sound spell

Is There More to English Than A to Z?

sound spell phonics learn to read

The story of English has a very intriguing history, which is inextricably linked to the history of the British Isles. It is a story of invasions and migrations, through conquests of kings and marauders. The language of the peoples of Britain went through many adaptations and assimilations over the centuries. This often-turbulent process evolved to what we know today as Modern English. While there are three components of English-structure, vocabulary, and script; it is the script we shall focus on in this article.

language tree

Linguists who study the historical relationship between languages, classify English on the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language tree. It is interesting to note that half of the world’s population speak one of these languages.

You can see on the top left hand the Germanic branch which includes Flemish, Friesian, and English.

Then there are the Romance or Latin derived languages such as Spanish Italian and French of which English has borrowed around 60% of words.

The original languages of the British Isles are the Celtic languages such as Scottish, Irish, and Welsh which are largely forgotten today and replace by a hybrid English.

Ancient Irish Ogham text.
Ancient Irish Ogham text.

English has a strong connection to all three of those language branches of PIE.

The structure of English is connected to Germanic.

english connection

Here you can see where English is located on the Germanic branch, related to German and Dutch. This language was introduced to England by the Anglo-Saxon tribes who invaded England and slowly replaced the Celtic languages.

Celtic Runic script
Celtic Runic script
Germanic tribes to the British Isles.

This map shows migration of Germanic tribes to the British Isles.

Where did the alphabet come from?

Where did the alphabet come from?

We talked about structure and vocabulary We will delve in a little more detail on the script.

It is the script we use for communication through reading and writing. I will explain why this is the most difficult aspect of learning Eng.

English uses 26 Letters of the Latin script.
These are used to represent English sounds and words.

Letters have been added and deleted along the way to accommodate for differences

This chart shows the evolution of ancient languages into modern English script.

evolution to modern english

The alphabet is known as the Latin script. Many languages today use Latin.

The Latin alphabet was borrowed from the Greek alphabet which is a different language branch from English, though still a relative from the PIE mother language.


Going further back, the Greek alphabet came from the Phoenician alphabet, which was the first real alphabetic system, and adopted by many other languages


The Phoenicians lived in what is today Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. They spread their language and culture throughout the Mediterranean into North Africa and Southern Europe


Phoenicians were Sea farers who spread their empire through trade.


This map shows the spread of the Phoenician alphabet from Asia via the Mediterranean Sea.

Proximity to Egypt is significant as Egypt had the most powerful and influential empire in the region for thousands of years.

The problem is that Phoenician language is a Semitic language not Indo European. It is an entirely different language tree. Related languages include Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, and Cyrillic

An interesting feature is the use of consonants only. later vowels were added by the Greeks. The Modern semitic language Arabic only 3 vowels, making it much easier to read.

Originally English did not have so many vowels. It is the large number of vowels that cause the most problems in spelling today.

How did we get the language we have today?

Semitic scripts evolved from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The first sound of each picture evolved into letters

Ancient Egypt had a profound influence on cultures as far as the middle E and Europe. Ancient Greeks and Romans borrowed heavily from the Egyptians whose civilization was old even in their times.

evolution of a

Here is how ‘a’ evolved, transforming from alef to A.

alef to a

Notice the first two letters alif and ba, in Arabic, they turned into alpha and beta in Greek, later /b/ in English. The letter ‘ba’ came from the word ‘beit’, which still means ‘house’ today.

Does it represent the English code?

By understanding the journey of the English script we can begin to understand how this has left us with such an immense variety in spelling.

Sounds change from language to language and scripts and spelling need to shift to accommodate these differences.

Letters became redundant and new letters were added by different peoples. English did not originate and develop in

one place, rather the components of English are diverse.

Bringing with it many inconsistencies.

components of english

Structure and origin of English is Germanic.

Vocabulary and sounds are from Latin and French.

the Script used to represent English sounds and words is Semitic, from the middle East.

Some pronunciations have changed but the spellings have stuck e.g. /ough/ words from Germanic, and other guttural sounds such as /gh/ from Flemish are now pronounced /g/. The silent /b/ comes from French words, while the Hard /c/ of Latin became soft /c/ in French

latin to french

Long vowels can be marked with macrons. These were not originally used in Old English but are a more modern invention to distinguish between long and short vowels.

The alternate forms of g and w (yogh and wynn/wen) were based on the letters used at the time of writing Old English.

Yogh originated from a form of /g/ and wynn/wen came from a runic letter and was used to represent the non-Latin sound of /w/. The letters /g/ and /w/ were introduced later by French scribes.

Some spellings that reflect the change in vowels are the use of double letters to show short sounds and the use of silent final e to show long sounds.

letters sounds

The Alphabet is a writing system in which individual characters represent sounds. In English 26 letters are used to represent 42 sounds. This is a big discrepancy. There is no one to one correspondence of sounds and letters, so it is not a completely phonetic alphabet.

These 42 sounds can be written in a variety of ways using over 200 different letter combinations, called graphemes. Often these letter combinations reflect the original language it came from. For example /ph/ words that come from Greek.


Do we need something better?

complete code

Sound Spell has a more complete code that represents every sound. Find out how Sound Spell works to make sense of the English language.

This knowledge can help students learn to read and spell effectively and efficiently.

Students need the keys that unlock the code without relying on guessing or memorising.

Sound Spell gives you a fail proof map to follow to achieve full mastery in decoding.

What is the solution?

Share this knowledge with others and learn how to make learning English foolproof and seamless. Parents and educators need to learn how English really works so that they are better equipped to help the children in their care.

Sound Spell gives you the real A-Z of phonics in a complete and coherent way. Sound Spell gives you a simple structure and a step-by-step methodology to achieve mastery in phonics. All kids can read independently and confidently if they are given the right knowledge and tools.

Click here to download the phoneme and grapheme charts

You can help your child master spelling and reading.

Take the free Reading and Spelling Assessment and find out which Sound Spell program is right for your child.
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