Minoan is an IE language?/Sound Equivalence

X99Lynx at aol.com X99Lynx at aol.com
Sun Apr 1 17:53:08 UTC 2001

I wrote:
<< If the situation in English can be attributed in any way to imported words,

In a message dated 3/28/2001 9:44:03 PM, JoatSimeon at aol.com writes:
<<-- it's not the imported words, it's the changing sounds.  First,
one-to-one correspondences between sound and symbol have collapsed as
the language changed and the orthography didn't.  >>

Respectfully, this does not seem to account for the facts as given.  The
report said that there are in English "more than 1,100 ways that letters in
the written language are used to symbolize the 40 sounds in the spoken

If true, this situation cannot be accounted for by mere sound changes and
conservative orthography, internal or even imported.

The mathematics are plain.  If all 40 sounds in English (today) all changed
not once or twice but five times, you should have no more than 200
orthographic equivalencies, counting the new and all the old ones coexisting
at the same time.

Presume English had even fifty or sixty sounds at any point, and each sound
had one and only one corresponding symbol.  If each and every one of those
sounds changed and each of those sounds were given a new symbol, the total of
all new symbols and old symbols could only be at most 120.

Let's say the total number of sounds EVER used in English, past and present,
amounted to 100.  Then EACH and EVERY sound would have to be represented by,
on the average, ten different ways of writing each of those sounds.  To reach
1,100, each of those 100 sounds would have to have changed at least 10
different times each, on the average.

I keep on writing "if true," because these are astonishing numbers,
especially when compared to the figure given in Italian: "the 33 sounds in
Italian are spelled with
only 25 letters or letter combinations."

There can be only a few explanations for this.  One is that English was
constantly shifting a small set of sounds and each of those sounds changed
many, many times.  The other is that English tried to accommodate new sounds
with new spellings, but that the sounds disappeared but the different
spellings were retained.

Awhile ago, I looked up the dozen different spellings of the word "condition"
in OED.  One of them, "condycyoun", I think implies that the early attempts
in spelling the word were meant to reflect the French word.  As the French
word became Anglified, its sounds transformed, <-cyoun> e.g. moving towards a
single syllable, but the orthography - stabilized in the 1600's - could not
quite give up all its heritage and that compromise is where it stands today.

Except in Mark Twain, of course, where a character quite properly spells the
word "cundishun."

Steve Long

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