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The range of English spelling

  • J. B. Shipley (a1)


There is nothing innately funny or humorous about English spelling, though its vagaries have lent themselves to efforts in that way:

Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners

I take it you already know of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble but not you

On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard, and sounds like bird…

[from a letter by J. Bland published in the London Sunday Times, Jan. 3, 1965; cited by Chomsky (1970) and by Adams (1990)]


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Adams, M. J. 1990. Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bland, J. 1965. ‘Heard – a rhyming word.’ Letter to The Sunday Times, 3 January 1965.
Chomsky, C. 1970. ‘Reading, writing, and phonology.’ Harvard Educational Review, 40(2), 287309.
Franklin, B. 1768. ‘A scheme for a new alphabet and a reformed mode of spelling, with remarks and examples concerning the same and an enquiry into its uses.’ In Franklin, B (ed. Vaughan, B) Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces. London: Printed for J. Johnson., pp. 467–78
Franklin, B. & Vaughan, B. (ed. Vaughan, B.) 1779. Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces […] now First Collected with Explanatory Plates, Notes and an Index to the Whole. London: Printed for J. Johnson.
Johnson, S. 1755. A Dictionary of the English Language. London: Printed by W. Strahan, for J. and P. Knapton.
The Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition 1989. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Webster, N. 1789. Dissertations on the English Language. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Co.
Webster, N. 1806. A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. Hartford, Conn: Sidney's Press for Hudson and Goodwin.
Webster, N. 1828. An American Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Hezekiah Howe.

The range of English spelling

  • J. B. Shipley (a1)


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