Anglish Spelling

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This article addresses the French elements which have influenced English spelling, and recommends native reversions. The findings and arguments are a collaborative effort from the Anglish Discord, most notably, the users: Hurlebatte, Yose, Andwlite, and Eadwine. For supporting evidence see Spelling Timeline.


⟨c⟩ as /s/ ⟨s⟩ cinder→sinder ⁘ fleece→flees
⟨ch⟩ & ⟨tch⟩ as /tʃ/ ⟨c⟩ or ⟨ce⟩1 chin→cin ⁘ choke→ceoke ⁘ match→mac
⟨dge⟩ as /dʒ/ ⟨cg⟩ sedge→secg
⟨gh⟩ as historical [x~ɣ] ⟨g⟩ high→hige ⁘ night→nigt
⟨ie⟩ as /i/ ⟨ee⟩ field→feeld
⟨le⟩ as /əl/ ⟨el⟩ nettle→nettel
⟨o⟩ as OE ⟨u⟩ ⟨u⟩ son→sun ⁘ some→sum
⟨ou⟩ & ⟨ow⟩ as /aʊ/ ⟨u⟩2 or ⟨ue⟩ or ⟨uCe⟩ hound→hund ⁘ sow→sue ⁘ loud→lude
⟨ough⟩ as /aʊ/ & /ʌf/ ⟨uge⟩ plough→pluge ⁘ tough→tuge
⟨qu⟩ as /kw/ ⟨cƿ⟩ queen→cƿeen
⟨sc⟩ as /sk/ ⟨sk⟩ score→skore
⟨sh⟩ as /ʃ/ ⟨sc⟩ ship→scip
⟨th⟩ as /θ/ or /ð/ ⟨þ⟩ the→þe
⟨u⟩ as historical /ju/ ⟨eƿ⟩ hue→heƿ
⟨u⟩ as OE ⟨y⟩ ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ bury→bery ⁘ burden→berden
⟨v⟩ as [v] ⟨f⟩ leave→leaf ⁘ over→ofer
⟨w⟩ ⟨ƿ⟩ water→ƿater
⟨wh⟩ as historical /hw/ ⟨hƿ⟩ whelp→hƿelp
⟨y⟩ as /j/ ⟨g⟩3 ⟨ge⟩1 yes→ges ⁘ yore→geore
⟨z⟩ as native [z] ⟨s⟩ graze→grase ⁘ fizzy→fisy
  1. ⟨e⟩ is inserted before ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩, and ⟨u⟩ to trigger the palatal values of ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩.
  2. ⟨u⟩ is used alone when followed by consonant clusters like ⟨nd⟩ (so 'hund' not 'hunde', similar to how we write 'child' not 'childe').
  3. ⟨y⟩ remains ⟨y⟩ at the end of syllables, like in the words 'day', 'say', 'happy', and 'tidy'.

Here are some random recommendations: 'ache' to 'ake'; 'ghost' to 'goast'; 'harbour' to 'harbor'; 'island' to 'iland'; 'mould' (meaning: 'loose earth') to 'mold'; 'Rhine' to 'Rine'; 'rhyme' to 'rime'; 'sailor' to 'sailer'; 'scythe' to 'sithe'; 'tongue' to 'tung'; 'acre' to 'aker'.

Sample Text

The following is an Anglish translation of 'The North Wind and the Sun.' Grounded on the English language version published in the 1999 IPA Handbook, and translated into Anglish by users on the Anglish Discord.

English Spelling

The North Wind and the Sun were squabbling about which was the stronger, when a wayfarer came along wrapped in a warm shroud. They settled that the one who first overcame in making the wayfarer take his shroud off should be seen as stronger than the other. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew, the more tightly did the wayfarer fold his shroud about him; and at last the North Wind gave up the bid. Then the Sun shone out warmly, and at once the wayfarer took off his shroud. And so the North Wind was bound to acknowledge that the Sun was the stronger of the two.

Anglish Spelling

Þe Norþ Ƿind and þe Sun ƿere skƿabbling abute hƿic ƿas þe stronger, hƿen a ƿayfarer came along ƿrapped in a ƿarm scrude. Þey setteled þat þe one hƿo first ofercame in making þe ƿayfarer take his scrude off sculd be seen as stronger þan þe oþer. Þen þe Norþ Ƿind bleƿ as hard as he could, but þe more he bleƿ, þe more tigtly did þe ƿayfarer fold his scrude abute him; and at last þe Norþ Ƿind gafe up þe bid. Þen þe Sun scone ute ƿarmly, and at ones þe ƿayfarer took off his scrude. And so þe Norþ Ƿind ƿas bund to acknoƿlecg þat þe Sun ƿas þe stronger of þe tƿo.

