English: Mute final -s (the All Blacks)

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by guillaumedemanzac, Nov 20, 2012.

  1. guillaumedemanzac

    guillaumedemanzac Senior Member

    English - Southern England Home Counties
    In French, the "s" is not pronounced in The All Blacks nor in family names: the Blacks, the Smiths, the Browns. The thread on the main forum then asked if other final letters could be pronounced or not pronounced in English (off-thread). We came up with a few : marqui(s), palai(s), avoirdupoi(s), and several others where the French and English are very close i(s)le, ai(s)le, i(s)land, decease, ho(s)tel, the Whites, (in French only).
    Obviously the words coming direct from French are converted to English by pronouncing the final consonant (as it should be!) or by replacing the old circumflex accent by an "s" in English: cote/coast, coute/cost, bete/beast but some words keep the silent French final consonant rule.
    For other silent letters the most common is "t" as in croque(t). balle(t), croche(t), but of course cricket/wicket is purely English.
    There is a list of English silent letters on the internet and in Swan's Practical English usage but we were looking for English words which do not pronounce the final consonant(s) - any ideas??

    P.S. -ough of course but are they silent letters "gh" or just pronounced differently? - tough = tuff, plough = plow (American), though = tho' (American),
    through = thru' (American), cough = koff, and so on.
  2. Agró

    Agró Senior Member

    Alta Navarra
    Chablis /ˈʃabliː/
    ▶noun a dry white burgundy wine from Chablis in eastern France.

    (Now, is this an English word?:) )
  3. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Those are hard to compare to French because all/most (?) "gh"-words are of Germanic origin.

    Some words I came up with:

    1.) words ending -mb
    comb, lamb, dumb, limb, womb

    All b's are silent but again Germanic words.

    2.) final h

    Allah, Messiah, yeah,

    3.) -mn (But the n is also silent in the middle of words)

    autumn, damn, column

    4.) The p in coup
  4. guillaumedemanzac

    guillaumedemanzac Senior Member

    English - Southern England Home Counties
    Still looking for a real English word with a final silent "s". There is a list of all silent letters in English words on google but all their examples are French words taken directly into English with the French pronunciation e.g. your cou(p) from coup d'etat. ??? accents on this forum are where????
    Examples given are cor(ps) - p & s silent = homophone cor; fraca(s); debri(s) (no accent in English); a propos; bourgeoi(s). And the best one with 2 silent final consonants fau(x) pa(s)!
    Thanks for Chabli(s) which is like Pari(s) - in English, Paris. I thought Pari was a bet till I visited it! And that gave me one more: the 1920s slang for Paris is "gay Paree" - gay in the old sense of happy, enjoyable and with no "s" spoken or written.
    Thanks for the ideas.
    I suppose cou(ps) as in "There are 3 coups d'etat a year in Asia." counts as a double final consonant not pronounced!
  5. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    What do you mean by "real English word", guillaumedemanzac?
  6. guillaumedemanzac

    guillaumedemanzac Senior Member

    English - Southern England Home Counties
    Bourgeois and debris are the closest to what I/you think of as real English words. I thought of including (as some of the internet lists do) some technical words e.g. from balle(t) (silent "t") pa(s) de deu(x) which has two final consonants which are not pronounced (like fau(x) pa(s)).
    But the original challenge was to find an English word/phrase e.g.The All Blacks where the final "s" is not pronounced - because in French Les All Black(s) doesn't pronounce the final "s". And litchi asked if there were any such words but all we could come up with were words taken directly from French with both the spelling and pronunciation adopted.
    Several Greek borrowings end in "s" e.g. hubris but the "s" is pronounced. Even names like Thomas which in French have a silent "s" have the "s" pronounced in English.
    I presume your question is rhetorical because you know that these "borrowed" words are now in the dictionary and are obviously in the English language but we are looking for non-borrowed words ending in "s" where the final "s" is silent.
  7. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    No, my question wasn't rhetorical, guillaumedemanzac.

    "English" includes words which still reflect the pronunciation of the language from which the word was borrowed: corps is a good example.

    I think I'm probably missing your point:(.

    Oh - further thought - are you asking about words with an Anglo-Saxon origin which might have a final silent 's'? If so, I can't think of any:)
  8. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Every word in English which is not Germanic was "borrowed" at some time in the past. So we need a definition what you consider a real English word.
    When the letter S in the original language was spoken why should it turn silent in English?

