New Old Spellings #PlainEnglish #Anglish #PureEnglish #SpellingReform

January 2, 2017

beowulf_cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f__132r

We spend a lot of time talking about Anglish words, but almost no time talking about spellings. The why is that I try to smuggle Anglish in. Non-standard spellings, however, draw attention to themselves. Therefore, I have only touched on spellings briefly (for example, see here). However, 1066 and all that left its mark on our spelling system, too. Many spellings were changed soon after the Conquest as the old English scribe class were killed and slowly dispensed with, Normans taking their place. For example, <cw> was respelt as <qu> on the French model: cwen became quen (now queen) almost overnight. However, other less radical changes have also happened over the years since then. This post looks at these spellings, specifically those changed based on an unright understanding of their origin (?erstspring ?upspring ?first-spring).

Before I go on, remember that my notion here at Wrixlings is not to create what might have been had history panned out differently — that is something I call “Modern Old English”. Rather, I try to inliven the Saxon heart our of present speech. Therefore, I do not say we must bring back ash <æ> or yogh, or spell <wh> as <hw> (OE hwearf ‘wharf’) or put an <h> back in words like lord (OE hlaford, would therefore perhaps be hlord if 1066 and all that had not happened). Therefore, I do not respell <qu> as <cw>: the grounds are that everyone can plainly understand <qu> for /kw/ — even tho the spelling is quite absurd, and French.

1. ACHE

Originally, there were two words: ake (deedwork/verb), ache (nameword/noun), as per speak (workword) and speech (nameword). Eventually, ache fell out of the language in favour of ake for both verbs and nouns (just like we used to say “reek” (deedword) OE reocan and “reech” (nameword) OE riec). However, it was felt by the 1700s that ake probably came from the Greek akhos, and so the spelling was changed accordingly (Greek kh / χ is rendered <ch> in English; see the arch– of words like archaeology, from arkhe / αρχη). Sadly, the word doesn’t come from Greek, but the Old English acan (deedword) and æce (nameword).

So let’s spell it AKE.

2. AGHAST, GHASTLY, GHOST

The letter g can “soften” to a “j” sound (or to a “y” sound in Old English: geong ‘young’). The letters <h> and <u> can “stop” it: guest, spaghetti. We don’t say these as “jest” and “spajetty”, do we? But this softening only can happen before e, i, and y. So why is there a <h> in these words before <a> and <o>? Oh yes, because that’s how it’s done in Dutch(!)… How does that make any sense?

The first two used to be spelt without the <h>. So let’s spell them AGAST and GASTLY once again. “Gost” might be troublesome as it may imply a rhyme with “lost” — although not needfully; see “host”! It comes from Old English gast; this <a> developed into a ‘long’ o elsewhere too. Sometimes it was spelt like this: OE stan –> ModE “stone”. And other times it was spelt like this: OE bat –> ModE “boat”.

So let’s spell it either GOST, GOAST, or GOSTE. I reckon the first two are best.

3. ANCHOR

The Old English word was ancor, taken from the Latin ancora (see, we did borrow sometimes in Old English too!). This itself probably comes from the Greek ankyra ανκυρα. None of these words have a <h>! Indeed, the word only began being spelt with an <h> in the late 1500s — after having spent around 700 years in English spelt without it. The decision is clear:

Let’s spell it ANCOR. Mark that “anker” would also clearly word on the grounds of saying (banker, wanker), but not on wordbirth.

4. AXE

This word was spelt æx in Old English and ax until around two hundred years ago. It is still spelt ax in the US, Canada, and increasingly now, Australia. The <e> was added for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Let’s just bin axe and spell it AX.

5. CRUMB, THUMB, LIMB, NUMB

Old English cruma, þuma and lim. Numb was earlier spelt as nome, from the OE root niman. Never had a <b> sound in there. Although the related words crumblethimble and nimble do. And then there’s dumb and lamb and comb, which used to be said with a /b/, but no longer are, yet are still spelt with a <b>. What a mess.

I suggest taking the <b> out in all cases, etymological and otherwise: CRUMDUM, LAM, LIM, NUM, THUM.

Only keep it where it is pronounced: CRUMBLE, THIMBLE, NIMBLE. Keeping the <b> in some related words but not others may trouble you, but it shouldn’t. For example, we write DECEIT and DECEPTION, not “deceipt”, which is an analogous case. In the case of “comb”, we need to show the way the vowel is said, so as with “ghost” above, we have either COAM or COME. COAME is even possible.

Maybe COAM to stop us mixing it up with the verb to come.

6. ISLAND, ISLE

Island represents Old English igland, from ig ‘isle/island’ + land land. It was thought to come from the Latin insula, hence why folk added the <s>. Although, by that logic (?through-thought) why wasn’t it spelt “insland”? The idea for <s> probably also took hold due to the word isle which actually is ultimately from the Latin insula. However, rather ironically, <s> was often lost from Latin to French (French fenêtre, Latin fenestra) — as it was in ISLE, too! We borrowed the word from French in the late 13th century as ILE.

