Submitted by goossun  •  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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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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