Anglish Spelling

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This article is meant to address the French elements which have rubbed off onto English spelling, something the Anglish project has long ignored. This article is the work of multiple people from the Anglish Discord, including Hurlebatte, Yose, Andwlite, and Eadwine. For supporting evidence see Spelling Timeline.

WARNING: Research is ongoing, and we do not guarantee that we have gotten everything correct at this time.

The Writ

⟨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/ ⟨cw⟩ queen→cween
⟨sc⟩ as /sk/ ⟨sk⟩ scathe→skathe
⟨sh⟩ as /ʃ/ ⟨sc⟩ ship→scip
⟨u⟩ as /ju/ ⟨ew⟩ hue→hew ⁘ ruth→rewth
⟨u⟩ as OE ⟨y⟩ ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ bury→bery ⁘ burden→berden
⟨v⟩ as [v] ⟨f⟩ leave→leaf ⁘ over→ofer
⟨wh⟩ as historical /hw/ ⟨hw⟩ why→hwy
⟨z⟩ as native [z] ⟨s⟩ graze→grase ⁘ fizzy→fisy
⟨th⟩ as /θ/ or /ð/ ⟨þ⟩ the→þe
⟨w⟩ ⟨ƿ⟩ we→ƿe ⁘ why→hƿy ⁘ quick→cƿick ⁘ hue→heƿ
  1. ⟨e⟩ is inserted before ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩, and ⟨u⟩ to trigger the palatal value of ⟨c⟩
  2. ⟨u⟩ is used when followed by consonant clusters like ⟨nd⟩

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

Commentary on Recommended Conventions

⟨c⟩ standing for /s/ came into regular English spelling from French. initial ⟨c⟩ with the value of /s/ is 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' or even 'lisse' if you feel the need), 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⟩ as well) to "trigger" its 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 actually "⟨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 clarify the value of ⟨c⟩. This is similar to how English keeps the now-silent ⟨e⟩ and ⟨gh⟩ in words like 'time' and 'high'.

"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. It is tempting to see ⟨gh⟩ as part of a deliberate effort around 1380-1480 to rid the English alphabet of its nonstandard Latin letters, as ⟨þ⟩ and insular ⟨g⟩ began to be substituted, roughly 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 vowel which is doubled then followed by two consonants. A spelling like 'felde' on the other hand, which uses a magic-E, would violate the prohibition against attaching magic-E to ⟨ld⟩ (notice how we write 'mild' and 'wild', not 'milde' and 'wilde').

"After the Conquest, French scribes introduced some new spellings. . . IE was used to represent /e:/. . ." - 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. Early Middle English /uː/ has three modern descendants, and each deserves its own spelling. In cases where /uː/ became /aʊ/ it should be returned to the magic-E system, where it was before French influence removed it. In other words, 'loud' and 'cow' should become 'lude' and 'cue'. In cases where /uː/ retained its pronunciation and became mixed up with long-O, it should be written ⟨oo⟩ in accordance with the example set by words like 'room'. In cases where /uːx/ became /aʊ/ or /ʌf/ (like the words 'plough' and 'rough'), it should be written ⟨uge⟩ (although ⟨uhe⟩ and ⟨uch⟩ are not completely unreasonable alternatives). Beware that 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⟩. Also beware that modern spelling conventions do not allow magic-E to occur after ⟨nd⟩, so a word like 'ground' should go to 'grund', not 'grunde'.

⟨q⟩ was borrowed into regular usage under influence from French. It seems to have become common in the 1200s. We chose ⟨cw⟩ over ⟨kw⟩ 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/ occasionally taking on spellings with ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩; we write 'hue' not 'hew' because of this. Note that 'Yule' should revert to 'yool', not become 'yewl'.

⟨u⟩ taking the place of what was once Old English ⟨y⟩ seems to be linked to French. Although /y/ had merged with /e/ or /i/ for many English speakers by 1066, speakers in the Southwest and the West Midlands retained /y/. This sound 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/, /y:/) had become /e/, /e:/ in Kent and Surrey, Essex and Suffolk. It remained /y/, /y:/ 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/, /i:/. 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 the /w/ found in Germanic names). ⟨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 directly borrowed.

⟨wh/ƿh⟩ is deemed French influence. While we acknowledge 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 was a link. Also, the timing of the swap from ⟨hƿ⟩ to ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ is too near to 1066 to be ignored.

⟨v⟩ (or rather, the practice of using ⟨u⟩ for /v/) seems to have started being applied to native English words under French influence.

". . . 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

⟨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

Commentary on Rejected and Questionable Conventions

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

⟨g⟩ does not make /j/ in this system because ⟨y⟩ seems to have taken on that job naturally. What seems to have happened is /y/ merged with /i/ in Old English, leading to ⟨y⟩ and ⟨i⟩ being interchangeable in Middle English. From here it was a small step to have ⟨y⟩ handle /j/. Some have proposed English picked up the use of ⟨y⟩ for /j/ from French, but the lack of French loanwords in Middle English containing ⟨y⟩ standing for /j/ makes this appear baseless. The word ‘voyage’ serves as a good example, as it contains ⟨y⟩ today, but in Middle English it was usually spelled along the lines of ‘viage’.

⟨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 it seems to have died a natural death, losing out to ⟨þ⟩.

Commentary on Miscellaneous Reversions

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

⟨u⟩ was inserted after ⟨g⟩ in a few words so that ⟨g⟩ would not be mistaken as having the French pronunciation. We recommend reverting: guest to gest; guess to gess; guild to gild.