Recommended Conventions

⟨c⟩ as /s/ came into regular English spelling from French. Initial ⟨c⟩ with the value of /s/ is to be changed to ⟨s⟩ ('cinder' to 'sinder'). Final ⟨ce⟩ is changed to ⟨s⟩ or ⟨se⟩ depending on circumstances. Sometimes ⟨e⟩ must be kept to mark vowel length ('lice' to 'lise'), otherwise it is dropped ('fleece' to 'flees'). A case like 'once' is a bit more complex because the spelling should retain a magic-E for etymological reasons, which results in 'ones' (this spelling is well attested in Middle English).

⟨ch⟩ for /tʃ/ came into regular English spelling from French. It appears early in English in the Ormulum, a manuscript from the 1100s. Before ⟨ch⟩ was borrowed, English scribes had two ways to cut down on ambiguity. First, some scribes used ⟨k⟩ when ⟨c⟩ would be ambiguous. Second, some scribes would insert a silent ⟨e⟩ or a silent ⟨i⟩ after ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ to "trigger" their palatalised values, similar to how the silent ⟨u⟩ in modern 'guest' "triggers" the /g/ value of ⟨g⟩. We recommend this "⟨e⟩ insertion" convention to fight ambiguity, but it should be noted that in most cases it is more like "⟨e⟩ retention", since many words like 'choke' originally did have ⟨e⟩ in both spelling and pronunciation, and that being so, it is likely that these instances of ⟨e⟩ would have been retained since they would have continued to clarify the value of ⟨c⟩.

"Anglo-Saxon scribes sometimes clarified the pronunciation of c using two devices. . . one device was to show the /tʃ/ value where it might otherwise not be apparent by inserting an E or I after the C; thus þencan could also be written þencean. The other device was to replace C by K to show its /k/ value before a front vowel: cyn 'kin', cyning 'king', cycen 'kitchen' were sometimes written kin (so contrasting with palatalized c in cin 'cin'), kyning, kicen. Likewise the genitive case of folk 'people' could be either folces or folkes 'of the people'." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

⟨dg⟩ seems to be a modification of, or a less ambiguous replacement for, ⟨gg⟩. For this reason we link it to the Norman Invasion. Before 1066, ⟨cg⟩ was dominant, with ⟨gc⟩ being an alternative. Shortly after 1066 ⟨gg⟩/⟨ȝȝ⟩ spiked in popularity, and was the norm by 1200.

⟨gh⟩ seems to be based on the many French or French-inspired digraphs found in Middle English spelling. We see the emergence of ⟨gh⟩ as part of a deliberate effort around 1380-1450 to rid the English alphabet of its nonstandard Latin letters, as ⟨þ⟩ and insular ⟨g⟩ began to be substituted simultaneously with standard Latin letters (⟨y⟩ for /j/, ⟨gh⟩ for [x~ɣ], ⟨th⟩ for /θ/). The mainstream way of writing [x~ɣ] before the introduction of ⟨gh⟩ was insular ⟨g⟩. Contrary to some people's assumptions, insular ⟨g⟩ does not seem to have been given the job of [x~ɣ] by the Normans, instead, insular ⟨g⟩ had been standing for [ɣ] since Old English times, and around 1250-1300 (long after the first waves of French influence) it became popular to use insular ⟨g⟩ for [x] as well (previously, [x] had usually been written with ⟨h⟩), perhaps as a result of the two sounds merging.

⟨ie⟩ standing for /eː/ (pronounced /i(ː)/ today) seems to have rubbed off onto English from French loanwords like 'piece', 'siege', and 'priest'. We recommend reverting ⟨ie⟩ to ⟨ee⟩, including in words like 'field'. Although 'feeld' may seem like a strange spelling at first, note that it follows the same format as words like 'roost', which consist of a doubled vowel followed by two consonants. A magic-E spelling like 'felde' would violate the prohibition against attaching magic-E to ⟨ld⟩ (we write 'mild' and 'wild' not 'milde' and 'wilde').

"After the Conquest, French scribes introduced some new spellings. . . IE was used to represent /eː/. . ." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

⟨le⟩ at the end of words seems to have rubbed off onto English from French loanwords like 'people'.

