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  1. #1
    reshana is offline Newbie
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    Unhappy The Purpose of Silent Letters

    It was only recently that I was in a conversation with a friend who was commenting on something a comedian said which was that many people do not know the use of silent letters and for some reason he is perplexed by them. Similarly, I share in this affliction.

    Knife.... Gnaw.... Mnemonic... Psycho.... DAMN!!!!!

    I just don't get it

  2. #2
    BobK's Avatar
    BobK is offline Harmless drudge
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    Default Re: The Purpose of Silent Letters

    Quote Originally Posted by reshana View Post
    It was only recently that I was in a conversation with a friend who was commenting on something a comedian said which was that many people do not know the use of silent letters and for some reason he is perplexed by them. Similarly, I share in this affliction.

    Knife.... Gnaw.... Mnemonic... Psycho.... DAMN!!!!!

    I just don't get it
    The reasons are usually historical (for example, Chaucer spelt knife "knyf", and it was pronounced with a separate /k/ sound [like the Modern French canif]). 'Mnemonic' has Greek roots - the Greek for 'to remember' starts mimn...; so does 'psychology', but in that case our "ps" transliterates a single letter (ψ).

    But sometimes history was influenced by an effort to look clever (like "deBt" - when there was a perfectly good word borrowed from French dette, but someone decide that the spelling "should" reflect the Latin debitum); and sometimes silent letters were introduced by false analogy. For example, Chaucer used three words 'koude' 'sholde' and 'wolde'; there was no "l" in the first, and there was an /l/ sound in the other two. 'Koude' meant 'had the necessary skill' - which came to be interpreted as 'had the necessary ability'; compare English/French 'He could swim'/Il savait nager. As 'koude' began to be used as a modal, it was felt that it should have an "l" like the other modals 'sholde' and 'wolde - 'false analogy'.

    People have tried reforming spelling. Noah Webster had the most success - which accounts for American spellings like 'theater' and color'. My guess is that Webster's spelling reforms worked because there wasn't, in his time, a large mass of documents and written/established practice. Where there is a significant mass of documents/literature, it's hard to get spelling reforms to work - even though they'd make life easier for learners of English as a second language.

    b

  3. #3
    reshana is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: The Purpose of Silent Letters

    Thank you!! :-d

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