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Month: November 2023

Why “good”, “better”, “best”?

We have “tall”, “taller”, and “tallest”, “high”, “higher” and “highest”, “big”, “bigger” and “biggest”.

Why do we not have “good”, “gooder” and “goodest”? Or rather, why is it not something like “bet”, “better”, “best”, where “bet” means “good”?

What we have here is something linguists call “suppletion”. This is where a word is used so often in a certain context that it takes the place of the original form. The word “good” comes from a Proto Germanic word *gōdaz which is itself from Proto-Indo-European *gʰedʰ- which meant to unite.

Over time the word “good” got associated with a desirable quality and lost its meaning as “unite” and shifted to its modern meaning. Interestingly though, it is related to the word “gather” which is closer to the original Proto Indo European meaning.

Ok, so “good” replaced the original form of the word whose comparative was “better” and superlative was “best”. But what was the original word?

It was “boot”. No, not the thing you wear on your foot. There is actually another word with a completely different origin that ended up being spelled the same as the word for a type of footwear (the word boot comes from French).

This word has fallen almost out of use but it still holds on in a set phrase “to boot” as in “He is a good painter, a great cook to boot”. It comes from Old English bōt which meant “help” or “relief”. It is related to the Old Norse bót (which meant remedy) and German Buße which is a penance or fine.

What originally got me into languages are the cool stories that are sitting all around. We use these words every day and we don’t even realise the weird and wonderful histories many of them have

Language – tree or machine?

Are languages like trees? Did they grow and evolve slowly over time? Or did they get invented by some clever person and require knowledge and skill to operate and will break down if not kept working by skilled professionals? The answer is a bit complicated. But let’s start with a clarification. What is a language? Nowadays we would probably say that a language is something that has people speaking it and media such as books, TV shows and movies.

But what was language like before media? How were words used and what were people’s attitudes about words? If you grew up in western society, then you probably had language education. While things are changing now, my generation and many generations before mine were told many things about languages and about how to use words.

“Don’t say ‘me and my friend'” “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition” “Don’t split an infinitive”. All of that advice was not based on how the language actually works. The “split infinitive” rule comes from Latin where it is literally impossible to split the infinitive since an infinitive is a single word.

In English, as in other Germanic languages, splitting the infinitive is a completely normal thing to do. This “rule” came about because someone had an idea and imposed that idea on people learning the language in a classroom.

Teaching style and punctuation and common practises is a good idea as it allows someone to more easily assimilate in the larger speech community as they grow up. But some of the downsides of this approach is that it gives a lot of people (me included while I was growing up) the idea that language is static and there are right and wrong ways to use it.

I have learned a lot since starting Silly Linguistics and it has changed how I view language, and in particular how words are used. Language is a lot more flexible and changable than a lot of us realise and it will continue to change as society and culture changes.

When I was growing up, I viewed language the same way I viewed computer science or maths. It was a system invented one day and you learned how to use it similarly to how you learn how to drive a car or change a tire. Don’t get me wrong, language is a skill, and it is something you learn but the truth is a lot more grey, and actually, much more interesting than I thought it was when I was growing up. I got excited by the odd anecdote about languages but I would often go back to computers and forget about languages.

Everything changed in 2014 when I got involved with High Valyrian from Game of Thrones and through it I got exposed to linguistics. Maybe it wasn’t my teachers’ fault. Maybe I just never engaged enough. I guess I just decided one day that English class was boring and I hadn’t given it much of a chance from that point on.

I just had a light bulb moment a while ago and I realised that language is like improv. You make up things as you go along and see what happens. When you were growing up and before you were taught specific rules about languages you probably heard people talking about the family dog and you would say “Look at the doggy” or something like that. You heard words and you repeated them. Toddlers learn hundreds of words a month.

Toddlers try out lots of things. They pull the cat’s tail and stick their biscuit in the sand and practise their walking by going from room to room. This exploratory trait does not stop at language. They try out different sounds. There are some theories that say that the equivalents of “mama” and “papa” sound so similar world wide because they are just the babblings of toddlers converted in the minds of adults into words.

