Sunday, 3 August 2014

Why do we have a silent K at the start of some words?

There are many words in English that begin with an unpronounced letter K. For example, ‘knee’, ‘knead’, ‘knife’ and ‘knight’ to name four. But why is there an unpronounced  letter at the start of these words? Are they there to make English difficult? Are they there to confuse non-native speakers and learners of English? Or do they shine a light back into the past?

Well, the answer is very much the latter. Spelling is much slower to catch up with pronunciation. Not so long ago, people would have pronounced the K at the start of these words. It would have been commonplace to hear people talking of k-nights, k-nifes and their k-nees. As the change in pronunciation is relatively recent, spelling has yet to catch up with pronunciation. As a result, it is very likely that in 50-100 years, we will no longer place a ‘K’ at the start of these words, making it redundant. As English is shaped by usage, if we all spelt these words without the K immediately, chances are we’d be cutting vegetables with ‘nifes’, scraping our ‘nees’ and reading about the ‘nights’ of the round table much sooner than that. 

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