Tangiora - Last time I spoke with the Spelling Queen we heard how running writing made the letter U very hard to read, especially after W in words like WON and WONDER and WONDERFUL. So U was replaced by O. In your book The Inside Story on English Spelling you say that this had a flow on effect Paquita. Can you explain this collateral damage to spelling?
Paquita – Hi Tangiora. Yes there was a flow on effect to words like WASH and WANDER which did collateral damage. Last time we learnt why WONDER, which looks like [wonder] spells [wunder]. Well, have you ever wondered why WANDER looks like [wander]?
Tangiora - Yes, I have. And I have wondered why WATTLE is not spelt like BOTTLE, with an O. When I help my children with spelling I cannot explain that.
Paquita – I do wish teachers could explain spelling. However, they are not trained to do so. (So far every teachers' college I have approached has not seen the need!) The reason that WATTLE has an A in it is because the English used to say [war-tel]. They said [warn-der], [warsh] and [warz].
Tangiora - I have heard Americans speaking like that.
Paquita - You've got it in one! Long ago A spelt [ar] after W, just as it still does in FATHER, and RATHER, and BANANA. People were still speaking like that in 1620 when the Mayflower set out from England to North America. They said [warz] for was and [warn-der] for wander, [warsp] for wasp and [warsh] for wash. They kept [wartch] until they sighted land at Cape Cod and landed started an English colony.
Tangiora - They called their new home New England, didn’t they? Just north of New York?
Paquita - Yes, and they kept on saying [wartch] and [warz] and so on and there are people in America who still speak like that but back in England pronunciation changed. The English found it easier to say [o] after the [w] sound and so [wartch] changed to [wotch], [warnder] to [wonder] and so on.
Tangiora – So we should write W-O-T-C-H and W-O-N-D-E-R.
Paquita – Exactly, but we cannot because W-O- spells [wu], as in wonder, wonderful and won (the race.) So we have to stick to WA instead of WO. Listen to this sentence: “The wallaby under the wattle tree watches the wasp waddle by.” All spelt with WA instead of WO. Actually, WOMBAT is the only one to escape this collateral damage to its spelling. I shall dig up the reason wombat'sspelling is so sensible for another time.