Reasons why the English spelling system is so messed up

Whether we are anative speaker or not, we all have struggled with English spelling system.

When you first start learning the English language, the first thing that strikes you is that how haphazard and utterly confusing it is. It literally makes us pull our hair in frustration. For example, new and sew does not rhyme, whereas the world Colonel and Kernel do. The English spelling system (if it does exist) is ridiculous, especially to a non-native speaker. There are many words that are written in some way but are pronounced in a totally different way. Why do we even add alphabets to a word if it were to remain silent? Let us try to find the plausible reason behind such confusion in the English language.

The spellings were already established when the pronunciation changes were being made 

It is believed that before printing was published, you could spell a word in whatever way you liked. But as soon as the printing press came to picture, there were some standard spellings of things. Interestingly, it was during this time that English spelling was undergoing huge changes in its pronunciations.  The process was lengthy and time-consuming, and by the time “Middle English” became “Modern English”, spellings of the terms were firmly established. Hence, the confusion.

French was “it” language of elite

Norman invaded Britain in the year 1066, and that is how old English had many Normandy words in it. The common folks spoke English, but French was the language of the elite. All schools and universities taught French, and that had a great influence on the English language. Many of the French words were brought into the vocabulary. There were many words that had traces of French in them, which caused a lot of confusion in spelling.

It was considered cool to change certain spellings during 16th and 17th century

During 16th and 17th centuries, the writers were dazed by antique languages such as Latin and Greek. There was such a fervour to make these languages popular again that many new words from these languages were introduced in English vocabulary. But the biggest trouble with these words was that they were hardly pronounced the way they were written. So, this craze to become chic caused us a mental breakdown. Words like receipt, which came from the Latin word receptum was pronounced in Latin instead of receyt.

So, next time you screw few spellings or are unable to make a novice student understand some spelling, just remember it is not your fault.

Priyadarshini Kaul

Priyadarshini Kaul Mishra has two Master’s Degrees in English Literature and History. She is actively following her passion for the language by being a content creator since many years now. Besides this, Priyadarshini is a true bookworm at heart and tries to be an avid reader despite being a full-time mother now. She is also a professionally certified baker and puts on the oven mitts every now and then.
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