[Source:] Silent letters may help to put weight on a certain syllable, telling the reader to put more stress on the syllable (Compare physics to physiques). [...]

In English, the IPA for 'physics' is /ˈfɪzɪks/, and for 'physique' /fɪˈziːk/.
1. I see that c has fewer letters than que, but which are the silent letters?

  1. How do the silent letters explain the difference in pronunciation?

PS: This ELU post motivated my reading about silent letters.

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    Saying "which letters are silent" is not possible because there is no way to prove which part of a spelling corresponds to which part of the pronunciation. However, most would consider the "e" in "physique" to be silent. The "u" might either be considered "silent," or part of a digraph "qu", depending on how one defines the term. The idea of "silent letters" is overly simplistic and cannot properly explain many elements of English spelling. – brass tacks Aug 18 '15 at 22:34
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    @Le: You've got to learn to read less silly texts. A statement like that is a giveaway that the author was clueless about language -- spelling has no effect on stress, and little enough on pronunciation. The real language is spoken; English writing is a modern invention, and the concept "silent letters" is simply stupid. All letters are silent; letters exist on a page, but sounds exist -- briefly -- in the ear, and can be represented any way at all; spelling is just medieval bureaucracy. – jlawler Aug 19 '15 at 12:48
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    If everyone suddenly became blind and/or illiterate, words would still be pronounced the way they currently are (though that might not last long). I have a PhD in English grammar and linguistics, so I like English spelling. It's like an arid basin with fossils sticking up everywhere. I can recognize the fossils by the sediments they're encased in, and I know the natural histories of the individual species, so I can tell all kinds of things at a glance, like any professional. However, that's what it takes to make effective use of English spelling. Roughly, a Ph.D. – jlawler Aug 19 '15 at 19:11
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    @jlawler: I guess it depends on what you mean by "effective." For people who while reading encounter a word they've never heard spoken, usually the most effective way of determining the pronunciation is to look it up in the dictionary. However, when learning to read, little children and non-native speakers do benefit from a knowledge of phonics -- the basic correspondences between spelling and sound. And any skilled English reader, Ph.D or no, should be able to interpret the pronunciation of "pseudo-words" fairly consistently. weallcanread.com/pseudowords-words-phonics.html – brass tacks Aug 19 '15 at 20:14
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    Right. One learns to recognize signs by constant attention and reading (and writing doesn't hurt, either). But try to explain the rules to somebody who hasn't been reading, or has been reading another language, and it all falls apart. Inevitably, people will overgeneralize the rules and then run up against applications of them in the wrong contexts. That's at least half of our questions here. – jlawler Aug 19 '15 at 21:30

The silent letters do not explain the difference in pronunciation. "Physic" and "physics" are mediaeval or renaissance borrowings from Latin physica. "Physique" is a recent (19th-century) borrowing from French retaining the French spelling and also the French pronunciation with a stressed final syllable.

  • True, they don't explain it. One might say they suggest it, though. For another similar pair of words, "moral" and "morale," the silent e on the latter is not a retention of the French spelling, but actually an innovation only present in the English spelling. It seems reasonable to suppose that the different stress compared to the already-existing English word "moral" influenced people to add an "e." – brass tacks Aug 22 '15 at 7:04

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