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English alphabet

  1. Dec 31, 2009 #1


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    This is probably a silly question, but I was wondering why the English ever took on the Latin alphabet. Clearly, it is a very poor representation of the language. Let me elaborate: They have spelling bees. That is to say, the writing is more or less arbitrary: you can spell the same word different ways and even pronounce a written word in several ways. Take the word "wind" as an example, where "i" is vocalized in different ways depending on the context. This is not the case in several languages, I dare say.

    A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that the adoption of the Latin alphabet was due to Christian missionaries. Therefore my real question is that was the preceding alphabet, the Anglo-Saxon runes, a more complete alphabet in the sense described above? If not, what are the essential sounds of speech of English, i.e. how would you design an alphabet for the English language?

    EDIT: Right after I posted, I noticed that the same discussion had taken place only couple of months ago. I apologize, for I cannot delete this thread.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 18, 2010 #2
    This is not so much the problem with the alphabet as the problem with the representation of that language using the alphabet. No one wants to learn a whole new set of symbols, especially when 90% of those symbols represent sounds that can be represented in some other universally accepted alphabet. For that reason, it is generally a good idea to reuse someone else's alphabet and either add symbols or agree on symbol combinations for sounds that aren't present in the source language (such as the two sounds denoted by 'th' in English - think 'that' and 'thing').
  4. Feb 6, 2010 #3
    Actually, when the early Christian missionaries came to England and began to supplant the Runic alphabet with the Latin one, the latter was a pretty good fit. If you read Chaucer's English, it's pretty phonetic. Then, throughout the 15th-17th centuries, the Great Vowel Shift (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_vowel_shift) took place, which radically altered the pronunciation of English vowels. This is largely what caused our alphabet to no longer match word pronunciation. By then, however, enough people were literate, and enough books were being printed, that it seemed impractical to change letter-values.

    I must admit, though, that sometimes I wish we still had the Runic alphabet! :p
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