Thursday, 31 July 2014

Anglo-Saxon, French and Dialect influence on English spelling and pronunciation.

Photo: M'reen

If the plural of thief is thieves, why isn't the plural of chief, chieves and brief, brieves?
Question posed in The Daily Mail. July 21, 2014.
Answer: Mrs. Jean Rey. Wimslow, Cheshire.

Thief is an Anglo-Saxon word used from the seventh century. At that time, English speakers 
always turned 'f' into 'v' when it occurred between two vowels so, one thief, but two thieves.
Words which adopt the 'v' in the plural often have Anglo-Saxon roots. 
The vowel in the plural ending was originally pronounced but this pronunciation dropped out 
of the language as it became increasingly regularised and the influence of French came to bear.
The plural of 'cliff', for instance, was no longer 'cleves'.
Some words have resisted regularisation, including leaf, whose plural is leaves.
The English language does't like to conform.
The word 'chief', however, didn't come into English - from the French - until after the 14th century.
It arrived after the earlier pronunciation rule had disappeared from the language so 
chief has always been regular - one chief, two chiefs.
Modern style guides list three classes of plural endings in f: 
nouns which always change their endings to:
-ves, including calf, elf, knife, leaf, life, loaf,self, sheaf, shelf, thief, wife, and wolf;
nouns which sometimes change to -ves, including dwarf (dwarfs, dwarves), half, handkerchief, 
hoof, roof, scarf and wharf;
and nouns which never change to -ves but retain the -f ending and simply add an s, 
including belief, chief, cliff, muff, oaf, photograph, proof, safe, tough and waif.
In some instances, words may be spoken as hankerchieves rooves etc, 
but are written as handkerchiefs, roofs etc.

M'reen. My father, a Yorkshire tike, now 92 years, old pronounces water as it is spelt!
Therefore not allowing the the vowel after the consonant make the first vowel say A as opposed to a. 
And this type of spelling was carried through to print with the printing presses.
Then there was good old Samuel Peeps and his dictionary to make my life and others a misery.
I think that Blackadder had the right idea regarding this dictionary - didn't Baldrick throw it in the fire?
Homographs are words of like spelling but with more than one meaning.  

A homograph that is also pronounced differently is a heterodyne.

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