160 votes
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Why did Old English lose both thorn and eth?

My understanding is that Old English had two letters, thorn and eth, which were used interchangeably to represent the sound th as in thin or father. Pretty much. In some languages they were distinct, ...
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56 votes
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Why is “ß” not used in Swiss German?

It is because of the typewriter. A Swiss typewriter needs to support three languages: German, French, and Italian. Therefore on the Swiss typewriter, there was no ß key. It also has only lowercase ...
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40 votes
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Are there modern languages without standardized spelling? If not, why?

First, let's define our terms. Spelling is "standardized" if there's some authority that people listen to on the topic. This can be a government agency, like the Académie Française, or a ...
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36 votes
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Why are J, U, W considered part of the basic Latin Alphabet?

Despite its name, the ISO Basic Latin Alphabet isn't particularly concerned with representing Latin. It was developed in the modern day, so the fact that I~J and U~V weren't consistently distinguished ...
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31 votes

Why can "autarchy" be spelled with an "k" while other words not?

Actually, “autarky” and “autarchy” are two different words. The former means “self-sufficiency” and comes from the Greek arkein “to suffice”. The latter means “absolute rule” and comes from Greek ...
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30 votes

Why is “ß” not used in Swiss German?

The Swiss government has an explanation on p. 18. One contributing factor is typography, namely the rise of use of the Antiqua font, which was claimed to not include ß. I have no evaluation of the ...
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30 votes

Why are the orthographies of Ancient/Proto Languages so Impractical?

First, it's worth noting that these are transcriptions, used by linguists, not actual orthographies used by native speakers. The ancient Sumerians didn't write their word for "god" as diĝir; they ...
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30 votes
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Are there languages where a change of character casing can lead to a different meaning of a word?

It’s worth pointing out that uppercase and lowercase characters are mostly a quirk of the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets.[1] While these alphabets probably make up a plurality of written texts,[...
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  • 1,159
26 votes
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What is the function of the soft sign (Ь) in Russian?

WARNING: The question is sooo many-sided, it is very wide and can be split into at least 3 different questions. I'll answer it all, don't tell me later that you haven't been warned the answer would be ...
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22 votes

Are there modern languages without standardized spelling? If not, why?

As Katai has pointed out in the comments Swiss German is a modern langauge that has no standardised spelling. In "Mundartwörterbüchern"(=Dialect dictionaries) one can see two different ideas ...
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20 votes

Are syllable initial consonant clusters pronounced in Ancient Greek?

There is very little doubt they were pronounced: they are still pronounced in many languages other than English where they were loaned, and crucially in modern Greek; they were also spelled with those ...
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20 votes
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Is calling a spelling "defective" acceptable in the linguistics of languages other than Hebrew/Aramaic?

A "defective" spelling in Hebrew is one without matres lectionis. This term exists in Hebrew because Hebrew is an abjad which doesn't always mark vowels, and consequently, words can be spelled either ...
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19 votes

Which languages have words containing the same letter three times in a row?

It certainly comes up occasionally, but mainly, I would think, across morpheme boundaries where one is a doubled letter and the other is that same letter but in its singular form (as in the new German ...
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19 votes

The letter "ff" in the name “Richard ffrench”?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary's page for F: In manuscripts a capital F was often written as ff. A misunderstanding of this practice has caused the writing of Ff or ff at the beginning ...
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  • 434
19 votes

Ncuti Gatwa is, according to Wikipedia, pronounced /ˈʃuːti ˈɡætwɑː/ - where is the NC orthography derived from?

In Kinyarwanda, <nc> represents phonetic [n̥tʃʰ], at least in a somewhat-conventional style of IPA transcriptions. The [t] portion of the cluster is brief, and English speakers generally do not ...
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18 votes
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Origin of h as a modifier letter

To my understanding, it comes from TH and PH. In Ancient Greek, there were "aspirated" consonants written Θ and Φ, which literally sounded like "t followed by h" and "p followed by h". So when words ...
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17 votes
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dear, ear, fear, gear, hear, near ... why are bear/pear pronounced differently?

This question isn't just about spelling, because when these spellings were standardised, it is highly likely that all these words ending with "-ear" were pronounced in the same way. However, gradually ...
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16 votes

Which languages have words containing the same letter three times in a row?

Estonian "jäääär" ("edge of the ice") comes to mind. It contains the letter ä 4 times in a row.
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15 votes

Which languages have words containing the same letter three times in a row?

In German, you can make up such words on your own, as needed. Find words that ends with two of some vowel, like schnee (snow), tee (tea) and words that begin with the same letter, and you have: ...
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  • 3,537
15 votes

Why did Old English lose both thorn and eth?

The explanation I remember seeing for the rise of the digraph “th” and fall of the letters thorn and eth in English spelling is influence from French spelling habits. You can see more details if you ...
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  • 16.7k
14 votes

Are syllable initial consonant clusters pronounced in Ancient Greek?

I'll assume you're a native English speaker. Since English doesn't have these clusters, it's difficult for an English speaker to hear or produce them correctly. But it is not impossible, and there is ...
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  • 16.7k
13 votes

Which languages have words containing the same letter three times in a row?

Russian has several words with triple letters: длинношеее - 'having a long neck', also короткошеее - 'having a short neck' змееед - 'snake-eater', the name of a bird доооновский - 'pre-UN'...
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13 votes

Which languages have words containing the same letter three times in a row?

Ancient Greek has ἀάατος "inviolable".
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13 votes
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Recognize this script?

Sorry for digging up this old question but we finally have an answer. I reposted this question to puzzling stackexhange thinking they would be better equipped to solve it. Surely enough, within ...
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  • 2,155
13 votes
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Why does Polish use "w" instead of "v"?

It wasn't always written this way: in the earliest records of written Polish (such as the Bull of Gniezno), the letters "u" and "v" were used for this sound as well. There was no official "standard" ...
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13 votes

Why did Old English lose both thorn and eth?

Here are my notes on the question, a summary of most important linguistic research with relevant quotes; perhaps someone, who is more into linguistic theory, might find them useful. Old English Hogg ...
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12 votes
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How is it that such varied sounds (in major European Languages) came to be represented by the same letter "j"?

This is a question that probably has a quite straightforward answer: historical development. Various European languages adopted the Latin alphabet through different routes and mapped it differently ...
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12 votes

Which languages have words containing the same letter three times in a row?

In biblical Hebrew, we have חננני "have mercy upon me" (Psalms 9:13 - although that's an unusual form; usually it would be with two נs, and the first would be marked with a gemination symbol) and ...
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12 votes
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How is French written in telegraphy and other settings in which diacritics are not possible?

There is no common conventions in French for replacing letters with diacritics by digraphs. In contexts where the diacritics are not available, the usage is just to omit them. This is still common ...
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12 votes

Are there modern languages without standardized spelling? If not, why?

It depends on what you mean by "standardized", also "are written down". In Logoori (a Bantu language of Kenya), there are multiple observed spelling practices, but they can ...
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