ORTHOGRAPHY: the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage

tough

I want to direct you to something interesting: the words that end in “ough” when they are pronounced as “f”.   Such as in “enough” and “rough.”     I found myself wondering  where this unusual configuration and practice comes from…so I looked it up.

The portion of linguistics which deals with the various pronunciations of ough  is called orthography.  It has to do with the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage.*  It is a field of endeavor which dates back to the 15th century.  Should you decide to pursue the subject, particularly as it relates to the ough words you will find that there are actually between 7 and 10  varying pronunciations of words in English which end in ough. ( Different linguists count them in conflicting numbers.)  How’s that for making it easy for people to learn the language?

Take a peek at this instructive sentence, for instance. It is a sentence that is found in numerous postings as a way to illustrate the issue.

“A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of
Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”

I found this whole dilemma about the ough words to be humorous, but also confusing.  I remember as an elementary school kid  the first time I ever saw the word hiccough in a book I was reading.   I spent an inordinate amount of time working on the word until it finally occurred to me what I should have been saying.   Who, in their right mind, would imagine that hiccough would be pronounced “hick-cup?”   Leave it to us English-speaking people to make things complicated.

Orthographers have their own language for indicating proper pronunciation.  You may have seen them in dictionaries.  I have never learned the language, so I just skip to the pronunciation key which is within brackets.  It us usually more easily understood.  But take a peek at some of the language keys the orthographers use when dealing with the ough words.

/ʌf/, /ɒf~ɔːf/, /ɔː/ or /ʌp/ “

                       (Thanks to Wikipedia for this partial list)

I defy you to be able to recognize these terms unless you are a linguistic scholar.   Let’s just stick to the bracketed guides, or the guides that say such things as “sounds like” and then gives you a familiar word.  For instance, the word tough (sounds like the word muff.)   Wasn’t that easy?

There are all kinds of situations in which orthographers are called in to help with pronunciation.   The ough words are just one example.   But they have to be among the most interesting.

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“A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”
Read more at http://www.omg-facts.com/Language/Did-You-Know-That-ough-Can-Be-Pronounced/2639#5iOegyabdqH9jcLq.99

Cartoon Credit:  David and Goliath

*http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orthography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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