English Exceptions are the Rules

Unlike German and Spanish, reading English requires understanding that exceptions are the rules.  Here is a fun list of different sounds from the same letters.  It reminds me of how people can have similar outward religions (spellings) but have completely different ways of being (pronunciation).  These were samples taken from this fun poem.  Many will think this list destroys the poem, some will think it supplements it.  Some think analyzing religion destroys it.  How about you? — poem or religion, your choice!

  • AGE: AGE, mirAGE, foliAGE
  • AI: retAIn, britAIn, AIsles
  • ASP: gASP, wASP
  • AR: vicAR, cigAR
  • ARY: canARY, granARY
  • AU: dAUghter, lAUghter
  • CHEN: liCHEN, kiCHEN
  • EA: dEArest, crEAture, crEAtion
  • EAK: stEAk, strEAk; brEAk, blEAk
  • EAR: tEAR (in eye), (dress will) tEAR
  • EAR: hEARt, bEARD, hEARD
  • GER:  GERtrude, GERman
  • ICE: crevICE, devICE
  • IE: dIEs, dIET
  • IND: wIND, mIND
  • ILES: exILES, simILES
  • INT: mINT, pINT
  • IPT: scrIPt, receIPT
  • IVE:  alIVE, lIVE
  • IVY: IVY, prIVY
  • LLET: biLLET, baLLET
  • OA: lOAd, brOAd
  • OE: pOEm, tOE
  • OLL: rOLL, dOLL
  • ONT:  fONT, frONT
  • OMB: tOMB, bOMB
  • OOD:  blOOD, fOOD
  • OUGH: thOUGH, thrOUGH, plOUGH, dOUGH, cOUGH, hiccOUGH !
  • OUL: sOUL, fOUL
  • OULD:  shOULD, mOULD
  • OUR: tOUR, fOUR
  • OUTH:  yOUTH, sOUTH, sOUTHern
  • OR: hORse, wORse
  • OR: wORd, lORd
  • ORM: wORM, stORM
  • OST: lOST, pOST
  • OW: hOW, lOW
  • P: corPse, corP
  • RI:  RIver, RIval
  • URY: bURY, fURY

If you got this far, you may ask, what got him on this post.  Well, I am studying a little bit about the Tibetan language which has tons of unpronounced letters and it made me think of similar problems in English.


Filed under Linquistics

8 responses to “English Exceptions are the Rules

  1. I’ve studied a little Tibetan as well (Amdo dialect) and beyond the unpronounced letters (which you say as you spell the word but then end up with something totally new by the time you say the actual word) – I found that there are sounds I didn’t even know existed! My tutor would say a word for me to repeat and the best I could do was laugh!

  2. Ian

    Do you know the word “ghoti”, popularised by Bernard Shaw (a great spelling reformer who commissioned a new regular alphabet and spelling system in his will)

    The GH from enough, the O from women, and the TI from nation. Gives means that “ghoti” is pronounced


  3. @ JS Allen : Loved that link — thanX!

    @ neighbor: Yeah, Tibetan is fascinating (a laborious) in that way. English is actually similar. Why the Amdo dialect, btw, instead of Lhasa?

    @ Ian : Yeah, I was trying to remember that while I was writing so as to include it but couldn’t. Thanks. It is the reverse of JS Allen’s link. Why not just go the opposite way and make English like Chinese where the word becomes an ideograph and can’t be pronounced but has to be memorized — we wouldn’t use artistic pics but nonsense letter combination instead.

    Actually, that is sort of what we have now. And as others have pointed out, it serves us well because as my next post shows, a loose hold over pronunciation allows people of different dialects to still see the writing system as their own and thus to communicate with the written word though their spoken words vary.

  4. geoih

    My daughter has developed a passing interest in linguistics and is a budding hockey fan. She loves to make fun of the spellings and pronounciations of the names of the many non-American players. I was recently enlightening her about some of the more colorful history of the game and in the process she was exposed to the name of a past Colorado Avalanche goalie Patrick Roi. She couldn’t believe that his name was actually pronounced “whah” and proclaimed that she would call him “pickle” and that all of the letters were silent.

  5. why Amdo? well, because it’s the region my husband has lived/studied and where his lineage originates (Dudjom lineage of the Nyingmapa).

    Also, I’m sure it’s theorized by some linguist somewhere, but I think we do treat English (or any written language, actually) like ideograms. I certainly don’t have to sound out words when I read, and I read way faster than can be accounted for if I’m reading each word rather than recognizing it. My dad, who is a poor reader, seems to never have learned to memorize the shapes of the words and so he still sounds things out and tries to spell phonetically…

  6. Ah, may I ask if you both practice in the Dudjom lineage or what is your practice. Where does your husband practice now? (website?) I am trying to study a little about Nyingma. Thank you.

  7. He is a practicing yogi (which sounds weird when I type it out, but…) with his teachers being lay practitioners (as yogis are wont to be), though he’s had several initiations (dzogchen, etc) with monastic teachers. Everything is based in Amdo, where Nyingma is strongly ensconced. That doesn’t really help you, I suspect. I’m sure there are many resources online, though. ?? What have you found so far?

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