"The development of people offers a good paradigm for many words ending in -LE: Lat populum > OFr poeple > ME peple > people. The final syllable of people and similar words was commonly spelt in ME with a wide variety of vowel letters, as -EL, -IL, -UL, -YL, etc. In EModE, printers showed a growing tendency to prefer the Fr -LE spelling in many words of both Franco-Lat and OE descent." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

⟨o⟩ in Middle English taking the place of ⟨u⟩ is linked to French, and is reverted in this system. Relevant words include: 'come'; 'some'; 'son'; 'wone'; 'love'; 'above'; 'dove'; 'shove'; 'honey'; 'wonder'; 'wolf'. The Latin loans 'monk' and 'ton' were also affected by this.

"The convention of using o for earlier u begins in late Latin and is extended first to French and then to English." - Venezky, Richard L. Visible Language; Detroit, Michigan etc. Volume 10, Issue 4, pages 351-365
"In the handwriting of the ME period much more than in that of the OE, the letters i (and j), u (and v), n, m, and w tended to be made simply by one, two, or three short upright strokes (technically called minims) without horizontal connecting strokes at the top of bottom between minims forming parts of the same letter, and sometimes without a dot over the single minim standing for i (or j). The result was that any word containing two or more of these letters in sequence became difficult to read, a succession of, say, four minims being interpretable as nu, un, mi, wi ,im ,iw, ini, iui (ivi), nii, uii (vii), iin, or iiu (iiv). In some contemporary French dialects, o had come, in certain phonetic situations, to indicate the same sound as u; French scribes were not slow to substitute o very generally for u whenever u was etymologically called for in the neighborhood of other letters made up of minims. This practice came to be widely imitated in writing English, and hence ME sone, which was easier to read than sune. . ." - Early English: An Introduction to Old and Middle English, Clark, page 122

⟨ou⟩ standing for /uː/ was borrowed from French. Beforehand, early Middle English represented /uː/ with ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩, depending on the writer and the circumstances. In cases where /uːx/ became /aʊ/ or /ʌf/ (like the words 'plough' and 'rough'), it should be written ⟨uge⟩. Some instances of ⟨ou⟩ are native, having arisen through vowel breaking; words ending in ⟨-ough⟩ which rhyme with 'dough' and 'trough' have the "English ⟨ou⟩" and should retain ⟨ou⟩. Modern spelling conventions do not allow magic-E to occur after ⟨nd⟩, so a word like 'ground' should go to 'grund' not 'grunde'. Although 'should', 'would', and 'could' had short vowels, they seem to have been caught up in the French influenced shift to ⟨ou⟩. We propose changing them to 'sculd', 'wuld', and 'culd', but other possibilities exist, such as 'woold' and 'cud'.

⟨q⟩ was borrowed into regular usage under influence from French. It seems to have become common in the 1200s. We chose ⟨cƿ⟩ over ⟨kƿ⟩ because it seems to have remained the most common spelling before the introduction of ⟨q⟩.

⟨sh⟩ seems to be a shortening of ⟨sch⟩ which was almost certainly modelled on ⟨ch⟩.

⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩ standing for /ju/ developed from French influence. English borrowed French loanwords which contained /y/, and writers chose to represent this sound with ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩. Previously these spellings stood for English's native /uː/, but that phoneme began to be spelled in the French manner with ⟨ou⟩, leaving ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩ open to being repurposed. Making matters more complicated, this French /y/ merged with English's native /iu/, resulting in words with /iu/ sometimes being respelled with ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩. Because of this we write 'hue' not 'hew'. Note that 'Yule' should revert to 'Yool', not become 'Yewl'.

⟨u⟩ taking the place of what was once Old English ⟨y⟩ is linked to French. Although /y/ had merged with /e/ or /i/ for many English speakers by 1066, some people in the Southwest and the West Midlands retained /y/. This native /y/ was then rendered as ⟨u⟩ in the French manner. Due to this, we recommend changing: 'burden' to 'birden' or 'berden'; 'buy' to 'bye'; 'bury' to 'bery'; 'busy' to 'bisy'; 'cudgel' to 'kicgel'; 'crutch' to 'cric'.

