SPELLING See also “Phonology”. by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Spelling Perspective!.
by Don L. F. Nilsen
and Alleen Pace Nilsen
OUR ENGLISH ALPHABET HAS ONLY 26 LETTERS TO REPRESENT 45 DIFFERENT SOUNDSAND SOME OF OUR LETTERS (LIKE C, Q, H, AND X) AREN’T VERY USEFULENGLISH HAS 5 VOWEL LETTERS TO REPRESENT 13 VOWEL SOUNDSAND WE USE THEM ALL UP FOR OUR SHORT VOWELS, AS IN: pat, pet, pit, pot, and putSO WE DON’T HAVE ANY LETTERS LEFT FOR OUR LONG VOWELS, AND THE RESULT IS CHAOS
A, E, I, O, and U:
A: He ate the freight. It was his fate. How do you spell 8/eight?
E: The silly amoeba stole the key to the machine. or
Did he believe that Caesar could see the people?
I: I write eye-rhyme, like “She cited the sight of the site.”
O: Our chauffeur, although he stubbed his toe, yeomanly towed four more boards through the open door of the depot.
U: blue, blew, gnu, Hugh, new, Pooh, Sioux, through, two
SAME PRONUNCIATION BUT DIFFERENT SPELLINGS (DIFFERENT MEANINGS): cite-sight-site, marry-Mary-merry, pair-pare-pear, there-their-they're
(Nilsen & Nilsen 2, 8)
SAME SPELLINGS BUT DIFFERENT PRONUNCIATIONS (SAME WORD FAMILIES): nation-national, obscene-obscenity, sign-signature, go-gone, ct. soup-supper
(Nilsen & Nilsen 21-24)
REDUCED GRADE:act-action-actual, critic-criticize, medicine-medication, part-partial, rite-ritual, seize-seizure
MARKED GRADE: chip, cough, hiccough, enough, phone, ship, this, thought (NOTE: The <h> of ch, gh, ph, sh, and th indicate that these are strange kinds of c, g, p, s, and t respectively.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 25-28)
ZERO GRADE: acknowledge-knowledge; amnesia-mnemonic; though, thought, through, thumb-thimble-Thumbelina
(Nilsen & Nilsen 11)
MODAL PLUS "HAVE" ASSIMILATION: coulda, mighta, shoulda, woulda
MODAL PLUS "TO" ASSIMILATION: gonna, hafta, hasta, supposta, useta
CONTRACTIONS: *ain’t, can’t, couldn’t, won’t, wouldn’t, shan’t, shouldn’t, *mayn’t, (mightn’t, mustn’t)
VERB 3rd sing pres ind: sings, hits
VERB past: buzzed, jumped
VERB past part: popped, killed
NOUN plurals: cats, dogs
NOUN possessives: Mike's, Fred's
ADJ substantive: its, ours
(Nilsen & Nilsen 14-17)
PREFIX: (NOTE: im- assimilates as follows): illegal, immature, impotent, indelicate, irreligious
(Nilsen & Nilsen 12)
When a word that ends with a /t/ is followed by a –ual, -ial, or -ion ending, the palatal vowel <y-> changes the /t/ sound into a /č/ sound.
act actual or action
(Nilsen & Nilsen 9-10)
Because /k/ is a stop, and vowels are continuants, an affix beginning with a vowel often changes /k/ to /s/.
critic criticize or criticism
This ability of the <c> to have two different pronunciations allows us to spell these words the same way even though they are pronounced diffently. The benefit of this is that it helps us to see that these words are in the same word-family even though the <c> part is pronounced differently.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 18)
VERB 3rd person singular present indicative: buzzes
VERB past tense: heated
VERB past participle: spotted
NOUN plural: horses
NOUN possessive: Max’s
(Nilsen & Nilsen 14-16, 18-20)
“-al” is a suffix that changes a Noun into an Adjective, but when the Noun ends in /l/, dissimilation occurs:
“anecdotal” but “angular”
“penal” but “perpendicular”
“spiritual” but “similar”
“venal” but “velar”
(Fromkin Rodman Hyams  277)
VOWEL REDUCTION (SCHWA GRADE): natural-naturalize-naturalization, photo-photograph-photographic-photography, s'pose-suppose-supposition, telegraph- telegraphic-telegraphy
VOWEL REDUCTION (-R or –N GRADE): ; pin-pen; absurd, bird, heard, herd, word
VOWEL REDUCTION (ZERO GRADE): ambidextrous-dexterity, busy-business
(Nilsen & Nilsen 21-25)
BRITISH VOWEL REDUCTION: aluminum, laboratory, secretary
LONG AND SHORT GRADES: do-done, go-gone, nation-national, obscene-obscenity, punitive-punish, sign-signature, soup-supper
(Nilsen & Nilsen 21-25)
When a suffix changes a word from one Part of Speech to another, this suffix affects which syllables are stressed, and which are unstressed and can change to different vowel grades like schwa or short grade:
TRACES: ic-ich-I, knight, hostel-hôtel- hotel, scribere-écrire-scribe
DOUBLETS: chief-chef, dish-discus, hotel-hostel, ship-skiff, shirt-skirt
GRIMM'S LAW: courage-hearty, corn-horn, decade-ten, dozen-twelve, dent-tooth, pedestal-footnote, padre-father, plate-flat, pyre-fire
(Nilsen & Nilsen 28-34)
GERMANIC UMLAUT: child, goose, man, mouse, woman (cf. book-beech)
GREEK RHOTOCISM: genus-generic; opus-opera
ENGLISH: schwa and silent e
ACRONYMS AS WORDS: AID, AIDS, BIRP, CREEP, GASP, MANURE, MASH, NOW, NUT, SAG, VISTA, ZIP
BORROWINGS: chaise longue, cole slaw, frankfurter, hamburger, lingerie, rouge, schnitzel, wiener
BILINGUAL COGNATES: actual, embarazada, grocería, libraria, molestar, principio, (cf. blanket [white], porpoise [pig fish], puny [puis né], walrus [whale horse])
INDO-EUROPEAN ABLAUT: sing-sang-song
MODAL PAST-SUBJUNCTIVE: can-could, may-might, shall-should, will-would
The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any Three-l lllama.
(Fromkin Rodman Hyams  290)
In response to this poem one wit remarked, “A three-alarmer (three-l lllama) is a really big fire.”