Thursday, July 14, 2011

Problem Letters

Changing the spelling of a name is nothing new, but it sure seems to be on the upswing lately (or maybe that's just the over-information effect, who knows). Often spellings are changed in the name of intuitive pronunciation; other times for purely aesthetic reasons. With increasing globalization, though, what makes sense phonologically can get muddled. Here're the major troublemakers in the Latin alphabet.
  • C: Even in English, and most Romance languages, C can be a pain. Supposedly it's hard ("cut") before A, O, U, and consonants, and at the end of words; and soft ("cite") before E, I, and Y. But, there are lots of exceptions, especially in English ("Celt", "soccer", "ocean").
    • In some Spanish dialects, the soft C is like English 'th' ("thing"). 
    • In Italian it's like the English 'ch' ("church"). 
    • In most Eastern European languages, C is pronounced like English 'ts' ("its").
    • In Turkish, C is pronounced like the English J.
  • G: If C is a pain, G is agony. In English and most Romance languages, G is, of course, hard ("go") before A, O, U, and at the end of words; and soft before E, I, and Y. Unless the word is of French origin, then it's a 'zh' sound ("mirage"). Sometimes rules are broken for no apparent reason ("get", "girl", "algae", "margarine"), and sometimes it's just silent ("gnome", "night"). 
    • In French and Portuguese, the soft G is the aforementioned 'zh'. 
    • In Spanish, soft G is like the English 'h' ("hole"). 
    • In Dutch, G represents a sound that doesn't exist in English, but is somewhere between 'th' and 'z'. 
  • J: In English, it's almost always like in "jet", which is surprisingly straight-forward for our language of exceptions. 
    • In most Germanic and Eastern European languages, J makes a 'y' sound ("yet").
    • In most Romance languages, it is a 'zh' sound ("mirage", "measure").
    • In Spanish, it's like the English 'h' ("hole").
  •  V: Always like in "vat" in English, this sound doesn't appear in many languages, or is represented by a different letter.
    • In Spanish and Portuguese, V sounds like the English 'b' ("bat").
    • In German, V is pronounced like English 'f' ("far").
  • W: Only occurs in a few languages. In English, it's either like in "wow", or it's silent at the start of the word, in front of other consonants ("who", "wrong").
    • In German and Polish, W represents the 'v' sound ("vat").
    • In Welsh and Cornish, W is a vowel similar to the English 'oo' ("cook")
  • X: a.k.a--the weird letter. In English, it makes a 'ks' sound ("six") in the middle, or at the end of a word, or sometimes a 'ksh' sound ("luxury"). At the beginning of a word, it's like a 'z' ("xenon"). 
    • In Portuguese and some Spanish dialects, it's pronounced like English 'sh' ("shin"). Or, it's pronounced like 's' ("sit"), or sometimes like 'ks' ("axe").
    • In most Germanic languages, and Italian, it is always pronounced 'ks'.
    • In French, it is almost always pronounced like 'z'.
  • Z: In English, it is usually like in "zebra", but is sometimes 'zh' like in "azure". 
    • In Italian, German, and Finnish, it is pronounced like 'ts'.
    • In Castilian Spanish, Z sounds like 'th' ("thing"), and in some Spanish dialects, it sounds like 's' ("sit").

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