We know about silent letters in the English language. Silent letters have been there in certain words for centuries and if we do not act quickly will continue to remain likewise. Why are they there? I do think that the silent letters are there because no one bothered to take them off!
What use are they to us? I dare say nothing! On the contrary, they are such impediments to learning for kids! For example,it does take a humongous effort on the part of a teacher to make a first grader understand why ‘honest’ is not spelled as ‘onest’. Not the kids alone, even adults get foxed by letters lurking in shadows of the spellings. Take the example of ‘pteridophyte’. As it is, this one is such a terrifying word to spell. On top of it we are told that the ‘p’ is silent here! You don’t like this, do you?
How does the language benefit if we spell pneumonia as pneumonia and not as neumonia? (or as a still friendlier, numonia?) Some would argue about purity and etymology. But what good is purity if learning is so traumatic to the children? For argument sake if we were to side with the etymologist theory, an example from in American English should settle matters. We know that in American English most words with a combination of ‘ou’ have been simplified to ‘o’; for example ‘colour’ has been replaced by ‘color’, ‘harbour’ has been replaced by ‘harbor’ etc. The new spellings agree with the pronunciation and keeps everyone happy, especially the kids; this, inspite of color’s ‘etymology’. Let us read color’s etymology from Merriam-Webster:
Etymology: Middle English colour , from Anglo-French, from Latin color; akin to Latin celare to conceal
If colour can be happily spelt as color, inspite of its etymology, why can’t mnemonics be spelt as nemonics with as much alacrity?
Another issue is of Proper nouns with silent letters. Take the case of Ptolemy. We know he was a great Roman mathematician living in ancient Egypt. But does his greatness diminish if we spell his name in the same manner as we pronounce it? Tolemy, for example? I believe, Proper nouns should be spelt the way they are pronounced.
I think, as a first step we need to drop silent letters from Proper Nouns. That will be a first good step. Later, as the acceptability grows, we can move to other words where there are hidden no-sounds. We would really do our kids a big favour (or favor, if you will?)
Let’s not be silent anymore on silent letters.