“mama” has an M and “papa” has a P. Both sounds are made with the lips and they are some of the first sounds made by babies. What is interesting about first language acquisition is how fast and well it happens for the vast majority of children. They are born with the ability to make sound through crying and that’s about it. But soon they are saying things like “papa” and “kitty” and then things like “I’m hungry” and then “I want to go to the park”.

This process has been repeated for thousands of years. Do we really need people telling children how to speak? It should be as silly as explaining to a 5 year old how to breathe. In our tribal past people would just speak and the language would evolve and change like a lava lamp. Then some grumpy grammarians came along and said “Don’t say ‘me and my friend'” and “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition”.

As for the “me and my friend” thing, a lot of people would come up with some reason why it is wrong. But these arguments miss a point. No one would say “That giraffe doesn’t look enough like a zebra”. Of course they wouldn’t. That’s absurd. Then why are we looking at an utterance and saying “This is wrong”. A giraffe got to be the way it is today through small changes over time. We should understand how the giraffe evolved, not tell it that it’s wrong.

Similarly, it would be much interesting to look into why people say “me and my friend” than just say it is wrong. Science is showing more and more how our minds are set up for the complex task of perceiving speech sounds, decoding them, parsing them into sentences, trying to understand the message and do the whole thing the other way to go from our thoughts to a series of sound waves to transmit our message.

If language is a natural process and came about through our biology then we should look at it through a scientific lense. After learning more about languages and linguistics I quickly came across the descriptive method which looks at how language is actually being used rather than how some say it should be used and I found that the descriptive method is a more interesting approach but it is also scientific and is slowly revealing to us how this system came about and how it works.

So we go back to the original question, is language a tree or a machine? Well, this question itself is a bit of a trick. Trees are themselves living things that change and grow over time. They have their own internal machinery, just of a biological nature, instead of a metallic one.

Languages are machinelike in that they are complex and have many moving parts. But they are very unmachinelike in that they change over time, are very flexible and have ways of adapting to changes around them. There are some who say that language might have evolved once tens of thousands of years ago and spread quickly from that point to all the humans living at that time.

Those humans then moved from Africa to the Middle East, Europe, Asia and beyond, bringing language with them. If this theory of single origin is correct it means that all world languages are related, some more closely than others, but all having a common source. Just look at the range of languages we have. We have languages where you can communicate complex thoughts with a single long word and we have others where you need to use lots of extra words before or after other words to express the desired nuance.

I don’t want to give people the impression that descriptivism is “anything goes” (which is far from the truth) or that prescriptivism (prescribing usage) is the devil. Each has their place in the world. Language plays a lot of functions in the world and in places, such as a legal document, language becomes quite regimented. But I do want people to realise that language is a lot more than what you may realise it is.

It is not just something for Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. It is something for all of us. Language is our heritage as humans. We can create new words and share new ideas with the world. We are literally born to do it and that should be celebrated.

Why do people say “me and my friend”?

Short answer: English probably works differently than we think it does

Long answer: People use their native language effortlessly provided they don’t have something physically wrong with their brain or any other sort of mental impairment.

Language is an amazingly complex thing. We have adjectives, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, verbs, conjunctions and all sorts of other things. When children grow up, they just hear the language around them and they just pick it up. How they actually do this is a matter of the most cutting edge research, still, after all these years linguistics have been around.

The way people speak tells us something about not only English itself but also how people think. Let’s look at the sentence “We need to move the meeting from 1pm to 2pm”. This makes perfect sense to us, but it actually reveals something about our cognition.

We view a meeting as an object and that it can be moved. But a meeting actually doesn’t exist physically. It is just an agreement amongst some people to meet at a certain time. Time itself is another concept effortlessly handled by the human mind and language but imagine someone with no concept of time. You couldn’t move a meeting because you couldn’t refer to “later”. You could only refer to “now”.

Another way we can see how language reflects how the mind works is how words carve out their own space. Mend means something slightly different to repair. Hurt means something different to inflict pain. Hound and dog are also different. People use words and those that hear them interpret them and use them to try to understand what other people are saying.

They use their understanding of the word to send their own messages and back and forth words go from person to person. The process is not perfect and no word is fixed in meaning but shifts slightly over time.

