Silent letter. what the point?

youth   Fri Jul 20, 2007 11:55 am GMT
why do we write silent letters when we don't pronounce them.

Such as the G in Gnome.
Guest   Fri Jul 20, 2007 2:35 pm GMT
Force of habit, I guess.
furrykef   Fri Jul 20, 2007 9:43 pm GMT
They just fossilize that way. They usually reflect a letter that used to be pronounced. But people keep writing it even after it becomes a silent letter, because educated people get this strange notion that the old spellings are the One True Way and anybody who writes them differently must be an ignoramus.

It doesn't help that, historically, class distinctions come into play here... it used to be that the only educated people were the elite, and the elite likes to make things harder than necessary in order to show off.

These attitudes are still preserved to some extent, even if individuals don't necessarily hold these beliefs. For instance, imagine two people correcting each other's spelling. They may both think that the spelling rules in English are dumb, but each doesn't want to appear uneducated to the other -- or to anybody else -- so they insist upon using established spellings. Thus, taken together as a group, the two people exhibit these attitudes, even though the individuals don't.

- Kef
Kess   Fri Jul 20, 2007 11:38 pm GMT
optional silent letters:

Kess   Fri Jul 20, 2007 11:40 pm GMT
optional silent letters:

Jim   Sun Jul 22, 2007 8:16 am GMT
There's no such word as "whitch". Remove the "l"s and you get "bam" and "cam" which I'd read with the TRAP vowel not the PALM vowel. "Offen" & "sudgest" might work but not "ofen" & "sugest" (consider "open" & "super").
Guest   Sun Jul 22, 2007 8:11 pm GMT
<<There's no such word as "whitch". Remove the "l"s and you get "bam" and "cam" which I'd read with the TRAP vowel not the PALM vowel.>>

English orthography doesn't distinguish between the TRAP vowel and the PALM vowel, so "a" in words can basically be pronounced either way.
Guest   Sun Jul 22, 2007 8:17 pm GMT
It seems that when someone sees a word with plain "a" in it, unless it is clearly foreign, they assume it has the TRAP vowel and pronounce it as such until/unless they find out otherwise.
Fred   Mon Jul 23, 2007 3:07 am GMT
in the “optional” list, don't forget

Jim   Tue Jul 24, 2007 4:21 pm GMT
No, no orthographic distinction between TRAP & PALM but without any other clue (e.g. I recognise the word as a PALM word) I'd assume TRAP, as if this were the default reading so to speak, I don't think I' alone on this.
Rodrigo   Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:08 pm GMT
Although there are still many words with silent letters, American spelling has simplified the spelling of some words like: Estrogen instead of Oestrogen, Diarrhea instead of Diarrhoea, Pathetic instead of Pathaetic and many other examples. Most of these 'simplified words' lost a silent vowel.