Silent letters are the bane of children learning to read and write English.
They simply don’t make any sense!
Or do they?
In this series of posts, we want to give you some tips which you can share with your grandchildren to help them understand some of the stranger rules of modern English.
Why do we have silent letters?
The English language is full of silent letters.
No one who has seen how difficult it can for some children to master. They can be frustrated and even exasperated in the process.
English is a global language shared in hundreds of countries and some folk are pushing to get have silent letters removed. Their reasoning is because they make learning to spell difficult and are not needed anymore.
However, silent letters do make a big difference to the meanings and the history of many words.
The history of silent letters
In the early second century Christian monks began to record the English language.
The monks knew Latin because they were trained in the Church and they knew French because it was the dominant language of the time (just ask the Normans).
The monks decided to create a range of silent letters – singular and combined – to explain that some words came from old English and that they should be distinguished from new ‘modern’ Latin and French words.
For example, you know the word ‘knight’ has a silent ‘k’. The ‘k’ signifies that it is a old Celtic word.
When they adapted the Latin alphabet into English there were 26 letters which represented 41 different sounds.
Pronunciation of words were altered and there came a time when there was no need for the silent letters, but when the printing press arrived the old spellings were preserved.
Silent letters are difficult to process and do make learning to spell English difficult, but each word they represent has a long and interesting history that can be traced back hundreds of years.