This is because people interpret words slightly differently as they hear them and use them differently to other people. Over time these slight differences add up and a word like “silly” which is cognate with German “selig” once meant “blessed”. Word change meaning over time because of people. How meanings change over time gives us an insight into the mercurial workings of the human mind.

Past tense forms of words have also changed over time. “sneaked” used to be the way people made “sneak” into the past tense. Now there is “snuck” because people looked at “stick” and “stuck” and by analogy made “sneak” and “snuck”. These constructions that are constructed by analogy are all over the place. It’s another example of how the human mind processes and uses language.

Language is not immovable, but rather a fluid and ever changing thing. People take in language from around them and instinctively work out the rules of this system they are using. People’s idiosyncratic interpretations of words and structures make small changes in words and structures and language slowly change over time.

Now, what does this have to do with “me and my friend”? Well, by a certain way of looking at things, “me and my friend” even at the beginning of a sentence is perfectly alright. I know what you are thinking, “I was thought that it has to be “my friend and I”” and “No one says “Me went”, so you can’t say “Me and my friend went””. There are lots of ways of analysing language. The people who use these arguments are merely using their own line of reasoning and that is perfectly ok. I am merely showing a different way of looking at things.

I have never liked the demonisation by some people of the construction “me and my friend”. As I have tried to make clear in the first part of my article (and by providing many examples) language is an organic entity invented and changed and kept alive by the minds of people in the world. The sentence “That way of speaking is wrong” when speaking of native speakers is simply absurd to me.

Would people look at a penguin and say “That bird should be able to fly. A flightless bird is just wrong” or “That animal has a trunk. No animal should have a trunk. It is just wrong”. I think most people would say that is a silly thing to say. I think it is because many people in literate societies hold up the written word as the best version of their language and end up disliking divergences from that version of the language.

But only about 200 languages in the world are regularly written out of the about 7000 languages in the world. Language is spoken, words are invented, die out, new constructions come in and old constructions get forgotten. The question should not be “Why do people say “me and my friend”?” but “What does the construction “me and my friend” say about English?”

Even after all these centuries of studying language, there is still so much more to be learned. People pick up language effortlessly and speak it effortlessly, yet it is so remarkably complex. It is a bit like walking. You are never taught to walk, you just walk. You aren’t taught to speak, you just speak. Just being able to do something does not always mean you cognitively know how you do it. So my point is, you can actually speak a language perfectly well and still not know how it actually works.

So let’s get to the question at hand, if “me and my friend” is perfectly valid, even at the beginning of a sentence, what does that tell us about English?

When scientists discover a new type of dinosaur in a dig, they might tell the world “this changes everything we know”. Well, I don’t think this construction in English goes that far, but it does fly in the face of what a lot of us have been taught.

So why then has “me and my friend” been so derided? Because it violates a so-called law where all elements in a subject must be in the nominative case. I say so-called because clearly this law is being violated and it is not out of ignorance. Just like the flightless bird violating the idea that all birds fly, this English construction should not be derided but rather it should lead people to ask, “why is English behaving in this way?”

Should a new species be discovered, scientists would immediately ask, “what can the emergence of this species tell us about their environment and about natural selection?”

In this case “me and my friend” is pointing to some trait of English that is a bit different than languages around it. That construction simply does not appear in other languages. Yet it is popping out of mouths of many English speakers, which following from the animal analogy should tell us that something is going on.

“me and my friend” is what is called a compound subject. The whole construction is considered a subject, but it is made up of a number of nouns. A single noun would just be a subject, but two or more creates a compound subject.

“Ego et rex meus” is a compound subject from Latin meaning “me and my king”, or literally “I and my king”. So in Latin, they clearly follow this rule that all constituents of a compound subject must be in the nominative.

What is this nominative and accusative?

Well, in English we say “I went to the store” but “He gave it to me”. “I” is the nominative form and “me” is the accusative form. When a noun is in subject position, it takes the nominative form and when in object position it should take the object form. So “He saw my friend and me” is fine because “my friend and me” are in object position so they both take the object form.

