Silent Q

Azog's little slice of the world. Whee.

Why “Silent Q”?

“Silent Q” is a play on English orthography, which has been called cumbersome. Words are written differently than they are pronounced, leading to some famous puns like George Bernard Shaw’s “ghoti”, which he claimed could be pronounced the same as “fish”:

  • the /gh/ is pronounced like “laugh”
  • the /o/ as in “women”
  • the /ti/ in “nation”

Such wordplay has no reality, because there are generally strict rules in English pronunciation. In this example, the form of /gh/ pronounced like an /f/ never occurs initially; and the /ti/ as /sh/ never occurs terminally.

The famous “silent e” in words like “make” and “bake” are visual triggers which tell us to pronounced the preceding vowel as a “long vowel” and that it’s a diphthong. I guess in German you’d probably umlaut the word. You may not consciously realize this rule, and may not even be able to describe it, but ask anyone to pronounce “fat” versus “fate”, and most people probably will not even give it a second thought.

There is no such thing as a “silent Q”, but I chose “q” because it’s an interesting letter. Native (English) words with /q/ must have a /u/ as the following vowel. We can quickly recognize a foreign word by this lack. Old English would spell it like /cwen/, and since OE pronounced /c/ like [k], there would be no misunderstanding.

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