Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Unraveling the History of English Spelling

Why are words like "Renaissance", "camaraderie", and "accommodation" so hard to spell? The answer to that question may lie in the history of the origins of the English language. Host Tom Fudge speak

Unraveling the History of English Spelling

Tom Fudge: Anyone who has learned German or Spanish knows that it's not so hard to create a language that is spelled in a very phonetic way. In other words, certain letters and certain combinations of letters make certain sounds. And, those rules are consistant throughout the written language.

Then there's English, the language we speak and write. Sometimes "GH" is pronounced like "F", as in "tough". Sometimes "O" is pronounced like "IH", as in the word "women". Sometimes "TI" is pronounced as a "SH" sound, as in the word "nation". There you have George Bernard Shaw's famous illustration of how the word fish could easily be spelled "G-H-O-T-I".


The madness of English spelling has been the subject of many books and essays, and it's resisted many well-intentioned efforts to reform it. Now the subect is examined in a new book by David Wolman called Righting the Mother Tongue : From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling.