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Hogarth judge

November 2018



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Hogarth judge

Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow

The interpretation of English spelling by fluent speakers is an amazingly complicated phenomenon. All readers of English are amateur etymologists predicting the contemporary spoken outcome of an ancient root form, where the evidence of the ancient root is the written string of letters. Confronted with the string, it's assigned a level of exoticism, in ascending order:

Core Germanic English (go, want, have)
Anglo-Norman French (flour, display)
More recent French (lingerie, ennui)
Greco-Latin learned vocabulary (pneumatic, rhinoceros)
Exotic odd lots (pizza, ukelele)

The classification determines which rule set must be applied to produce a spoken form from writing.

The first two are almost equally basic, but there are distinguishing pairs showing the existence of two rule sets: gilt vs. gist, for example. There are clues, of course: the presence of odd combinations in the syllable onset like "phth-" or "pn-" pretty much forces a written word into the learned rule set. But nothing much distinguishes an early borrowed French word like devour from a more recent French word like velour.

Any one of the rule sets could be applied consistently: when the system breaks down, it's almost always the result of faulty assignment.


I presume you're putting words from India in the exotic odd lots? Though some of them would be between the first and second, at least in UK usage.
The relationship between what is written and what is spoken is decisive.

If the word from India is represented in English by a transliteration from Devanagari or some other script used to represent an Indian language, it probably gets spoken under the odd-lot rule set. (Technically, most all of those scripts are in one sense the same system: graphic variations on an underlying original. They are strongly diverse in appearance, though.)

If it's been furnished with a "phonetic" English spelling, it may not.

I would doubt whether aspirate consonants like bh distinct from b are preserved in the pronunciations used by English speakers.

Perhaps Spanish words are the equivalent in US English: there are enough of them to form a distinct subset of the odd-lot rules. A fluent US reader seeing Cinco de Mayo will use odd-lot rules, lengthening the first syllable to "seenko", and Mayo the month will not rhyme with Mayo the hospital, county, or sandwich spread.

Edited at 2008-07-17 09:14 pm (UTC)
They tend to be more or less phonetic in the speaker's own accent, and would probably be unrecognisable to a speaker of the original language.