Silent letters in words derived from non-Latin script

Toby Frost

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#1
A lot of words derived from languages that don't use Latin script (i.e. this script) contain silent letters. An example would be the "h" in the names "Singh" or "Khalid", or in the word "Xhosa", or the non-phonetic spelling of Mayan/Inca names. This doesn't seem to be a modern invention. However, it's clear that, in the past, some foreign words were written in Latin script as they sounded, and changed over time (the Victorians wrote "Hindu" as "Hindoo", for instance), so it doesn't seem that there has always been one rule for this.

Does anyone know where these extra letters come from? I find it hard to imagine the Victorians asking people how they wanted their words spelled when written in Latin script. Is it the custom in English to use silent letters or unusual spellings to replace an accent or something like that?
 

Theophania Elliott

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#2
I think it's an attempt to catch the subtleties of pronunciation - the silent h in Khalid isn't really silent. The kh sound isn't present in English, so it's been transcribed into Latin alphabet in different ways over time. There's probably variation, too, depending on who invented the transcription system, and how their Latin-alphabet language sounded the Latin letters.

There's a Wikipedia article about it here: Romanization of Arabic - Wikipedia

You see the same thing with Russian: iev/yev, and off/ov, and so forth.
 

Biskit

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#3
I have heard grumbles from the Welsh side of the family - Welsh spelling, as I understand it, was phonetic, but the language is still evolving and certainly in my grandparent's generation had significant variation in regional pronunciation. No idea if that variation has got stronger or not.

Some years back we visited New Zealand and some of the Biskitetta's family. Spelling of Maori names is likewise phonetic. One of the things I became aware of was disagreement over what 'wh' represents. Very roughly, it is either taken to be a 'w' with a silent 'h', or it's an 'f'. When we went touring we visited Whangarei which was pronounced as Won-gar-eye when we started out but talking to the locals further north it was definitely Fon-gar-eye.
 

Biskit

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#4
I find it hard to imagine the Victorians asking people how they wanted their words spelled when written in Latin script.
It just occurred to me that we watched a documentary not too long ago on the Ordnance Survey. One of the gems was guidance on the spelling of place names, and a list suggesting the types of people who could be considered reliable. Doctors, clergy and other fine pillars of the establishment were strongly preferred.

I found a version of it from the National Library of Scotland

'For the name of a house, farm, park or wood, or other part of an estate the owner is the best authority. For names generally the following are the best individual authorities and should be taken in the order given: Owners of property; estate agents; clergymen, postmasters and schoolmasters, if they have been some time in the district; rate collectors; borough and county surveyors; gentlemen residing in the district; Local Government Board Orders; local histories; good directories. Assistance may also be obtained from local antiquarian and other societies, in connection with places of antiquarian and national interest. Respectable inhabitants of some position should be consulted. Small farmers and cottagers are not to be depended on, even for the names of the places they occupy, especially as to the spelling. But a well-educated and independent occupier is, of course, a good authority' (Seymour, 1980, p. 180).
 

Toby Frost

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#5
Off topic, but to get certain documents confirmed these days you still need the signature of a "professional person", which strikes me as bizarrely antiquated. I don't know if all "professionals" would be under an obligation to tell the truth, with potential sanction if they lied: otherwise it feels bizarre.
 

farntfar

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#6
No I do knot know where these extra letters come from, knor why you seem to have missed this case.
 

Ursa major

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#7
Sometimes that "kh" in a word is not meant to be pronounced in the same way as a "k"... and even if it is, now, pronounced in English as "k", this doesn't mean that it is pronounced "k" in the word's original language.
 

Biskit

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#8
Off topic, but to get certain documents confirmed these days you still need the signature of a "professional person", which strikes me as bizarrely antiquated.
A familiar question...
"Hey, Biskit, you're a doctor, can you sign my shotgun license application?"
"But I'm not a medical doctor..."
"It just says doctor..."
And when you check with the police (unless things have changed) they don't care what flavour of doctor I happen to be.

The really crazy thing is that medical students have the reputation for being the worst troublemakers of the lot, but the moment they're qualified, their signature is in demand on all sorts of things.
 

Toby Frost

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#9
I've wondered in the past in what way having a law degree makes me trustworthy. I think it's as much that you can find someone who will write on your behalf without using crayon, blood or words cut out of newspapers.
 

Vladd67

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#11
I used to be able to sign stuff like that, just because I happened to work at the Tax Office which made me a civil servant.
 

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