Ever wonder? 3.8

Q: Why is

laughter

pronounced

laf-ter

but

slaughter

and

daughter

are pronounced

slaw-ter

and

daw-ter

? And why is

book

pronounced

buk

but

roof

is pronounced like it’s spelled?
Q: Why is “laughter” pronounced “laf-ter” but “slaughter” and “daughter” are pronounced “slaw-ter” and “daw-ter”? And why is “book” pronounced “buk” but “roof” is pronounced like it’s spelled?

A: According to experts, it’s because the English language has what’s known as a deep orthography. In more readable terms, our spoken language is not represented in symbolic form – that is, letter form – in a very congruent manner.

“Spelling wasn’t really regularized in the English language until Samuel Johnson, an English scholar, invented the first dictionary,” said Xochiquetzal Candelaria, an English professor at Gavilan College.

“Things were spelled all sorts of different ways depending on who you were and where the word was from.”

The spelling of English words was most affected by their origin, since the language is a compilation of various linguistic sources, all of which have their own way of representing the sounds of language in written form.

Most English words are Latin or Anglo-Saxon in origin, but the modern language incorporates references from all over the world.

There’s also the problem of history. While spellings for many of the words we use today were set down in the 1700s, we don’t exactly speak like our ancestors.

“Old English was pronounced very differently than modern English, so what you have is a lot of spellings that don’t match modern usage,” said Candelaria. “Basically the spelling is archaic, it’s kind of outdated, but it’s become part of the tradition of the English language, so we keep it.”

In other words, English makes no sense at all … unless you want to be the person who rewrites Webster’s.

Leave your comments