For example, language changes over time, but in languages that exist without writing, it changes naturally just influenced by itself. So when writing was introduced, did that start to influence speech too?

For example, I have heard people say we must pronounce King with a slight G at the end, others say that the G is not pronounced but ends with the normal sound of NG.

Another case is the foreigner who pronounces the letters in words similar to his own language and therefore initiates a different/new way of pronunciation.

What do you think about this?

  • 10
    (1) Writing is a system for representing speech, so speech influences writing. (2) Spoken language is learned by every healthy human, but most people never learn to read. (3) This has always been the case since writing was invented, about 100,000 years after speech evolved. (4) If a lot of people speaking a language are literate, their writing system may affect the language in minor ways, like pronouncing often as /'ɔftən/ instead of /'ɔfən/, which was how it was pronounced until they changed the spelling. But mostly writing doesn't influence speech much; it's almost always vice versa.
    – jlawler
    Aug 4, 2014 at 22:20
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    @John There are also cases like equip(ment), which much be attributed to writing; not to mention the fact that widespread reading and writing skills in the general populace has made words once confined to small, literary circles part of everybody's vocabulary. That is an influence (albeit a more indirect one) of writing on speech as well. Aug 4, 2014 at 23:41
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    @jlawler Not necessarily. It is possible to write in Classical/Literary Chinese, a form of language that does not match the spoken language word for word.
    – Double U
    May 23, 2019 at 17:59
  • @JanusBahsJacquet What do you mean by "cases like equip(ment)"?
    – TKR
    Aug 9, 2020 at 3:58
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    @TKR I think I must have meant that the pronunciation with /kw/ must be based on the spelling, since the word, though borrowed from French, is ultimately from OE/ON words deriving from Germanic *skipō- ‘ship’ and thus never had rounding in French (the earliest French form is eschiper, then esquiper later on). The rounding is analogical in English, based on other words with -qu- /kw/. Aug 9, 2020 at 6:50

2 Answers 2


The influence of speech on writing is quite well-known, so I won't go into that.

Coming to the influence of writing on speech, Chomsky gave a talk at Google recently, where he spoke about various things. At one point, a questioner asked about the relation between writing and speech. The question was very different from yours, but his answer applies here. After Chomsky talks about the work of Ken Hale on "cultural gaps" (probably this article), Chomsky mentions another study, of Middle English (author and title not mentioned) that showed that "the use of complex constructions... which had embedded elements in them increased as literacy increased". Chomsky then posits an explanation for that, having to do with speech being constrained by our limits of short-term memory. He concludes that "once literacy spreads, you get much more complex linguistic usage, even in speech, because it carries over from writing to speech".

Apart from that, the influence of speech on writing is getting more and more prominent these days because (1) most people are literate and (2) many people communicate a significant portion of day-to-day affairs via short texts of various sorts (instant messaging, SMS, tweets, etc.). The drive for economy has led them to invent a huge number of abbreviations. Some of these have spilled over into speech as abbreviations (OMG!) and words (ASAP => ay-sap, YOLO => yo-lo). I'm sure a teenager could give you many more examples.


A very small contribution to a huge topic.

Among speakers of non-Putonghua dialects and Putonghua speakers of limited literacy, the officially taught Chinese characters are often regarded as "correct" compared to their own dialect or idiolect. From time to time they will explain that their own pronunciation of some words is "uneducated" or "ignorant". They will even change their usage and pronunciation to reflect Putonghua. Chinese historians have told me that this kind of deference is a common habit.

But bear in mind that Chinese is a special case because respect for the written word has been baked into popular culture for centuries, because of the prestige of scholars, government edicts, and high culture generally. It is also worth remembering that the written language was never static, because officials and scholars kept on inventing and using their own "better" variants of characters, despite the repeated efforts of the central government to codify the system.

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