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SHOULD YOU SPELL IT HOW YOU SAY IT?

It’s Wednesday hump day! In two more days, you’ll finally have some rest from a week-long drag—whether at work or school. Speaking of Wednesday, did it ever cross your mind why we don’t spell it the way we pronounce it? The answer to this question is not as easy as 1 2 3. The English vocabulary has many words we don’t necessarily spell the same way we say them. The consistency of English orthography is a conversation yet to be closed. As we move through time and advancements, maybe it never will be. But one word at a time, let us discuss some words that would sometimes make us all scratch our heads when we find out how they are supposed to be pronounced. 

In the Philippines, we may not have words that do not sound the way we spell them, but we have a wide range of names that sound so easy until you see their spelling—ehem, Soccsksargen. Not to mention our familiarity with global brands and their affinity for using names that don’t directly sound like we think they should. Case in point, Givenchy (zhee – vaan -shee), Longchamp (long· shom/ lawn – shawm), and Comme des Garçons (comb-day garr-sawn).

But name spellings and pronunciations are tricky everywhere. Remember that trend of adding the letter ‘h’ to names even when they don’t seem necessary? Yes, we are talking about you, Pathy. Pathy with an h. Let’s just say to each his own. In the case of commonly (or not) used English words, it is somehow easy to pinpoint the reasons behind word spellings and pronunciations.

Borrowed words, borrowed rules, and old age.

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Since each language has its own rules, we often carry them when we use a borrowed word. Either in speaking or writing. English is a funny language, Coronel and kernel would rhyme, but you can’t say the same with sew and new. Even the word pronunciation can sometimes be tricky when you know there is a word pronounce with an O. But hey, pronounce is not the root word of pronunciation, the Latin phrase pronuntiationem is.

As to why the English language has an inconsistent and often confusing set of rules, verbal or written, the closest answer we can provide is on top of an already intricate rule, partly to blame in this whole spell-it-how-you-say-it debacle is longevity. Languages are inherently vulnerable to the vagaries of time. Considering that some words are borrowed, the ones that used to make sense then may no longer make sense now. Unfortunately, this was just never resolved.

However, mispronouncing words can easily be forgiven. Especially with new studies suggesting that correcting people’s pronunciation can be considered a linguistic prejudice; misspelling words is a different matter that needs correcting. The old word primer, which means a short informative piece of writing, is pronounced \PRIMM-er\ and should not be confused with the initial coat of paint primer \PRY – mer\. Both words should be spelled the same way despite the difference in pronunciation.  

With all things considered, the counterintuitive nature of English spelling influences our manner of pronouncing certain words. Regardless of race, culture, and educational background. When a word doesn’t spell the way we usually say it, we are prone to mispronouncing it. One way to limit, if not avoid it, is by exerting the effort to learn a little bit more about the words we use.

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