The English spelling is known to be full of inconsistencies. It is often so unreasonable that you may as well ask who is at fault in allowing it to remain so. The sounds of spoken language are presented in writing by means of a perfect symbol known as letter of alphabet. In a perfect Alphabet, every letter would be a perfect Alphabet, every letter will be a phone symbol, representing one sound and one only, and each sound would     have its appropriate symbol, judged by his standard, the English alphabet is obviously defective.

According to Hill C.J(1971)he pointed it out, for instance, in his work, the certificate library that, the “the alphabet is obviously defective, we have not enough symbols to represent many different sounds

For example

“a” in rat, tall, mane, bare.

“o” in hot, women, hero, son.

“I” in hit, busy.

“ei” in fate, pail veil, they.


Apart from the deficiencies of the English alphabet, modern English is not phonetic, that is, it does not accurately and consistently represent the sounds of speech. The spelling of old English was very nearly phonetic unlike the present day spelling. A further reason for the chaotic state of modern English spelling is to be found in the fact that evenas early as the fifteen century, there are many anomy lies but due to the French scribes who had introduced symbol from their languge to represent English the use of “c” for “s” in the word “city” “mice” and so on.

Most the difficulties of English spelling as Nordquist(2007) rightly puts, it arise from the fact that “words are spelt according to their historical form rather than their sound. Put differently, English spelling is etymological rather than phonetic.

In earlier times, spelling was more phonetic than it is today. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, for example, were all sensible to let the spelling as far as possible represent the sound. But during the eighteen century, the pedants came along and fixed spelling according to what they considered to be sound etymology. they made mistakes which have been perpetuated. For instance, Johnson  in the dictionary spelt the old English verb “ake” with a “ch” (ache) asif it come from Greek. This as given us an odd spelling that has not even an odd spelling that has not even the justification of etymology for its oddness.

The Genesis of the Ambiguity

It is a fact that there is a great difference between sounds and letters in English Language. This ambiguity emanates from various sources namely: Historical, homophones, homographs and spelling to sound correspondence.

Some of the historical reasons that we shall analyze are; Roman Missionaries writings of old English, the French Scribes Spelling of Old English. The introduction of printing, silent letters and borrowing.

Roman Missionary Writing of Old English

Some of the complications existing arose at the onset when the Roman Missionaries first wrote down old English. They used the twenty – three letters of the alphabet. As Crustal (1986) explains “there was no distinction between “I” and “J” or “u” and “V” and there was no “W”. Furthermore, there were not enough letters to meet up with old alphabet which contained nearly forty vowels and consonants. The missionaries decided to use extra symbols from the local alphabet to write sounds that were noticeably different from Latin. For example “th” sounds. Despite this, it was still necessary to use letters like “c” and “g” for more than one sound and to represent some sounds by combination of letter such as “sc” the equivalent of present day “sh”

The French scribes spelling of Old English

After the Norman conquest, the French scribes brought their ideas about spelling in the English Language. Several old English spellings were replaced. The French introduces “qu” where old English had used “cw” as in “queen”. Crystal (1986:31) further states that French Scribes brought in “gh” instead of “h” in words such as “night”, “high” and “ch” instead of “c”  in such words as “church”. They begin to use “c’ before “I” or “e” in  the words in words such as “cinema”, “cell”,  “cement”. They saw that “u” and  “v” were written in a similar way and they  therefore replaced the “u” with an “o” in such cases as “come”, “love”, “one”, when they come before “m”, “n” and “v”. Therefore, by the beginning of the fifteen century, English spelling was a mixture of two system Old system and French.

The Introduction of printing

Crystal(1986:52)explains that the introduction of printing into England in 1476 by William Caxton helped to develop a standard form of English spelling and pronunciation, and provided more opportunities for the people to write and gave theirs works much wider circulation. By the sixteen century, English language was developing both in the text and in growing number of observations dealing with the grammar, vocabulary and writing system.

He also supplies that Caxton as well as other publishers faced the problem of uniformity of the writing system and had to distinguished between what was standard and non-standard. They chose the system which reflected the speech of the London areas as a standard to follow in printing house.


Silent letters

the changes undergone by English for many years caused some letters to be silent at certain positions in words. For example, the letter “k” in words such as “knee”, “knight”, and others was pronounced in old English but it is not the case today. In addition, the final “e” of “state”, “rice”, “fire” and others was pronounced in all the accents of English till the eighteenth century.

In the sixteenth century, there was a fashion among learned writers to show the etymology of a word in its spelling and some of these now spelling and some of these new spelling became standard.this is where the silent “b” in “debt” comes from. The word had no “b” in the middle English. It to remind everyone that the word comes from “debitum” In latin similarly, a “b” was added to “doubt” (from dubitare) and a “g” to “reign” (from “regno”). Moreover, there was a concern to tidy up the spellings, for instance, leading people to think that because there was “g” in “night” and “light” there should be one in “delight” and  “tight” also.


According to chukwu(2007) in his book “words formations and structures”




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