Friday, April 22, 2011

Today I'd like to talk just a little bit about the not-knot merger. Way back in the day, there was a difference in the pronunciation of the words "not" and "knot". The "k" in "knot" wasn't a silent hanger-on, it actually did something. If you said the word "knot", you'd pronounce the K, and maybe (I'm really just guessing on this) it would have sounded like "Kh-not" or [knot] or something like that. Same was true for things like "knee" and "knight". All those words had a "k" sound in front of them, (and the ends were a little different too in most cases). Over time, the English language, as all languages do, smashed some sounds together, forgot about others, and just threw a few extra sounds in other words just for giggles. As English changed, the "k" sound was left out more and more in "kn-" constructions, until it finally produced the same sound, and "knot" and "not" became indistinguishable in pronunciation. Even though the sounds changed over time, the spelling remained exactly the same.

This same process happens constantly, and is happening right now. We're dropping the yod, the "yuh" sound, from a lot of our words. Think of an british dude saying "tune" (tyune), and an american saying tune (toon). We still keep the yod in a few words like "fume" "hewn", but for the majority, words like tune, coupon, dune, misfortune etc. have lost the yod.

So yeah.

That also shows that there are a lot of things that are nonsensical and confusing simply because they're relics of another context and environment. Aftereffects can last thousands of years.


  1. yayyyyyy!! yod = י
    Though I'm assuming you aren't talking about the yod as in the Hebrew letter :D

  2. Yeah, English is pretty screwed up. You know why? Those darn Normans! If it weren't for 1066, we wouldn't have had that short fraternization with Romance languages, we'd be mostly Germanic, and elementary school would be much easier.
    [Disclaimer: I am not prejudiced against individuals from Normandy. I swear!]

  3. Actually Richard, I believe the word yod is taken from the Hebrew letter, though I'm not sure. I know more about Spanish phonetics than English phonetics.

    And even though the crazy spelling makes our mish-mash language insanely hard to write correctly, it has a couple of really cool side effects, like the fun times you can have in rhyme.