Anglish Spelling

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Foreword

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.

The Writ

RECOMMENDED REVERSIONS
FROM TO EXAMPLES
⟨c⟩ as /s/ ⟨s⟩ cinder→sinder ⁘ fleece→flees
⟨ch⟩ & ⟨tch⟩ as /tʃ/ ⟨c⟩ (⟨ce⟩ behind ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨u⟩) 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(Ce)(e)⟩ loud→lude ⁘ hound→hund
⟨ough⟩ as /aʊ/ & /ʌf/ ⟨uge⟩ plough→pluge ⁘ tough→tuge
⟨qu⟩ as /kw/ ⟨cw⟩ queen→cween
⟨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 [ʍ] ⟨hw⟩ why→hwy
⟨z⟩ as native [z] ⟨s⟩ graze→grase ⁘ fizzy→fisy
ALTERNATIVES TO SOME OF THE ABOVE
FROM TO EXAMPLES
⟨dge⟩ as /dʒ/ ⟨gc⟩ sedge→segc
⟨gh⟩ as historical [x~ɣ] ⟨h⟩ night→niht
⟨gh⟩ as historical [x~ɣ] ⟨ch⟩ night→nicht
⟨gh⟩ as historical [x~ɣ] ∅ & ⟨f⟩ dough→dow ⁘ tough→tuff
⟨qu⟩ as /kw/ ⟨kw⟩ queen→kween

Commentary on Recommended Conventions

⟨c⟩ being soft (standing for /s/) is a French thing. We have found no trace of it in English before the Norman Invasion. If the ⟨c⟩ stands at the beginning of a word, it can be swapped out straight for ⟨s⟩, like in cinder. Likewise, if the word ends in ⟨ce⟩ which is preceded by a vowel, it can be swapped for ⟨s⟩, like in fleece. A case like once is a bit more complex; respelt it gives ones, as the ⟨e⟩ here is a magic-E which indicates diphtongization (see for instance OE bán → NE bone). While one (OE án) lost its diphtong afterwards, the spelling is kept. In words like hence or since, there is no magic-E, which is why they are respelt as hens and sins.

⟨ch⟩ for /tʃ/ came into English with the Norman Invasion. 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⟩, a letter neglected by what seems to have been the majority. Second, some scribes would insert a silent ⟨e⟩ or a silent ⟨i⟩ after ⟨c⟩ or ⟨g⟩ to "trigger" their palatalised values (geong is a well-known instance of this), 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 kept to clarify the value of ⟨c⟩, similar to how English keeps the now-silent ⟨e⟩ and ⟨gh⟩ in words like game and high to clarify the values of the forerunning vowels.

  • "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 Norman 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 apparently retained /y/. This sound was then rendered as ⟨u⟩ in the French manner. We recommend changing: burden to birden or berden; buy to bye; bury to bery.

  • "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
    • 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.

⟨wh/ƿh⟩ is deemed French influence. While we acknowledge that the loss of ⟨hl⟩ and ⟨hr⟩ could have pressured ⟨hw/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 ⟨hw/hƿ⟩ to ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ is too near to 1066 to be ignored.

⟨v⟩ (or more accurately the practice of using ⟨u⟩ for /v/) was brought to England by the Normans.

  • ". . . 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

⟨þ⟩ has an undecided status. ⟨th⟩ existed alongside ⟨þ⟩ in Old English, but ⟨th⟩ is mostly absent around 1150-1350. Towards the end of the 1300s ⟨th⟩ began to make a return, and became increasingly common in the 1400s. This turn of events predates the introduction of printing presses to England, and while ⟨þ⟩ and ⟨y⟩ began to merge in appearance in many people's handwriting, this too seems to have been a later development. One possible explanation for the return of ⟨th⟩ to English is the abundance of other ⟨Ch⟩ digraphs in 1300s English (such as ⟨ch⟩, ⟨sch/sh⟩, ⟨wh⟩, and ⟨gh⟩).

⟨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. The short value represented by ⟨æ⟩ merged with the short vowel represented by ⟨a⟩, and took on ⟨a⟩ as its spelling. Meanwhile, the long value represented by ⟨æ⟩ ended up with ⟨ea⟩ as its spelling. We have not linked this development to French. As an aside, for a time around 1200 some scribes used ⟨æ⟩ for what were once long ⟨æ⟩ and long ⟨ea⟩ in Old English, so one can find spellings such as læd instead of Old English 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⟩.

⟨ƿ⟩ was not revived because we have not linked its death to French influence. English has been using ⟨uu⟩ and ⟨w⟩ (as a ligature, not a full-fledged letter) since Old English times, and ⟨ƿ⟩ persisted quite long after the Norman Invasion. It is possible that ⟨ƿ⟩ simply looked too much like ⟨p⟩ and ⟨þ⟩ to forever withstand being replaced by a "neater" alternative. There may be room to argue, however, that the shift from Insular to Carolingian (especially Blackletter) played a role in the death of ⟨ƿ⟩, since ⟨þ⟩ in Carolingian often looks almost identical to ⟨ƿ⟩.

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.

Here are some random recommendations: ache to ake; ghost to goast; harbour to harbor; island to iland; mould '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.