Therefore: ILAND, ILE

If you want a homeborn word for isle, we do of course have ait and eyot which in some way represent the “i” of island.

7. SCYTHE

Influenced by Latine scissor ‘carver, cutter’ and scindere ‘to cut’. The word actually comes from Old English siþe and should be spelled again as once it was: SITHE (as in lithe, writhe, and so on; note: the letter þ is the exact equivalent of <th>).

8. TONGUE

This is a funny one. I often see it misspelt, by native speakers(!), as “tounge”. Why? They know how to say it, but they also know the spelling is a tad “funny”. So they take a guess. The OE was tunge and would naturally have lost the final <e>. Additionally, lots of words of this kind had their <u> changed to an <o> before <n, m> as the scribal writing of the time made them easily confusable. That’s why “come”, which rhymes with “hum”, isn’t spelt with a <u>. Therefore, this could be changed to tong or tung. But given that tong would be misleading, and the regular spelling would be with a <u> (see hung, rung, sung, and fellows):

I say this needs to be put back as TUNG. Altho it is true that some Northerners give this a spelling pronunciation of “tong”.

9. WHORE

Who, whooping cough, and therefore whore, right? Wrong. Actually, in Old English it was hore, and only began to be spelled with a <w> in the early 1500s. Let’s set this straight and bring back HORE.

10. OTHER WORDS

There are many other words we might respell. For example, see our little talk about <u> being changed to <o> as in tongue and come. There are a great deal of words that fit this mould exactly: wonder, monk, wolf, and so on. These could be respelt wunder, munk, wulf (see thunder and sunk). Or another idea: could could be respelt as coud. It comes from can, and was cuðe in Old English, but gained an <l> by analogy with would and should (which come from will and shall, words that DO have an <l>!). But both of these cases, wonder and friends and could, go beyond the bounds of this post. Could is indeed also false etymology, but one based on homeborn not outland words. And the case of wonder and fellows is about wonky former scribal habits — not incorrect etymologising. Maybe we’ll handle those kinds of spelling in another post.

11. SUMMING UP

Therefore, if we go down the road of Anglish spellings, we have changed the following from:

ache, aghast, anchor, axe, comb, crumb, dumb, ghastly, ghost, island, isle, lamb, limb, numbscythe, thumb, tongue, whore

to:

AKE, AGAST, ANCOR, AX, COAM, CRUM, DUM, GASTLY, GOAST/GOST, ILAND, ILE, LAM, LIM, NUM, SITHE, THUM, TUNG, HORE.

You might wanna check out a similar (but old) post by a fellow Anglisher here: New Spellings.

© 2016 – 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image the first lines of the manuscript of Beowulf: By anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet – This file has been provided by the British Library from its digital collections. It is also made available on a British Library website.Catalogue entry: Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, ff 94r–209v, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30380424

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Spellings

April 18, 2012

I haven’t seen the subject of this post get given any real treatment by Anglish enthusiasts, so I thought I’d give it a (cursory) go. And that subject is spelling.

The English spelling system has been profoundly influenced by 1066 and its aftermath. I’ll give a couple of sets of examples before moving on to talk briefly about what this all means for “Anglish”.

The Great Vowel Shift & Anglo-Norman Scribes

Let’s look at the vowel sound in sound, found, and cow.

Over a very long period of time, the vowels in English shifted around quite a lot; the so-called Great Vowel Shift. [Notes 1, 2] Old English “long” i, as in the word min ‘mine’, which was pronounced like Modern English (ModE) <ee> as in “keep”, changed to the “eye” sound it has now. min –> mine, win –> wine, lic(an) –> like. And so on. However, the spelling of the vowel stayed the same. [Note 3] That is, we do not write <main>, <wain>, and <laik>. This reflects the inheritance of ModE “long” i from Old English (OE) long i.

A similar thing happened with OE “long” u which was pronounced as “oo”; after the great vowel shift it diphthongised, coming to be pronounced as “au”, or the <ow> of ‘cow’. The OE word was cu. Likewise, Old English mus, hus, and tun, pronounced “moose”, “hoose”, and “toon”, became, can you guess? Mouse, house, and town. Notice that, unlike with OE long i, the long u did have a spelling change. Namely, to <ou>. Why?

Simple answer, really. Let’s just say: bijou, Anjou, and Petits Filous. Yes, that formidable swinehoard France was to blame. Again. Basically, the Anglo-Norman scribes spelt English as they spelt their own language; thus “u” became “ou”.[Note 4]

If this change from <u> to <ou> seems trifling and marginal, then I would just say that it is the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg that we’ll come to look at from up a little closer later in this post.

Hypercorrective Spellings (Hyperactive Monks?)

Many spellings were wrixled [Note 5], mostly to the effect of worsening the correspondence between sound and symbol, due to scribes attempting to make words look more like their (supposed) Greek or Latin forebears. In this way, “debt” acquired a <b> (despite coming from French dette), “receipt” acquired a <p> (altho the same root did not acquire a <p> in “deceit” or “receive”, none of these three words having a <p> in the French, in any case), and “admiral” acquired both a <d> and, ultimately, a spelling pronunciation /d/ sound [Note 6], to make it resemble the Latin word from which it doesn’t come; it actually comes from the Arabic amir-ar-rahl, by way of French amirail(!)

