Hardest alphabetical spellings

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Eebster the Great
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Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby Eebster the Great » Sat Sep 15, 2018 6:26 am UTC

The hardest languages to write are sometimes considered to be those with logographic writing systems, especially Japanese. But among languages with alphabets, which ones have the most irregular or confusing spellings for native speakers? English is an obvious contender, but what else sits next to it?

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eSOANEM
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Re: Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby eSOANEM » Sat Sep 15, 2018 1:52 pm UTC

It's also worth distinguishing between the two directions of spelling. That is, on the one hand, if I hear an unfamiliar word, how easy is it to correctly spell it, and on the other, if I read an unfamiliar word, how easy is it to correctly pronounce it.

English is pretty poor at both of these but a lot of other languages are much better at the second direction than the other (e.g. French, the Gaelic languages, and Polish) and a small number are better at the first direction (e.g. Russian).

I don't know of any language that manages to be as bad at both directions as English, but if considering each direction independently, French and the Gaelic languages can probably give us a good run for our money when trying to spell an unfamiliar word a native speaker hears.
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Eebster the Great
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Re: Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby Eebster the Great » Sat Sep 15, 2018 8:09 pm UTC

French for sure has a ton of words whose spelling is not at all obvious, which is why they have Dictées. But even just in that direction (spelling a word from hearing alone), I'm not sure French is really as bad as English. I'm not sure a French spelling bee in the same tradition as the English spelling bee would really be all that competitive. Though that might just be because it doesn't have such a colossal vocabulary of obscure words.

I mean, the French came up with the atrocious vowel combination in "queue" and rhyme it with "bleu."

But it's the other direction that is really so surprising I think. (Maybe it's just more surprising to me because I took a few years of French.) English has an incredible variety of homographs and sometimes patently absurd pronunciations that could never be guessed by the spelling alone, like "Worcestershire" or "colonel." Sometimes even "regular" constructions are too ambiguous to be of much help, in words like "slough" (the main problem French has, in reverse). Most examples I see online of other languages focus on one thing or another, like having not enough letters to unambiguously represent every sound or lots of redundant letters for the same sound or lots of irregular spellings based on past pronunciation or foreign loan words. But man, English just has everything.

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Grop
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Re: Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby Grop » Sun Sep 16, 2018 9:05 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:I mean, the French came up with the atrocious vowel combination in "queue" and rhyme it with "bleu."


And I can't think of a more straightforward spelling for this word :D.

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Re: Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby SuicideJunkie » Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:34 pm UTC

From an english perspective, que should be pronounced the same, and q definitely is.
Therefore, spell it q(ue)* to keep things general.

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Re: Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Sep 18, 2018 4:39 pm UTC

From an English perspective, 'qu' is /kw/, so "que" would be /kwe/.

However, "cue" is already a perfectly good English homophone for "queue".
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Re: Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby SuicideJunkie » Tue Sep 18, 2018 7:29 pm UTC

Yeah, bit too much of a stretch I suppose.
Perhaps it is simply pronounced q for only even multiples of (ue)s? :D

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Re: Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Sep 19, 2018 2:04 am UTC

For French, I'm imagining something like keu -> queu -> queue, with the eu representing the same vowel as in bleu, the first u being mandatory after the q, and the final silent e as an FU.

The English then probably couldn't resist the excessively French spelling and promptly forgot that they already had a perfectly good word for "line." If you must spell the word "queue," I guess "cue" is as plausible a pronunciation as any.

I am certain this is 100% factually accurate.

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Re: Hardest alphabetical spellings

Postby ThirdParty » Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:31 am UTC

Just browsing Wikipedia, it looks to me like Modern Greek is a bit of a mess, at least in the sound-to-spelling direction:
/i/ can be spelled η, ι, υ, ει, οι, or υι
...
correct orthography requires mastery of formal grammar, e.g. η καλή /i kaˈli/ 'the good one (fem. sing.)' vs. οι καλοί /i kaˈli/ 'the good ones (masc. pl.)'
...
the orthography preserves ancient doubled consonants, though these are now pronounced the same as single consonants


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