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SPELLING AND PRONUNCIATION___________________________________________



pronounced in its usual way. In the word pleasure', it is pronounced like the final sound in the word `beige', and in the word `resign', it is pronounced like the first sound in the word `zoo'. Cornbinationts of letters may represent one sound It is possible for a combination of letters to represent only one sound. If you pronounce the words below, you will notice that the gh, the ph, and the ea each represent only one sound even though the spelling represents this single sound as two letters, rough physics head

efore discussing the sound system of English in any detail, it is necessary to make a distinction between the

sounds of English and the spelling of English. The English spelling system often fails to represent the sounds manner. of In English in a


other words,

there is often no oneto-one correspondence between the sounds that we hear and the letters we see on a page. An examination of the English spelling system reveals many examples of this discrepancy between

spelling and sounds, for example: Different letters may represent the same sound Pronounce the words below:

Letters may represent uo sounds It is also to two coo clue through shoe Sioux threw possible for no sound to be represented by a particular letter. Pronounce the words below and notice that the letters in italics are not pronounced at all.

All of these words contain the same vowel sound but it is represented by eight different spellings. The same letter represents different

sounds Pronounce the words below and notice that the letter a is pronounced as five different vowel sounds. cake mat call any sofa Again, the lack of correpondence between sounds and spelling can be observed in these words containing `silent' letters. After this brief examination of the English resign spelling system, we can begin to understand what led George Bernard Shaw to suggest that the English spelling system could be

Now pronounce the next set of words and notice that the letter s is pronounced as three different sounds. see pleasure

In the first word, `see', the letter s is


SPELLING AND PRONUNCIATION___________________________________________ used to spell the word `fish' as ghoti-the gh as it sounds in a word like `rough', the o as it sounds in a word like `women', and the ti as it sounds in a word like `nation'. Shaw's suggested spelling, at.first glance, might seem quite ridiculous; however, it illustrates clearly the way in which a particular sound in English can be spelled in quite differentways.

The pronunciation of still other consonant SOUND-SPELLING CORRESPONDENCES letters can be predicted on the basis of their combination with vowel letters. For example, The lack of sound-spelling correspondence illustrated in the previous examples should not be taken to mean that there are no sound-spelling regularities in English. In fact, many of the consonant letters display a consistent relationship to the sounds they represent. For example, letters such as b, m, and n only have one pronunciation, unless they are silent. e.g. City, cigar, certain, Census, cent, Cyst c before a, o, and u and at the end of a word = k e.g. cat, call, cone, come, Custom, Cup, plastic This predictable difference in the c before 1, e, and y= s the letter c is pronounced like the letter s as in `sent' when followed by the vowel letters i, e, or y, and like the letter k as in `kite' when followed by the vowel letters a, o, or it, or when it occurs at the end of a word. Thus:

pronunciation of the letter c can also be observed in pairs of words that are related in meaning: electric electricity Notice Other consonant letters are also consistent in their pronunciation but may appear in that the English spelling system

preserves the same spelling in these related words even though the pronunciation of the letter c changes. The range of pronunciation of consonant letters is somewhat more predictable than the pronunciation of vowel letters. This is because there are many more vowel sounds

combination with another letter giving them a different pronunciation. For example, a letter such as p is normally pronounced in one way when it is alone but when it is combined with h, it is pronounced in a different way, that is, like the letter f.


SPELLING AND PRONUNCIATION___________________________________________ in English than vowel letters in the Roman alphabet and because historical changes in the pronunciation of English have affected vowel sounds much more than consonant sounds. It is often the case that English spelling represents pronunciations that are now obsolete. Traditionally, English vowel letters have been divided into two categories based on their pronunciation as either long or short vowels. When the vowel letters a, e, 1, o, and u occur in words ending in a silent e letter, they are pronounced with their `long' sound which is the sound heard when these letters are pronounced in isolation (e.g. when Here we see that the unsuffixed form with the silent e has the `long' sound, while the suffixed form without the silent e has the `short' sound. Many people have observed that the English spelling system is

advantageous in that spelling is consistent (even though the pronunciation may differ) among words related in meaning. While there are many more vowel lettersound correspondences that could be listed here, their large number (Prator and

Robinett (1985) list 57 different vowel-letter combinations with predictable

pronunciations) and many exceptions make their usefulness to ESL students somewhat questionable. However, once students have mastered enough spelling, they usually

reciting the alphabet). When the same vowel letters occur in words without a silent e, they are pronounced with their `short' sounds:

become quite proficient at guessing the pronunciation of an unknown word based solely on the spelling.


Many languages, including English, use the Roman alphabet. Differences between the sound-spelling correspondences of such

languages and of English can often be the source of mispronunciations. For example, This is, then, one generalization that can be made regarding of the English soundspelling vowels. This the spelling systems of languages such as Spanish, Polish, and Hungarian are more straightforward than the English spelling


regularity can also be observed in pairs of words that are related in meaning:

system in representing sounds. That is, there is usually a one-to-one correspondence

between sounds and spelling. Speakers of such languages may pronounce every letter of an English word, assuming incorrectly that the English spelling system is like the

spelling system of their native language. In addition, these speakers may assign the


SPELLING AND PRONUNCIATION___________________________________________ sound values of their spelling system to the letters of English. This often results in what we term a spelling pronunciation.

Pronouncing words on the basis of one's native language spelling system does not necessarily constitute a pronunciation

problem. It may merely reflect a lack of knowledge regarding the often complex

sound-spelling correspondences of English. If you have a large number of literate students from a language alphabet, background it may be using wise the to


familiarize yourself with the sound-spelling correspondences in that language. Then you can point out to students the places in which the sound-spelling correspondences of

English and their native language differ.







correspondences in English, it would be difficult to use the Roman alphabet to

symbolize English sounds. Consider trying to represent the first sound of `cat' using the English spelling system. If we were to use the letter c to represent this found, then how would we represent the first sound in a word such as `certain'? Furthermore, would we also use the letter c to represent the first sound in a word like `kite', given that the first sound of `kite' is the same sound that begins `cat'? You can see the problems that would arise in using the English spelling system for such a purpose. In order to avoid the problems that a spelling system like English poses for the

representation of sounds, it is helpful to use a phonetic alphabet.