Introduction from Tangiora - How do we manage to spell our many vowel sounds with just five vowel letters? We'll ask the Spelling Queen this morning.
Tangiora - Good morning Paquita. Are you going to tell us how to use five letters to spell our twenty vowel sounds?
Paquita - We can make a start today. Some languages use little marks over A, E, I, O or U to indicate short or long vowels. Some use set codes. EI in German always spells [I] as in height. EI in French always spells [ay] as in eight. English is such an impure mixture of language that it uses both these codes and others too.
Tangiora - Can you give us one of these spelling systems?
Paquita - There is an Old English system which some words still obey. It uses two consonants, instead of two vowels, to lengthen vowel sounds. This very old spelling method puts L after a vowel and adds another consonant to the syllable to lengthen that vowel. It could be another L, as in call and tall, or a D as in bald, or F as in half, or K as in talk and walk, or M as in calm and palm tree.
Tangiora - Is that why F-O-L-K – folk — has a long [oh] sound?
Paquita - Yes, and egg yolk too, because O is followed by L and another consonant, in this case K. C-O-L-D used to spell [kohld] but now it's read and said as [kold]. Very upper class English still say cold, fold and told with a long [oh]: [kohld], [fohld] and [tohld]. LD also lengthens the vowel in child but only because the LD are close, in the same syllable. As soon as we say children the vowel is short again because we split the word into two syllables, between L and D.
Tangiora - Word for the day, Paquita? What is it?
Paquita - Well, how about poltergeist? It means a ‘noisy ghost’, and, since EI spells[I] in this word, we can see it's one of the many German words in the language stew we call English – our delicious word-stew.