Already in OE times (around 900), ⟨y⟩, ⟨'ý⟩' (phonetic value: /y/, /yː/) had become /e/, /eː/ in Kent and Surrey, Essex and Suffolk. It remained /y/, /yː/ in the South West and the West Midlands, where it was spelled ⟨u⟩ according to French custom. In the East Midlands and throughout the north, however, it was unrounded to /i/, /iː/. The position of London explains how all three developments can be found with Chaucer.
Translated into English from the original German:

"Bereits in ae. Zeit (um 900) war in Kent und Surrey, Essex und Suffolk y, ý (Lautwert: y, y:) zu e, e: geworden. Es blieb y, y: im Südwesten und im westlichen Mittelland, wo es nach frz. Gewohnheit u geschrieben wurde. Im östlichen Mittelland und im ganzen Norden wurde es hingegen zu i, i: entrundet. Aus der Lage Londons erklärte es sich, daß sich bei Chaucer alle drei Entwicklungen belegen lassen." – Bähr, Dieter (1997). Einführung ins Mittelenglische. UTB, Stuttgart.

⟨w⟩ seems to have entered English with the Norman Invasion (although Anglo-Saxon writers had been familiar with the practice of using ⟨uu⟩ in Latin to render Germanic /w/). ⟨w⟩ was used in Norman French in the 12th century (Bodleian Library MS. Douce 320), and judging by the shape of this character when it appears in English texts from the 12th century (Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 636) it was apparently borrowed directly from French.

⟨wh/ƿh⟩ is deemed French influence. While we have considered that the loss of ⟨hl⟩ and ⟨hr⟩ could have pressured ⟨hƿ⟩ to change to ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ to match ⟨wl/ƿl⟩ and ⟨wr/ƿr⟩, the lack of early Middle English manuscripts with ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ but not ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨sch/sh⟩ is too striking to not conclude there is a link between ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ and the Norman Invasion.

⟨v⟩, or more accurately the practice of using ⟨u⟩ for /v/, seems to have caught on in England under Norman Influence. While English manuscripts before 1066 did sometimes use ⟨u⟩ for /v/, this was mostly reserved for foreign names. After 1066 the practice seems to have spread to native English words.

". . . the E is always retained after V, since the lack of clear distinction in spelling between the sounds values of V and U/W before the 17th century led writers to mark final /v/ with a following E. . ." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

⟨y⟩ rather than insular ⟨g⟩ being English's /j/ letter seems to trace back to the same trend around 1380-1450 wherein ⟨þ⟩ and insular ⟨g⟩ were simultaneously replaced with ⟨th⟩ and ⟨gh⟩. Since ⟨þ⟩ and insular ⟨g⟩ were the only remaining non-standard letters, it is hard to see this as anything other than a deliberate attempt to rid the English alphabet of letters that were not deemed Latin enough. Note that the shift from spellings like 'daȝ' to 'day/dai' predate this purge, and in all likelihood came about naturally because ⟨ay/ai⟩ better reflected the actual pronunciation by the 1300s.

⟨z⟩ was rarely used in Old English, and virtually never in native words (apparently when it did it stood for /ts/, like in German today). The letter began to appear in native words after English had taken in many French loanwords which contained it.

"It was probably pronounced /ts/, as implied by the variant OE spellings 'milze', 'miltse' 'mildness'." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson
"In OFr. . . Z served a variety of functions and under Fr influence it came into ever wider, though inconsistent, use in Eng through the ME and EModE periods." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

Some consonants were doubled under Latin influence. We recommend reverting: ‘accursed’ to ‘acursed’; ‘allay’ to ‘alay’; ‘afford’ to ‘aford’; ‘affright’ to ‘afright’; ‘anneal’ to ‘aneal’.

"The form anneal, however, derives from OE anælan; spellings of this word with NN are first attested in the 17th century, by analogy with Latinate forms such as annex (compare similar doubling of C, F, L in accursed, afford, allay)." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

Because French pronounced ⟨g⟩ as /dʒ/ in some instances, it became desirable in some cases to distinguish ⟨g⟩ making /dʒ/ from ⟨g⟩ making /g/. That is the origin of the ⟨gue⟩ and ⟨gui⟩ spellings. That being so, we recommend reverting: guest to gest; guess to gess; guild to gild.

Questionable Conventions

⟨ck⟩ has been kept because we have not yet linked it to French influence.

⟨æ⟩ was not revived because it seems to have died a natural death when its short value merged with the short value of ⟨a⟩, and its long value merged with the long value of ⟨ea⟩. As an aside, some scribes around the year 1200 preferred to use ⟨æ⟩ instead of ⟨ea⟩ for the merged phoneme, which yielded spellings like ‘læd’ where Old English had ‘lead’.

⟨ȝ⟩ being considered a separate letter from ⟨g⟩ is from French influence. The recommendation is to use ⟨g⟩ but to give it an Insular appearance when possible.

⟨ð⟩ was not revived because we have not linked its death to French influence. We can see that writers shifted towards using ⟨þ⟩ exclusively, but we do not know why.