Now if this isn’t sheer idiocy, I don’t know what is. But I contest that this obsession with Latin and Greek antecedents, this fetish of the foreign, had and has its origins in the Norman Conquest and the culture-change it has ever stood for.

Anglish and Modern Old English

There are, in line with my previous analysis [Note 7], two main ways you could go with all of this (so far as Anglish is concerned). You could either go the “Modern Old English” route, or you could go a more “Anglishy” way. Let’s look at the possibilities.

Modern Old English

Here we try to undo all or almost all influence resulting ultimately from 1066 and all that . In this way, spellings may be even better at times: <qu> would be replaced by <cw>, such that we have something like <cwene>, <cwick>, and <cwoþ>. Which leads us onto <th> getting the old heave-ho in favour of <þ>; an “improvement”, perhaps, as it cleaves to the alphabetic principle of “one sound one symbol”: <þis>, <faþer>, and <wiþ>.

Some other times, spelling might not improve, but actually get worse!

Why not let’s re-instate the silent <w> in “lisp” which was probably lost from the spelling due to most <wl-> words themselves being lost from English, ousted by foreign counterparts! Thus, <wlisp>. After all, we still have the silent <w> in <write>, <wrong>, and <wretched>, a fairly analogous case.

How about shifting:

<house> and <louse> to <hus> and <lus>;

<boat>, <road>, and <stone> to <bat>, <rad>, and <stan>;

<yellow> and <yes> to <gellow> and <ges>;

<church> to <circe> and <chin> to <cinn>;

<ice> to <is>?

 

This is fun, actually!

But perhaps pointless.

Anglish

I think simply keeping the current system as it is, with all its French influences intact, is the plainest and therefore best thing to do. I would merely remove etymological and pseudo-etymological spellings which were designed to resemble Latin or Greek. Thus, we would write <stomack> and <anker> or <ancor>, not <stomach> and <anchor>. The reason? English spelling, despite having a French side, is understood by ordinary people, and works, quite well; <ch> is, well, ch, not k [Note 8]! Problems arising in the English spelling system are mostly due to three areas, areas I will not discuss further as that is a topic for another post: (1) spellings of the sort I have been discussing, (2) reduction of vowel sounds in English, usually to schwa, and (3) a lack of adequate representation for the “ow!” sound versus the “oh!” sound; does <row> mean an “argument”, pronounced “r-ow!”, or does it mean the thing you do on a boat, pronounced “r-oh!”?

Thus, I personally take the spelling system as it is, prefering instead to alter individual spellings which do not work from a phonemic point of view due to their being, in my mind, spuriously altered or modelled along French, Latin, or Greek lines; thus, I write <dout>, <det>, <ancor>, and <receit>.

But I feel I am now sliding towards a separate post on the merits of the English spelling system, so I will stop myself there. I hope this has been an interesting beginning to the debate, if only a beginning.

 

Bryan Parry

April 2012

 

 

[Note 1] The Great Vowel Shift at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift

[Note 2] The Great Vowel Shift didn’t become “completed” in all English-speaking areas, however. In parts of the UK, specifically the north, “long” u didn’t diphthongise; or to put it another way, “There’s a moose, a-loose, aroun‘ this hoose! danDAHdanAH aDANAHdana adundundunnadun!”

[Note 3] Arguably, and it is actually my view, but the non-contiguous sequence <i…e> is in fact a single grapheme; thus, the spelling of the vowel did change, from <i> to <i…e>. But this is a complication stemming from a separate issue which obscures the matter at hand.

[Note 4] Note that we write <cow> not <cou>; the reason is the same as why we write <oil>-<toil>-<toy>. Essentially, <ow> is what I call an allograph of <ou> when representing the sound /au/ used in final position: <out>-<bout>-<bow>.

[Note 5] “Wrixled” means “changed”, remember?

[Note 6] A “spelling pronunciation” is when people pronounce a word as it is spelt despite this not being the ‘true’ way of saying the word. Essentially, the usual thing that happens is people believe that the way they grew up saying this word is wrong, the correct way being in line with the spelling. Which is actually a fairly reasonable assumption, and given the stigma and ill effects associated with “poor speaking”, it’s easy to understand how such things happen. And so they hypercorrect , thus resulting in things like “admiral” and foreign-ese “receipt” (with a /p/ sound). Interestingly, I’ve even heard some native English speakers, without joking, say “receipt” with a /p/. Hmm. A hundred years from now…

[Note 7] See my blog entry “1066 Wrixled Everything”

[Note 8] Or, more precisely, the grapheme <ch>, by default, represents the voiceless palato-alveolar affricate, whereas the voiceless velar plosive is represented usually by either <c>, <k>, <ck>, or <q>.


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