But if this was the rule then no native speaker would ever say “my friend and me” at the beginning of a sentence. No native speaker EVER says “Me go-ed to store” or “Us is here”. Clearly there are certain patterns that are followed by native speakers when using pronouns. “my friend and me” is an anomaly only if you look at it as an anomaly. It goes against what would appear in another language, but English is not Latin or any other language that would never use the equivalent of “my friend and me”.

When someone knocks on the door, and you ask “Who’s there”, you can reply “Me”. In Swedish though, people say “Det är jag” which literally translated is “It is I”. The fact that people say “me” in response in English tells us that cases behave a bit differently in English.

So why do people say “me and my friend” even at the beginning of a sentence? Because in a compound subject, the role of the compound subject itself (whether it be at the beginning of the sentence or at the end of the sentence) does not dictate the forms needed in the actual compound subject.

When looking at a construction used by native speakers we need an explanation that actually comes up with a reason for something happening and doesn’t just dismiss it as a mistake. English treats pronouns differently than other languages. When a subject such as “I” gets a noun or another pronoun added to it, the rules change. “I” becomes “me and my friend”. This compound subject can then be used anywhere in the sentence, such as “He saw me and my friend”.

In my view, this construction is common enough and consistent enough to be considered a proper part of the language and shouldn’t be looked down on. People who look down on this construction are using the standards of other languages which is never the right approach. Each language has its own history and its own ways of doing things.

But I also understand that we don’t understand. By that I mean that we don’t really understand language very well and our attempts to understand it have sometimes created theories that don’t fit 100% with reality. Trying to fully apply the nominative accusative system in the same way it is used in Latin sometimes caused perfectly natural English to be considered a mistake.

When people are taught a certain way it changes their speech patterns and in some cases leads to hyper correction where people say “He say my friend and I” which actually violates the Latin-derived rule many school teachers teach. But again, language is a part of culture and teaching is part of culture too and “my friend and I” is just as much a product of human cognition as “my friend and me” and I won’t spend the rest of this article in turn looking down on “my friend and I” because that would be a bit hypocritical after telling people not to judge.

At the very least I would like to get people to look at speech coming from native speakers with a bit more of a open mind and not to immediately condemn certain forms as wrong. Language is weird and wonderful and the more we can have fun with it rather than making it a chore, the more we can begin to discover what language can really do and what it means to us.

Linguistics 101 – Part 1

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It looks at all parts of the phenomenon of language including how sounds are made, how they are processed and decoded, how words are put together and how they are used to create meaning. Language has fascinated humanity since it was invented and it is a fundamental part of the human existence.
In this series of lessons we will cover all the different aspects of linguistics to give you an expansive overview of the subject that will provide a solid foundation for future studies.


What are the different subjects in linguistics?


Phonetics
Phonology
Syntax
Morphology
Historical
Pragmatics
Semantics
Sociolinguistics


History of linguistics


At first the field was called Philology but eventually that term got replaced with the term Linguistics. The term “linguist” used to mean a student of languages, not a student of linguistics, but as the field grew the term became associated with the field and now the term “polyglot” is often used to describe those who like learning languages.
One of the very first linguists was a man called Pāṇini who lived in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between 600 and 400 BC. He studied Sanskrit and his theories became the basis of many modern linguistics theories. His theories of morphological analysis remained the most advanced theory on the subject as late as the 20th century.


An important early work of modern linguistics was the work done by Sir William Jones who discovered links between Sanskrit, Ancient Greek and Latin and that other languages might be in this group too. His findings would lead to the creation of modern historical linguistics and the study of Indo European languages.


Another important work that came later on was Grimm’s law which explained how sounds changed from Proto Indo European into Proto Germanic which is the ancestor of the Germanic languages. This law showed the connections between the Germanic languages (English, German, Dutch, Swedish, etc) and the other Indo European languages like Spanish and Russian.


In addition to Grimm’s law, there was a lot of work done on other Indo European languages that eventually allowed linguists to reconstruct the language of the Indo Europeans which got the name Proto Indo European.
In the 20th century linguist Ferdinand de Saussure created the structuralist approach to linguistics where examples of a language are collected and analysed so that they can be studied in detail. This allows the individual elements of the language such as phonemes and morphemes to be classified and investigated. This work was later added to by Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield.


