: king, kernel

o     and <qu> for /kw/ in queen

o     and <ch> had to disambiguate /č/ choose, child before front vowels

§       and lots of other digraphs: <wh>, <th> for old <ð> and <þ>

·       French brought in words like heir and hour: “silent h

o     /h/ lost in pronunciation in late Latin but not always in spelling

Early Modern English and after

·       many loanwords from Latin (and Greek)


E.g., Patterns in English words from Greek

·       <ch> for ‘chi’: chaos, archetype

·       silent <p>: pneumonia, psychology, pterodactyl

·       <ph> /f/: philosophy

§       often through French, which keeps <ph> (cf. Sp. <f>)

·       <k>: kinetic, kaleidoscope

o      if via Latin or French, <c>: cinema


Other Greek words via Latin

·       Greek <k> as <c>: calligraphy, calendar

·       Greek <th> as <t>: ME trone, teater


Once Renaissance scholars became aware of word origins, there was sometimes “etymological respelling”

§       e.g. to reflect Greek origins of some words borrowed via Latin and French)

o     e.g. <trone> became <throne>, <teatre> <theatre>

§       more often, of French loanwords to reflect Latin origins

o     e.g. <parfait> became <perfect>, <caitiff> <captive>, <aventure> <adventure>

§       pronunciation changed in these cases

o     e.g. <dette> became <debt>

§       /bt/ not an allowable combination in English, so pronunciation didn’t change


Which etymology: most recent? ultimate?

·       colour (English got the word from French)

·       color (but it was ultimately from Latin)


Etymological respellings weren’t always complete

§       phantom but fantasy


Etymological respellings weren’t always correct: by perceived analogy with Latin scindere “to cut” we now have <sc> in

§       OE sið “scythe”

§       ME cisoirs “scissors”


Later loanwords tend to keep foreign forms

·       e.g. French rendezvous

·       e.g. Italian spaghetti

·       e.g. Dutch yacht

·       e.g. Japanese karaoke


Printing initially multiplied variation

§       an imported technology: early printers were foreign

§       line justification often achieved by adding extra letters

o     Randy McLeod’s amongst and amongest (latter italic)


But spelling standardized fairly early, before major sound changes occurred

§       Silent letters retained

o     knight

§       not always silent: rough

o     herb

§       <r> still written in non-rhotic accents

·       /h/ introduced in some varieties with the influence of the spelling: “spelling pronunciation”

§       Great vowel shift

§       same sound, different spelling: meat, meet originally different sounds: /ɛ:/ and /e:/ converge on /i/

§       same spelling, different sound: polite shows GVS, later borrowing police doesn’t

o      we usually keep spelling of source language


Spelling pretty much standardized by 1700

·       a few subsequent changes, e.g.

o     C18th: chuse, stile, shew, compleat/complete


If anything, it’s the pronunciation that goes

·       German <ch> in Bach: /x/ or /k/?

o     we don’t have that fricative in English

o     we are used to <ch> representing /k/ in loanwords from other languages like Greek …


Spelling can influence pronunciation

·       temporarily/incorrectly: e.g. pronunciation of foreign or unfamiliar names like Reading, Gloucester

·       permanently, by analogy: profile up until C17th /i/, then /aɪ/  by analogy with other GVS’d <i> words like polite

·       permanently: reversal of sound changes

o     restoration of /h/ in words that had lost it (or not/consistently had it in English, like herb)

o     restoration of /w/ in swore and swollen (but not sword)

o     in compounds like waistcoat, mastiff


Once standardization effected, deviations from uniformity symbolic

·       of … use of “classical”/ “rational” spellings in C18th

·       of informality (early modern private letters, modern email)

·       of carelessness and stupidity


Some (acceptable) variation

·       apostrophe has blurry areas: 1990s or 1990’s? VIPs or VIP’s

·       what’s the plural of mango

·       check out dictionaries for whether they contain imposter, judgement, vermillion

o     Longman New Universal Dictionary, Collins (Graddol 344)

§       Mackinnon: English has no academy – editors, publishers


Influence of computers/internet?

·       are spellcheckers spreading American spelling into Canada…

o     irrelevant: “scandal service” for “scandoc service”

·       more public spelling errors

o     web

o     informality of email

o     fewer secretaries between the boss and the world

·       more expressive spellings

o     reflecting pronunciation: noooooo, hehehe

o     use of case

·       some distinctive spellings

o     replacement of plural s with z to refer to pirated versions of software: tunez, gamez, pornz

·       more access to typography and its expressive potential


Influence of industry

·       unusual spellings (often with manipulation of upper/lower case, e.g. HarperCollins)

o     memorable, trademark

o     symbolic: lite

·       capitalization on trendiness of lower caps

o     innovative / technology /

o     anti-corporate?!