Why Does English Have So Many Silent Letters?


2 Answers

Will Martin Profile
Will Martin answered
This is mainly because English is based on so many other languages, including German, French, Latin and Greek. Most of our silent letters were originally pronounced, either in English or in their own languages. For instance the first letters of "gnaw" and "knight", which come from Old German, were clearly pronounced in Old and Middle English (as they still would be in German today.)
Other words were adopted from Latin and gradually Anglicised, but their spelling often kept its Latin features. Debt, for example, has a silent "b" – but its Latin root word, debitum, did not. The same is true of receipt (silent "p", based on the Medieval Latin word recepta.
Some of our silent letters come from French, most notably initial "h" (heir, hour, honest): French does not pronounce "h" even today.
In addition, there are sounds we have simply stopped pronouncing. In Middle English, we pronounced words more fully, so that "literature", say, would have had four distinct syllables. Now it's usually pronounced "litrecher" with three syllables; many longer words have gradually lost an "e" sound in this way (think of Wednesday, interesting etc.)
Anonymous Profile
Anonymous answered
English is not "based" on other languages, it comes from German. English's pronounciation hasn't changed much over the years of it's split from German, but therehave been some changes. In the older englishes, Knight was prounced with the k and the gh was guteral. Not only were those there though, there is a phoenetical reason they are there. If you spelled it without the silent letters, it would be Nit which would be pronounced differently than Knight. Now we say the gh is silent, but in reality it is more of a very, VERY soft guteral or aspiration, such as a hard h sound. Now those are words that belong in English, Latin, French, and Greek "BORROWED" words have many silent letters because they don't follow english's grammatical rules because they are not English or even Germanic in decent. Attorney General uses romantic grammar and is technically grammatically incorrect. General Attourney is how it should be ordered in English and the other Germanic languages, the adjective-noun order.
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