I was recently writing for my family history blog Birds of Cressingham a piece about a family with the unusual name Whalebelly. Jonas Whalebelly – Birds of Cressingham (wordpress.com) I started wondering what I would write if I were talking about 2 (or more) people with that name. Should I write Whalebellies or Whalebellys? English…… Continue reading What is the plural of Whalebelly?
A spoonerism is an error in speech. In a spoonerism, the speaker swaps the initial consonant of one word with the initial consonant of another word. Spoonerisms take their name from an Oxford academic, Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930). Perhaps the best known spoonerism is one often attributed to Spooner himself, though possibly apocryphally.…… Continue reading Lopping sweaters
Many typos are just mechanical errors. Examples are mis-hitting a key next to the right one, or missing a key altogether. But sometimes, a typo reveals something about the connection between sound systems (phonology / phonetics) and writing systems. Here’s an example I saw the other day. Someone wrote ‘point of you’ clearly meaning ‘point…… Continue reading When a typo says something about sound structure
It is easy to be confused by the opposing spelling conventions used in Polish and Hungarian for the sounds /s/ and /ʃ/: Polish uses the symbol <s> for the sound /s/ and the digraph (letter sequence) <sz> for the sound /ʃ/. conversely, Hungarian uses the digraph <sz> for the sound /s/ and the symbol <s>…… Continue reading S and sz in Polish and Hungarian
I once stayed in Manhattan in the Hotel Warwick. The cab-driver who took me there didn’t understand where I said I wanted to go. When I showed him my confirmation, he said ‘Oh, the hotel War Wick’. And at the hotel, the staff also called it the ‘War Wick’, though of course the name was…… Continue reading Take me to the Hotel War Wick
I went along yesterday to an event at University College London (UCL) called English Grammar Day. This was the first time I have been, though it has been held for the last 10 years. The event seems to be aimed mainly at school teachers and academics. I give below summaries of the 6 talks, which…… Continue reading English Grammar Day
Here is an oddity: a foreign character appearing in an English book index as the first letter in an indexed phrase. The character is the Greek θ (theta). It appears in that index as the first letter in 5 phrases: θ feature; θ position; θ identification; θ position(s); θ role; θ structure. Where can you…… Continue reading Theta in an index
We aren’t usually surprised if the spelling of a place name diverges from how we pronounce the name today. This often happens because of major sound changes long ago. But I recently came across a spelling that shortened radically less than 200 years ago. The name of the southern English seaside town Brighton was still…… Continue reading Brighthelmstone by the sea
There are many varieties of English pronunciation. The existence of different varieties has implications for English spelling. A paper by the retired phonetician John Wells discusses some of those implications. https://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/accents_spellingreform.htm One of those implications arises from the distinction between rhotic varieties and non-rhotic varieties. In the following positions, rhotic varieties pronounce the sound /r/…… Continue reading Learning by rote for non-rhotic speakers
Last month, the English Spelling Society provisionally endorsed a new spelling system which it hopes will ultimately eventually replace the highly irregular system used today in spelling English. The new system is called Traditional Spelling Revised (TSR for short). The Society believes that adopting TSR would help children and students to predict pronunciation from spelling,…… Continue reading New spelling may rool OK?