Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


I MAY have had more pressing matters on my mind, but I was also musing on the difficulties of the English language, its pronunciation and spelling. It’s quite enough for me to hanker for Elizabethan times, when people spelled more or less as they wished.

In particular, consider today’s title: The sentence “Bear with me, dear, as I speak creatively” has four different pronunciations of “ea.” And these aren’t the only ones.

Teflpedia offers pronunciation exercises on “ea,” based on vowels of the International Phonetic Alphabet. The IPA allows English to be expressed in General American and nine others: Australian, Canadian, Indian, Irish, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Scottish, Singapore and Welsh.

And, remember, this is only the phonics part of it. There’s also the orthography, the spelling.


The six known signatures of William Shakespeare. From the top, Willm Shackper, William Shakspear, Wm Shakspea, William Shackspere, Wllm. Shakspere and “by me” William Shakspear.

A man of his time, it’s no wonder Shakespeare occasionally signed his name differently. There are three with “ea,” though. Which brings me more or less back on topic.

Shakespeare, wear, break, breakfast. How come “ea” has all these different pronunciations? The few other languages I’ve dabbled in, French, German, Italian and Japanese, are not without their challenges (I’m terrible at all four). However, each has some regularity of pronunciation, once its unique sounds are recognized.

And, in a sense, this is the problem with English: It’s a love child of just about every language that ever made it across the Channel/der Kanal/ la Manche. Thus, an English word with Germanic roots has some relationship to one sort or another of German. Earth, for example, evolved from Erde; and where the “a” came from is anyone’s guess. And so it is with words originating in French, Norse, Latin, Celtic and the rest.

Plus, people spoke to each other long before they wrote things down.


There are lots of other anomalies in English pronunciation and spelling. Maybe those of you with greater language skills might contribute your favorites? I don’t want this preamble to wear out my welcome with knowledgeable readers. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016


  1. Mike B
    April 5, 2016

    Read a few “news” stories on the internet (btw, it’s officially now not capitalized according to AP style) and be amazed at the odd usage of those who pick whatever looks right in the spell checker (spill chukker?) for the sound of the word. Some are funny, some are just wrong. Yes, English is probably the worst language on the planet, but it’s also probably the most used and the easiest to add new words to.

  2. sabresoftware
    April 6, 2016

    One that I can think of is the pair “gh”. Rough, ghost and eight all have quite different pronunciations of this combo.

    • simanaitissays
      April 7, 2016

      A good one. George Bernard Shaw said “fish” could be spelled “ghoti.” Your “gh.” o as in “women,” and ti as in “nation.”
      My kinda spelling….

      • sabresoftware
        April 7, 2016

        A couple of favourites of English pronunciation:

        A village in Northumberland, England – Ulgham pronounced “Uffem”

        St. John’s Wood district in north-west London (UK) pronounced “sin-gin’s wood”.

  3. simanaitissays
    April 7, 2016

    Good ones, again. I have an English friend who pronounced the Badminton Horse Trials as “Baddington.” I’d say “Isn’t that ‘Badminton?’ ” and she’d reply, “Yes, Baddington.”

  4. Mike B
    April 7, 2016

    One that always messes with people who visit San Francisco: how do you pronounce Gough as in Gough Street? Many people would never guess that it’s like “Goff” with the “ou” like “ought” and the “gh” as “f”. I’ve heard “Goo” from some that are new in town…

    • sabresoftware
      April 7, 2016

      Slough is an interesting one, with different pronunciations depending on usage as a noun or verb. Even as a noun, it differs by intended meaning.

      First as a verb, slough – pronounced “sluff” as in casting of a layer (of skin, layer of mud, etc.). It can also be used as a noun, pronounced the same way meaning the material that is sloughed (i.e. skin layer, etc.).

      The other quite different pronunciation “slew” or “slue” used in Canada and the Northern US meaning a marshy or reedy pool, pond, or inlet.

  5. sabresoftware
    April 7, 2016

    And of course we don’t “pluff” our fields, or “plew” them, but we “plow” them – plough.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: