Author Topic: Spelling -ing form  (Read 4642 times)

Offline Natalia

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Spelling -ing form
« on: December 10, 2018, 01:04:53 PM »
According to the grammar rule, in one-syllable verbs ending in consonant-vowel-consonant we double the last consonant, as in sit > sitting.

Why don't we double the consonant in verbs like "draw" /drɔː/, grow /ɡrəʊ/etc.? Is it because we must look at the sound, not the written letter?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Spelling -ing form
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2018, 06:09:00 PM »
That's not exactly the pattern. The pattern is that short vowels tend to be followed by double consonants. So "siting" would be pronounced like "citing" or "sighting", while "sitting" maintains the short vowel. Most monosyllabic verbs have short vowels, so that's the general pattern.

What you'd need to test this is a pair of verbs with a short/long contrast. For example, "tow" (long, rhymes with "toe") and "bow", although that's really a diphthong so it would be treated like a vowel I guess. Of course "towing" would not have doubling, but then also "bowing" does not, so it's ambiguous in pronunciation between long a short vowels. But of course English often is ambiguous in spelling anyway, so that's no surprise.

The explanation, if there is one, comes from historical reasons: the doubling of consonants is an artifact of much earlier usage (probably going back all the way to Old English) representing syllable patterns. Compare Italian where doubled consonants are pronounced differently, and therefore correspond also to different vowel pronunciations (consonant clusters also were an indication of syllable weight in Latin). So this really isn't a rule as much as an accidentally pattern based on old usage, which then happened to generalize a bit because it was useful. Doubled consonants in English aren't pronounced differently, but they're like the opposite of a "final silent -e" marking long vowels in the previous syllable.

Of course for W in particular the explanation is in the name: it was originally, literally a double-U, a sort of in-between consonant/vowel letter (like Y). The result is that it doesn't double like other letters, plus the lack of many times when it would obviously need to be doubled. Lack of existing examples is one way that a spelling rule won't spread.

Regardless, if you Google "bowwing" you'll find several websites correcting the spelling, suggesting that some English speakers do try to extend the pattern to those words, probably especially when the vowel is short.

A-vowels in English are especially weird, because they have three possible pronunciations: "bat" /æ/, "draw" /a/, and "late" /e:/. Your example of "draw" would make sense as "drawwing", but I'm guessing that's not how it works specifically because of the confusion of the three forms of A not fitting a simple long/short distinction.

In the end, any English "spelling rules" aren't rules at all, because English spelling doesn't follow rules, just vague patterns, and there are always exceptions. Some studies have shown that Chinese learners of English do very well with English spelling by memorizing many common word forms, rather than learning these patterns. In other words, treating English spelling as arbitrarily as Chinese characters works well for them because they're used to the memorization strategy. Other learners, and native speakers too, have trouble when they try to follow the "rules" because they just don't work all the time. Native speakers therefore have some general patterns learned as probable rules, but also memorize many exceptions. Sometimes it has to do with particular letters, like W just not being doubled.

Remember, English spelling was standardized about 1500 years ago (following the invention of the printing press), and aside from some minor changes (like differences in British and American spelling of "color"), it hasn't shifted since. At the same time, at the beginning the Great Vowel Shift substantially changed how vowels were pronounced, then for several hundred years pronunciation continued to change too, and the result is a big mess that doesn't follow "rules", often not even patterns. English spelling is etymological rather than logical. English spelling reform is a whole different topic, which has often been a popular idea but never a popular action, and there are some problems with it, especially two big ones: (1) then we wouldn't be able to read most of the internet, or Shakespeare, unless we also taught the "old" spelling; and (2) surprisingly, almost all spelling contrasts, no matter how odd, are pronounced differently in some dialect of English, so any changes would start to collapse those to a standard pronunciation. There's also the question of what it would look like: spelling English in IPA (for example) just looks wrong, and very un-English. So for now, lots of memorization...
« Last Edit: December 12, 2018, 12:34:30 AM by Daniel »
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Offline Natalia

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Re: Spelling -ing form
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2018, 02:33:17 AM »
Thank you for your explanation.