Why do many words have silent letters when even without them the word would sound the same, like ‘island’ and many others.


I tried asking my English teacher back in school but even she did not have an answer.

In: 157

Spoken language changes much faster than written language. For many words, when the written form of the word was first established they *did* pronounce those letters. Language has simply adopted a different pronunciation over the last few hundred years.

Some letters were added in English in an attempt to bring the spelling closer to Latin, which was the language of educated people. Because of this S was inserted in “island”, and B was added to “debt”.

There are a few reasons.

1. English is a collection of words borrowed from, or inspired by, many other languages, so many of our words are spelled in a way that makes more sense in a different language.

2. Standardized spelling is actually rather recent, so for a long time, people just spelled words however made sense to them, and eventually, some of those spellings became the standard.

3. In some cases, we *did* at one time pronounce those letters, but the way we speak evolves a lot faster than how we spell.


Unlike French, German and Dutch, the English language doesn’t have the history of language reform.

In the early 20th century a lot of language reform was done in the Netherlands to simplify the language and reduce the number of ways a word pronounced should be written (https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geschiedenis_van_de_Nederlandse_spelling#Spelling-Marchant and further).

In the 1996 the German language was made more consistent (https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duitse_spellingwijziging_van_1996) and in France the Académie française takes care of it (https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acad%C3%A9mie_fran%C3%A7aise)

For English, things were proposed many times but never really implemented (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-language_spelling_reform: English is the only one of the top ten major languages with no associated worldwide regulatory body with the power to promulgate spelling changes. )