spelling pronunciation

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

English philologist W.W. Skeat (1835-1912).


The use of a pronunciation that is based on spelling rather than in accordance with a word's conventional pronunciation, such as the increasingly common pronunciation of the once-silent letters t and d in often and Wednesday, respectively. Also called over-enunciation.

D.W. Cummings notes that spelling pronunciations are "more typical of American English than British English, perhaps because of the national predisposition among Americans to follow the written word more than the spoken" (American English Spelling, 1988).

The converse of spelling pronunciation is pronunciation spelling: the creation of a new spelling form on the basis of pronunciation.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Words borrowed from French such as hour, honour, and honest came into English without an initial [h] as did hospital, habit, and heretic, but the latter have acquired an [h] from the spelling. The word herb is pronounced with an [h] and without one (the latter mainly in the US), and though hotel has an initial [h], one still sometimes hears an (h)otel. . . .
    "The traditional pronunciation of forehead is 'forrid,' but it is common nowadays to hear 'fore-head,' particularly in the US. This is an example of reversing a sound change on the basis of spelling. . . .
    "Many people believe that the spelling is a guide to the correct pronunciation and argue, for instance, that it is wrong to include an intrusive r in the idea of it or I saw him, because there is no r in the spelling."
    (Barry J. Blake, All About Language. Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Spelling Pronunciation and Language Change
    "Spelling pronunciations are one symptom of the shift from the aural to the visual bias. . . . A sampling of spelling pronunciations provided by [Fred] Householder includes the following, all of which have modern pronunciations that are closer to their spelling than were their older, traditional pronunciations: yesterday, Wednesday, diphtheria, diphthong, harass, kiln, victuals, conch, draught, certain, author, yes, housewife, gold, bomb, jaunt, laundry, sewer (1971, 252-53).
    "Though underestimated, spelling pronunciation is an important and respectable factor in language change. . . . It seems likely that something like spelling pronunciation was part of the process that led to the leveling of dialect differences in late Middle and Early Modern English. Michael Samuels says that 'the evolution and spread of standard English in the 15th and 16th centuries was primarily through the agency of writing, not speech' (1963, 87)."
    (D.W. Cummings, American English Spelling: An Informal Description. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988)
  • Middle English Spellings and Contemporary Pronunciations
    "Some words have not yet been accorded spelling-pronunciation, the words choler, debt, doubt, receipt, salmon, sceptre, victuals retaining the pronunciation better suggested by the Middle English spellings colere, dette, doute, receite, samon, ceptre, and vitailes. Words of a more literary flavour, e.g. victuals, are now occasionally heard with a spelling-pronunciation, and condemnation of such pronunciations as ignorant will probably not prevent their ultimate universal acceptance."
    (D. G. Scragg, A History of English Spelling. Manchester University Press, 1974)
  • Pronunciation Spelling
    "A pronunciation spelling is a spelling that more closely reflects the pronunciation of a given word than the word's traditional spelling does. Over time the new spelling may become as acceptable as the original spelling, as is the case with the pronunciation spelling bosun for boatswain. Many writers use pronunciation spellings, as wanna for want to or talkin' for talking, to convey speech."
    (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
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Nordquist, Richard. "spelling pronunciation." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/spelling-pronunciation-1692124. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). spelling pronunciation. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/spelling-pronunciation-1692124 Nordquist, Richard. "spelling pronunciation." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/spelling-pronunciation-1692124 (accessed January 28, 2023).