Submitted by goossun on June 15, 2004

P & K

Does anyone know what happened to the poor P of the psychology? Why is it silent? Why is it written? Does anybody also know why the K in know, knife, knee etc. is mute? I guess it has nothing to do with Kafka! Does it?

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@red Unfortunately you are a thousand years too late my friend. In those days English was pronounced pretty much as spelt; however around the time when printing began, spellings fossilized but pronunciation continued to change. So today's spellings of older English words usually reflect an older pronunciation.

As for foreign words brought into in English, we tend to keep the foreign spelling too, although again we pronounce them our way.

Oddly, the spelling of pronunciation and pronounce do in fact reflect current pronunciation.
Spellings of words derived from Latin tend to vary according to whether they came via French or were borrowed direct.

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As a German native speaker I have always wondered about the English pronunciation with its many silent “ps”, “ks” and “cs” like in psychology, knight and science. Germans usually have no problems with pronouncing (by the way, why is it spelled “pronUnciation” but “pronOUncing”?) this couples of consonants after another. While it is really hard for us to get rid of our habit of pronunciation, it leads to amusement on the side of English speakers (and especially my girlfriend) every time.

So I wondered if anybody can tell me if pronouncing the consonants our loud is legit in any case (lieke a dialect or social circle, etc.), so I would be able to refer to this special case to have a legitimation of my flaw.

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As a German native speaker I have always wondered about the English pronunciation with its many silent “ps”, “ks” and “cs” like in psychology, knight and science. Germans usually have no problems with pronouncing (by the way, why is it spelled “pronUnciation” but “pronOUncing”?) this couples of consonants after another. While it is really hard for us to get rid of our habit of pronunciation, it leads to amusement on the side of English speakers (and especially my girlfriend) every time.

So I wondered if anybody can tell me if pronouncing the consonants our loud is legit in any case (lieke a dialect or social circle, etc.), so I would be able to refer to this special case to have a legitimation of my flaw.

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Cool. Thanks, Wrighton :)

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Speedwell, certain modern romance languages don't have a problem with the silent P either & continue to pronounce it. For example, the Portuguese word for "tire" (related to cars, that is) is "pneu," pronounced puh-NAY-oo. Likewise, "psicologia" is pronounced with the puh sound at the beginning. If it is not pronounced & provides no guide for the pronunciation of the following syllable, it should be dropped in English! :-)

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Other examples:

Pneumatic

er, that's the only other example I can think of

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Such things serve to confuse well-meaning ESL students and provide cheap giggles for snide native speakers. ;)

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Goossun, I could not answer the question about silent P any better than the writer at this page:

http://www.kith.org/logos/words/lower3/kkknight...

Briefly, the silent P in "psychology" is the result of Latin borrowing from Greek. In Greek, the P was pronounced. In Latin, the two sounds P and S never naturally occurred together.

My theory for why the S stayed is that it was closest to the vowel in the syllable. If you try to pronounce PS words with both the P and the S, you might see why I think so. I don't know the "official" theory. Anyone?

As far as the silent K is concerned, you should see this answer:

http://www.linguistlist.org/~ask-ling/archive-1...

Essentially, the K was pronounced as recently as the 1400s. But the rest of the word might have been different, too. In the word "knight," for example, the word would have been pronounced more like the German word "Knecht" (yes, in German the K and N are both pronounced), rather than like the English word "night" with a K on it.

It's not known why the K was dropped in English. Other languages, such as German, Dutch, and Greek, don't seem to have a problem with it.

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