Language in use  
English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Spelling - showing your origins

Pedro Alvarez, in a Quora reply on the mismatch between spelling and pronunciation notes that it all depends on when words of a different language entered English. Many of these apparently irregular words retain the source orthography to correspond to their pronunciation.

You may not agree with every example below but the list is useful and the pattern is clear.

  1. French <en/em>: ennui, genre, rendezvous, entrée, envoy, entrepreneur, rapprochement, dénouement, contratemps
  2. French <in>: lingerie, Chopin, meringue
  3. French <ui>: suite, ennui,
  4. Italian <ue>: segue
  5. French <oi>: repertoire, reservoir, memoir, bourgeois, foie gras, Pinot Noir, boudoir, Poincare
  6. German <eu>: Euler, Reuters, Freud, Deutsche, schadenfreude, von Neumann
  7. French <g>: genre, -ge words like garage, massage, etc
  8. French <ch>: champagne, Chevy, Chicago, Michigan,
  9. German/Dutch <ei>: apartheid,  zeitgeist, meister, leitmotif, Alzheimers, Fahrenheit, Meijer, Heineken, Heinz, Reinhardt, stein (Stein, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Steinbeck), Anaheim, Brandeis, Klein, Oppenheimer, all those German names in the states with <ei>.
  10. Greek <ei>: deixis
  11. German <ai>: Kaiser
  12. German <au>: Audi, Gauss, Faustian, sauerkraut, Braun
  13. French silent t: potpourri, ballet, valet, buffet, gourmet, depot, filet, cabaret, denouement,  rapprochement
  14. French silent s/z: Descartes, debris, rendezvous, chassis, precis, corps, contratemps, Des Moines, IA., Louisville, KY., Lisle, IL., bourgeois,  apropos, foie gras, faux pas, viscount
  15. French <au>: mauve, au pair, all those French phrases start with au.
  16. French silent p: coup d'état, contratemps, corps, rai·son d'état, etc.
  17. non-silent final <e$> from different languages: genre, double entendre, epitome, hyperbole, Tempe, Penelope, Yosemite
  18. <er> words pronounced like those words with <ar>: Derby, sergeant, Berkeley (BrE), Berkshire, Hertford. Check JW Lewis' blog PhonetiBlog for more.
  19. Italian/French <gn>: poignant, vignette, lasagna, cognac, lagniappe, Sauvignon Blanc, monsignor
  20. German <tz>, <z>: zeistgeist, ersatz, schizophrenia, quartz,  Alzheimers, Hertz, waltz, chutzpah (Yiddish), tzar, blitz, Mozart, Nazi, Leibniz
  21. Italian <z>: mozzarella, pizza, paparazzi
  22. Italian <gl>: consigliere, imbroglio
  23. Spanish <ll>: El Pollo Loco, paella
  24. Spanish <j>: San Jose, Mission Veijo, Vallejo, cojones, El Cajon, CA., rioja
  25. Spanish <jVV> where the first V represents a back vowel: marijuana, San Joaquin, San Juan, Juanita
  26. False etymology (Remembering Latin by inserting letters): silent b--doubt, debt, subtle; silent c--indict, arctic, victuals; silent p--receipt; silent s--island, isle
  27. Variant pronunciation of vowel digraphs like <ou>/<ow> has to do with the great vowel shift, as it affects historically long vowels, which are usually represented by vowel digraphs like <ee>, <oo>, <ea>, <oa>, <ou>, <ei>, etc.
  28. Syncope in names: Happisburgh /e?zbr?/, Wymondham /w?nd?m/, -ster Gloucester, Leicester, Leominster /l?mst?/, Featherstonehaugh /fæn???/ (Fanshaw), Cholmondely /t??ml?/, Knollys (pronounced as Knowles), Sandys (pronounced as Sands)
  29. Pseudoforeignism <a> (keeping low back vowel /?/ for /æ/ or /e?/): Pakistan, Afghanistan, Amman, Czechoslovakia (for /e?/).



 See also