Sound Patterns and Spelling Patterns in English

  • Robert G. Baker
  • Philip T. Smith
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 4b)


The relationship between spoken and written English has for a long time been a subject of discussion and dispute. If orthography is to be seen merely as a transcription for speech sounds, a one-to-one letter-to-phoneme cipher devised to help children and foreigners pronounce the language, then the English system presents many shortcomings. Few English sounds are uniquely represented by a single letter, few English letters have a unique pronunciation. and there appear to be many redundant letters, such as unpronounced final -e. There has been a continuous history of attempts to change English spelling since the thirteenth century. One of the most recent attempts at reform, and almost certainly the most widely tested one, the “initial teaching alphabet” for beginning readers, will be discussed below. Throughout this history of discontent, however, there have been a number of distinguished voices raised in favour of the traditional system, stressing in particular the desirability for orthographic differentiation of homophones (“right” vs. “rite” vs. “write” vs. “wright”) and the maintenance of orthographic identity for lexical roots and their derived forms in spite of phonemic variation (“divine” vs. “divinity”; “serene” vs. “serenity”; “profane” vs. “profanity”). In this case alphabetic orthography was not seen primarily as a phonemic transcription. Rather, although initially based on a phonological level of language, it is designed for people who already know the language and do not generally require help in pronouncing it.


Real Word Nonsense Word Syllable Stress Sound Pattern Lexical Stress 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert G. Baker
    • 1
  • Philip T. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.University of StirlingUK

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