Robert N. Feinstein’s parody: Gnormal Pspelling
Gnus and gnomes and gnats and such
Gnouns with just one G too much
Pseudonym and psychedelic
P becomes a psurplus relic.
Knit and knack and knife and knocked
Kneedless Ks are overstocked.
Rhubarb, rhetoric and rhyme
Should lose an H from thyme to time
The irregularities between graphemes (letters) and phonemes (sounds) are a major bone of contention in the linguistic world. Spelling reform has been a hot issue for a few centuries now, in fact, ever since the printing press was introduced. Before that, spelling was based on spoken English. What happened after the printing press came around was that spelling reformers realized that there was a need for consistent spelling that accurately reflected the pronunciation of words. However, the scholars of the time went a little overboard as they were quite traditionalist and revered Classical Greek and Latin so much they conformed to their etymologies, for example:
Where Latin had a ‘b’, they added a ‘b’ even if it wasn´t pronounced; where the original spelling had a ‘c’, ‘p’, ‘h’ or a ‘k’, these letters were added too; so where the middle English spelling was indite the reformed spelling became indict; dette became debt; receit became receipt; oure became hour… Hence the silent letters in words like:know, listen, talk, sword, debt, psychology, right, science, etc. (It is worth noting that there are 4 major discrepancies that inflame spelling reform: (i) Same sound/different spelling as in by/die/hi/buy; (ii) different sound/same spelling as inthought/though/Thomas; (iii) silent letters as in know/debt/clue/honest; and (iv) missing letters as in use/fuse.)
The sound system of English has undergone many changes that are not reflected in the current spelling and this is why orthography doesn’t always represent what we know of phonology. It is therefore impossible to maintain a 100% match between pronunciation and spelling, and this isn´t necessarily a bad thing.
Consider, for example, the homophones: The book was red. The book was read; or the plural morphemes where the sound is determined by rules: Cats vs dogs; or the phonetic realization of vowels:
aj/l – divine/divinity ,child/children, sign/signature
i/e – serene/serenity, obscene/obscenity, clean/cleanse
ae/e – sane/sanity, profane/profanity, humane/humanity
This is why, unlike with Spanish whose orthography is purely phonemic, English needs morphophonemic knowledge. To be continued…