English orthography

English orthography is the writing system used to represent spoken English,[1][2] allowing readers to connect the graphemes to sound and to meaning.[3] It includes English's norms of spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation, word breaks, emphasis, and punctuation.

Like the orthography of most world languages, English orthography has a broad degree of standardisation. This standardisation began to develop when movable type spread to England in the late 15th century.[4] However, unlike with most languages, there are multiple ways to spell every phoneme, and most letters also have multiple pronunciations depending on their position in a word and the context.

This is partly due to the large number of words that have been borrowed from a large number of other languages throughout the history of English, without successful attempts at complete spelling reforms,[5] and partly due to accidents of history, such as some of the earliest mass-produced English publications being typeset by highly trained, multilingual printing compositors, who occasionally used a spelling pattern more typical for another language.[4] For example, the word ghost was spelled gost in Middle English, until the Flemish spelling pattern was unintentionally substituted, and happened to be accepted.[4] Most of the spelling conventions in Modern English were derived from the phonetic spelling of a variety of Middle English, and generally do not reflect the sound changes that have occurred since the late 15th century (such as the Great Vowel Shift).[6] As a result of this, many words are spelled the way that they were pronounced more than 600 years ago, instead of being spelled like they are pronounced in the 21st century.

Despite the various English dialects spoken from country to country and within different regions of the same country, there are only slight regional variations in English orthography, the two most recognised variations being British and American spelling, and its overall uniformity helps facilitate international communication. On the other hand, it also adds to the discrepancy between the way English is written and spoken in any given location.[5]


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