In the 1960s Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar added to the number of fields in linguistics. Sociolinguistics from William Labov and systemic functional linguistics and psycholinguistics were also added to the overall field of linguistics. The field is growing all the time as current knowledge is expanded upon and new fields are created.

Become a member and you can get access to all 12 volumes of Language Lovers Loot which contains Linguistics 101 https://sillylinguistics.com/language-lovers-loot-promo/

What do words that start with the letter “p” tell us about English

Languages change over time.

Here is the Lord’s Prayer from the King Jame’s Bible

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The biggest different between this and modern English is that we no longer use the pronoun “thou” and its other forms “thy”, and “thine”

Here is the start of the prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, written in 1387

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,

This is a bit hard to understand. What does “swich”, “licour” and “engendred” mean?

Here is Beowulf. We don’t know when exactly it was written but probably around 800 AD

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas.

This is basically another language

I wrote this all to give you an idea of how language changes over time. Even in Beowulf though, we can still see some parts that are connected with modern English. The “þ” in “þæt wæs god cyning” is pronounced like “th” and the line means “that was a good king”. Very similar to Modern English. “funden” means “found”. “we” means “we”, “he” means “he”, “under” means “under” and “him” means “him”.

So language changes but it does not change completely. It carries parts of the past with it and those parts either change a little or a lot. We can see that in our own lives. Some part of our daily experience is similar to how it was years ago, and other things have changed almost beyond recognition.

By looking at older germanic languages linguists can make educated guesses as to what the ancestor language of the Germanic languages looked like. The language that all modern Germanic languages are descended from linguists call Proto Germanic.

Proto Germanic is itself descended from a yet older language called Proto Indo European

Let’s look at the word “father”

It comes from Old English “fæder”, Proto Germanic *fadēr and Proto Indo European *ph₂tḗr (h₂ is type of consonant pronounced at the back of the throat but linguists don’t exactly know what sound it is so it just gets a number).

Latin is part of the Italic group of languages. Languages like Spanish, French and Italian are called Romance languages because they descend from the Romans who spoke Latin. These languages are usually called the Romance languages, but you can also say that they are part of the Italic family of languages which includes languages more distantly related to Spanish and Italian like Oscan and Umbrian.

The word for father in Latin is pater. Here you can see that the h₂ became an “a” but otherwise the word is pretty much unchanged. Why then does English have the word “father” with an “f” at the beginning? This is an example of something called a sound shift. At some point in the evolution of the Germanic language’s ancestor, the Germanic tribes who spoke this off shoot of the original Proto Indo European language started pronouncing “p” as “f”.

There are theories as to why people start pronouncing things differently. One of them is to make words easier to pronounce. Other times though these things just happen. It is a bit like fashion. People start pronouncing things one way and for some reason that change becomes popular.

Now all words that had a p at the beginning are now pronounced with an f at the beginning. Compare the following

English fish and Latin piscis
English foot and Latin pēs
English food and Latin pānis

So if all words in English come from an older form of the language that changed all P’s to F’s, why are there even any words in English that start with P? Because of borrowing and also because some words started with another letter that then changed into a P, but we will get to that

Let’s look at the word “paternal”. It looks a lot like Latin “pater”. That’s because it is descended from a form of that word. In Old French “paternal” meant “of the father” and it got borrowed into English. So we have father from Proto Germanic and paternal from Old French.

The word “pen”, as in an animal pen, comes from Proto Germanic *pennō (the start indicates that we haven’t found any texts that were written in Proto Germanic that contain that word but we can guess what the word would have looked like) from Proto Indo European *bend- (because PIE is so much older and reconstructed from other reconstructions we can only be sure about the first part of the word and the dash means that we don’t know what the whole word looked like).

So here “b” in PIE became a “p”

So if we see a “p” in English we know it has taken quite a journey to get here. Either it is from a borrowing or from a word that had a different pronunciation in PIE.

The word “pen” as in “implement to write something with” comes from Old French penne from Latin penna which means “feather”

Let’s look at a few more so you can see some these how words that start with P in English ended up in the modern language

“picture” comes from Old French “picture” from Latin “pictūra” which meant “painting”

“porcelain” comes from Middle French “porcelaine”

“pain” comes from Old French “peine” from Latin “poena” meaning “punishment” or “pain”

Languages are messy and this is just one of the very many ways that languages can change over time. I thought looking at this one letter was a good way to give an overview of this. Thanks for reading 🙂

Why do “busy” and “bury” have U’s in them?

