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Why is English spelling and pronunciation different?


English spelling and pronunciation is different
Why is English spelling and pronunciation different?

English spelling was idiosyncratic until the invention of the printing press about 500 years ago. At that point, the spelling conventions got messy for a few reasons:
1. The massive amount of recently borrowed French words (during the Middle English period, beginning around 900 years ago), which is why we have a split in spelling some things like K vs. C, and lots of vowel distinctions.
2. The mixing of idiosyncratic spelling of different authors whose spellings for different words became standard.
3. Dialects, with differently pronunciation-based spellings, mixed similarly at the time.
4. Right around the time that spelling was standardized, English was going through the Great Vowel Shift, which shuffled all of the long vowel sounds around, the single most important contribution to the mess we have today.

And of course English spelling has not been revised substantially for 500 years. Most other languages have had spelling reforms. Therefore, we have a mix of etymological/historical spelling, as well as the inconsistencies for the reasons above.

By the way, one reason I believe our spelling has not regularized is that different dialects still pronounce different spellings differently. A few people pronounce "which" and "witch" (W vs. WH) differently, for example, so it isn't true that the difference doesn't matter at all. And same for various vowel spellings, especially, because that is the main source of accent differences in English. Plus the main reason that at this point English "spelling" is so important many people don't want to abandon it (a circular argument of course) and that so much text in the world would become unreadable for children if it changed-- the whole English internet, for example, as well as Shakespeare's works, and all of the other books in the library too.


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