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Silent alphabet

Phonics is the basis for a national exam in the UK assessing reading competency among the young; fail, and students are remedial readers, regardless of their actual competency in reading.

Thinking about the sounds letters make, I started to wonder if there are any letters of the alphabet which are *never* silent, or if the entire alphabet could be "said" by saying nothing at all....

I'm hardly the first person to try making an alphabet out of this online. I don't pronounce all the words the same as some of those who've tried this exercise, so am not convinced by those in brackets, although they're starting places. * mark words disagreed with by commenters.

A *logically
B thumb
C *chthonic, muscle
D *Wednesday, bridge
E are
F halfpenny
G thorough
H shepherd
I maize
J marijuana
K knight
L half
M mnemonic
N Autumn
O colonel
P receipt
Q lacquer
R [February]
S island
T subtle often
U tongue
W write
X faux
Y [mayor]
Z rendezvous

In short: the phonics alphabet *could* be largely pronounced through silence, with just a couple of letters left to say any other way....

Done with some insights from this site, this one and this one.



Sep. 13th, 2013 01:45 am (UTC)
Personally my rules for what counts as a "silent letter" are very strict. For example, I tell my students that the E in "cute" is not itself pronounced, but it provides information about how the U before it is pronounced, which is why the word differs from "cut". (That's why I like that you chose "are" for E, because the E in "are" doesn't add anything that "ar" doesn't already have, unlike hat/hate, sit/site, etc.) (It is also why I fucking HATE HATE HATE the "ghoti" meme, just detest it. English spelling is often ridiculous, but "ghoti" simply canNOT be "fish" in any dialect -- since it breaks very strongly entrenched rules about when, e.g., "ti" makes a "sh" sound -- and it's disingenuous to claim that it can.)

I'm not crazy about the "bridge" example for D, since the DG digraph in English shows us something that G itself can't (both "brig" and "brige" would be misleading about their own pronunciation, at least to a NA'n reader; I guess the UK examples of "frig" and "veg" prove that they're more comfortable with unadorned soft G's than we are? I've never liked either of those words on the page, but I guess this isn't about what I like!).

"Mayor" seems like a terrible example to me. Maybe the person who submitted it spoke a Southern U.S. dialect that treats it as a homophone of "mare", but I definitely don't -- it's always two distinct syllables for me, and the thing in the middle is pure Y. You might make a slightly better case with "prayer", which I pronounce the same as the first syllable in "prairie", and which I would pronounce differently if I were talking about a person praying, a pray-er. Are there UK dialects in which "mayor" is more "meh" than "meyah"?

I wouldn't call "faux" an English word, since I don't know that I've ever heard anyone say it (by itself) in an English sentence. "Faux pas," though, I think has been partially domesticated.

Like an earlier commenter, I don't consider schwas silent, and -ally adverbs generally have schwas for me. How about the old-fashioned spellings of aeon or mediaeval for A?

And now I'm ending on what I recognize is a slightly crazy note, but I think of the N's and B's in autumn, damn, condemn, dumb, thumb, etc., as lengthening the M's before them. I might just be imagining it, but I do think "damn" and "dam" actually sound subtly different to me. True, neither of them has an N sound as such, and at normal conversation speed that difference probably drops to nothing, but if I'm reading poetry or something I will linger a bit on the final consonant of a word if there's a "silent" letter following it.