English spelling is in many respects not phonetic and there is often no one-to-one mapping between spelling and pronunication.

E.g. 'a' is /ej/ or /ey/ instead of /a/ as in Albert

'c' is /s/ not /c,ts/ like in Tsunami or Cyprián

'e' is /i/ (this is the most ridiculous, how can you pronounce as "i" when in most words it's E e.g. Edward, met, get, hemp?)

'i' is /aj,ay/ ? Am ay en aydiot?

So, the question is who can we thank?

I think it is not due to influence from French because their pronunciation is quite logical (well maybe except the weird 'e' that sounds like German 'ü' ;) )


Which language or people brought the 'e' that sounds like /i/ and 'i' that sounds like /ay/ to the "Inglish" language?

  • Is that question intelligible to anyone who doesn't speak German?
    – Aspinea
    Aug 13, 2013 at 8:59
  • 3
    Modern English spelling was developed -- in a hurry, by a number of people - for the purposes of printing. Before printing, English spelling had been an individual matter, like handwriting still is. Unfortunately, when printing was introduced to England, the prestigious things to print were in Middle English, and as a result Modern English spelling is actually a pretty good fit for Middle English. But a Modern English speaker can't generally understand Middle English when spoken, though Chaucer is easy enough to read. Hochdeutsch is standard because it started as a creation of Luther.
    – jlawler
    Aug 13, 2013 at 14:24

2 Answers 2


English spelling is phonetic, to a certain extent. It's just it was meant to (more or less) write down the language as it was about 700 years ago, and there's not been a consistent or generalized effort to update the spelling to reflect the newer developments in pronunciation.

English is far from alone in this department. Japanese was still written (when written in kana) as it was pronounced in the Heian era even though nobody had spoken like that in centuries (i.e. writing "kehou" but pronouncing "kyô" for "today"), it underwent a minor reform during the Meiji era, but didn't really have a phonetic writing until after WW2. Likewise, written Tibetan still reflects the then-current pronunciation of when Buddhism was massively (re)introduced in the 6th century, so if you see Dbu-Rgya-Tso (Tibetan alphabet can be considered a simplified, regularized version of Devanagari) it must be pronounced "U-gya-tsho".

All languages change over time and across distances. Standardized spelling is always a compromise between a purely phonemic approach (to make learning to read as easy as possible), maximizing the readableness (so to say) of old books and hiding dialectal variation in the language (to allow a book to be understood by the greatest possible audience). This is not something to be ever done lightly, and in the case of English it would become doubly difficult after so much time has elapsed without a much needed reform...

  • 2
    English also lacks a centralised authority to impose change. If the German government changes German spelling, or the French government changes French spelling, then other countries are likely to follow suit. But if the UK or the US changes English spelling, the other is likely to ignore them. Honestly, their own citizens are likely to ignore them too. Dec 13, 2013 at 10:09

Look up "Great Vowel Shift" in either the


  • 4
    (+1) Note that the Great Vowel Shift and other sound changes can only explain the discrepancy between English spelling and pronunciation if you take into account that English spelling never underwent a major reform (unlike German spelling, for example). English pronunciation kept changing over the centuries and English spelling largely reflects the pronunciation in the South-East of England in the 16th. c.
    – robert
    Aug 13, 2013 at 12:03
  • Do we really consider "look up X on wikipedia" to be a good answer? I'm sorry, but i have to downvote this.
    – P Elliott
    Aug 13, 2013 at 20:06
  • 1
    You have a point, @PElliott. I believe the value in my answer lies in its providing a keyword to look for. Should I rather have written "What you're looking for is called the Great Vowel Shift"?
    – Aspinea
    Aug 14, 2013 at 6:41
  • 4
    I guess i'd consider it appropriate as a comment but not an answer. Personally i'd expect an answer to explain why great vowel shift is relevant.
    – P Elliott
    Aug 14, 2013 at 19:04

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