Languages are messy. They borrow words from each other, have irregular verbs and their spelling systems can sometimes do with a bit of work. Writing is a technology. It is something that we use to convert the sounds we make when speaking into characters that can be put down on the page (or screen in the case of computers).

Before dictionaries and standardised spelling came along people just wrote how they spoke. This was fine as long as the writing you were reading was written by someone with the same dialect as yours. Does your dialect drop R’s? Then you can work out that “ka” meant an automobile. It was generally possible to work out what people meant.

But if you read a letter from elsewhere the differences between your own dialect and their dialect might make deciphering their letter a lot more difficult. Major standardisation of English spelling started happening around the time the printing press was introduced into England in 1477 by the printer William Caxton.

If you wanted to write things down in a standardised way and no such standard yet exists, then you need to make a standard. Caxton had to decide on what dialectal words to use but also what spelling to use. As printing spread, it took these new standardised spellings with them. Eventually people started getting used to the idea that a word should have one spelling.

So the words “busy” and “bury” ended up with their current spelling and even though it didn’t really make sense to some speakers of the language, people just got used to it.

Ok, but why the U’s? The reason I brought up dialects and standardisation is that they play an important role in this story. Why would people spell “busy” when it is pronounced “bisy”? Because some people did pronounce it like that. We call the English spoken at the time “Middle English”. It was spoken from about 1100 to about 1500.

There were 5 dialects of Middle English: Northern, Southern, Kentish, East Midlands and West Midlands. The word “busy” is descended from the Old English word “bysiġ”. The “y” in the Old English word is pronounced like the “ü” in German. It sounds like the “ee” in “free” but with rounded lips. In IPA it is /y/.

The “y” in Old English eventually started being pronounced like the “i” in “pit” in the East Midlands dialect. This dialect becomes important later as it is the dialect of London and Standard English is based on the dialect of this area. People who grew up in the East Midlands pronounced “busy” as “bisy” and spelled it as “bisy” because this was a bit before standardisation of spelling.

But around this time trade around the country started to increase and a lot of trade came through London. Traders from all over the country came through London and brought their pronunciations and their spellings with them. The “y” in Old English developed differently in the dialects of the West Midlands and the south. The “y” started being pronounced as a “u” (like in “tune” or “June”) and they wrote their version of the word as “busy”. In IPA this would be /busi/.

Standardisation didn’t happen over night and spelling was still quite flexible. People might have used one or the other. Sometimes they used one that didn’t really reflect their pronunciation but the differences weren’t so big that people couldn’t work it out. Dialects and spelling started to mix. But at the same time spelling started being standardised. It is almost like tree sap slowly flowing down a tree and trapping a mosquito.

Both spellings were in common use. It’s like the language was wearing different outfits depending on where someone was from or what writings they had encountered. But bit by bit that sap flowed over the tree and this particular word became trapped like a mosquito in amber. As time went on and London became more influential and its dialect starting spreading around the country. At the same time English spelling became more standardised. Bit by bit the language settled down to a particular spelling of each word.

Another word that this happened to was “bury”. This one too came from an Old English word containing “y”. In this case it was “byrġan”. It was spelled with a “u” too, just like “busy”, because the “y” changed to a “u” sound in the West Midlands and the south.

But we pronounce “bury” like “berry”, so what happened here? It is because of how it was pronounced in one of the dialects of Middle English, in this case the dialect of Kent. In this dialect, the Old English “y” sound eventually became an “e” sound so it would have been written as “berien” by these speakers. But like with “busy”, the spelling of “bury” reflects the pronunciation from a different dialect.

If all the dialects had mixed sufficiently that a common spelling emerged before standardisation then the two words that are the stars of this article would probably have more sensible spellings. But society was changing, trade was increasing and people were moving around just at a time when the language was being standardised.

Spelling can sometimes be really boring but in this case it’s a fascinating snapshot of a very interesting time in the history of the English language.