Saturday, November 21, 2009

Readings: 20 Sounds, 5 Letters

From the fascinating (really)History of English by Jonathan Culpeper, an explanation of why English speakers have a particularly difficult phonemic system to wrestle with:

Why has the spelling system become less phonemic? Why is it now so complicated? History, as we shall see, can provide an explanation. Initially, English was written in a germanic alphabet - the Runic alphabet. Only a few Runic English texts survive, such as the inscriptions on the Ruthwell Cross, thought to date back to AD 700. Christian missionaries, arriving in Britain in 597 and spreading literacy, used forms of the 23-letter Roman alphabet: A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z. And this is the first problem for English spelling: it adopted the Roman alphabet, in other words, the alphabet of another language -- Latin. Today, we have over 40 phonemes in English, but only 26 letters by which to represent those phonemes. In particular, note that we have about 20 vowel sounds in English, but only 5 vowel letters...

I have addressed the importance of conquering this phonemic dragon quite a few times, including games and activities to strengthen phonemic awareness.

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