    But I have another one for you:
    "Chassis" - again from French

    Don't be sad you are not alone. :D
  9. guillaumedemanzac

    guillaumedemanzac Senior Member

    English - Southern England Home Counties
    Thanks for chassis - and no, you are not missing the point; it's just that on the forum thread (All Blacks) we couldn't find any genuinely anglo-saxon words ending with a silent "s" - even borrowings from other languages like polis and chaos and bis pronounce the "s". Strangely enough, the ending -ois if you look it up on a reverse dictionary (also called a rhyming dictionary) gives about 40 words all with final "s" silent - most interesting one for me was chamois - the animal has a silent "s" in English but the cloth for polishing is pronounced a "chammy" leather = presumably the skin of the aforesaid animal.
    Americans say Illinois with a silent "s" and St. Louis with a silent "s" (but then Indianapolis with the "s" pronounced) but that is probably because they were French territories before the French handed them over to us in some treaty or other - probably in exchange for the channel islands or for Calais or Aquitaine.
    Liliana's comment on synonyms is interesting (cafe thread - where are the accents on this forum?) because she suggests English has no synonyms but a huge vocabulary where any "gap" in expression could be filled by a new word - either borrowed from abroad or invented. So Shakespeare's language was incredibly creative as (unlike Racine. Corneille, Moliere) he was not restricted by the Academy (DFA in English, MAF in French). What is called Modern English is an adaptation/amalgam of Latin, Greek, Gaelic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman French so the majority of our words are borrowed. For me it is odd that this silent terminal consonant (which is so French) comes into English only in borrowed words, usually recently borrowed so taken in full - phrase and pronunciation.
  10. Montesacro Senior Member

    Why do you find it odd?
    I find it odd your finding it odd..
    Or do you think one should expect English words of non-French origin to be pronounced according to French pronunciation rules?
  11. guillaumedemanzac

    guillaumedemanzac Senior Member

    English - Southern England Home Counties
    I think we have a great respect for the French language as a literature at least equal to ours and so we keep the original pronunciation.
    However other borrowings we are very cruel to and twist their pronunciation to fit our own rules. German words for example which are the basis of Anglo-Saxon have taken on English spelling and pronunciation night=nacht, light=licht, house=haus (homophone like mouse!), door=tor, book=buch, and so on for many basic words which were taken into Old English a thousand years ago. However you are right that I shouldn't be surprised because the French borrowings come much later and maybe we liked the snobbery of the literati of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when to mention la dolce vita was a sign you were in the haute bourgeoisie. You'll be glad to know we treat Italian words with equal respect and try to imitate the wonderful sounds of Dante. I think your last question was ironic and I don't think French pronunciation rules have any way of explaining words like straight, plough, Gloucestershire etc etc. :)

    P.S. Did you find any other terminal "s" words (not pronounced) for our collection?
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2012
  12. Montesacro Senior Member

    guillaume, the words you mention (night, house, etc) are not borrowings from German (though they're obviously cognate to their German counterparts). They are the very core of the English language, and their change in spelling and pronunciation is just an in-house development. In other words, there's no cruel mangling or evil twisting involved :D

    Sorry, guillame, I can come up only with words of French origin.


    The examples above are compound words, so the silent s is actually a terminal silent s.
  13. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    English, German, Dutch and Frisian are like four children from a common parent.

    After they split up each language developed a bit differently, e.g. in (High) German the consonants changed gh->ch as in night and Nacht or th->d, e.g. thunder -> Donner while in English the vowels changed.
  14. guillaumedemanzac

    guillaumedemanzac Senior Member

    English - Southern England Home Counties
    Yes the great English vowel shift which caused a lot of modern German words to look completely different from their English counterpart: wunderbar = wonderful, sun = sonne, blaum = bloom etc etc.
    However French silent letters - obviously over 800 years - have actually caused the same problem - meaning that English words borrowed long ago from old French either look or sound quite different e.g. marche (can no-one tell me how to put accents on this forum) = market, cheminee = chimney, fleur = flower and even if the spelling is kept and/or recognizable the pronunciation still changes to English rules e.g. table = table, planche = plank, porteur = porter, professeur = professor.
    This is why I started this/my collection of French words where the borrowing is much more recent and we English have tried to keep both the spelling and the pronunciation. the final "s" being silent is alien to English rules but we have a lot of them but still none that I would say are genuine "English" words - I know some of you don't like the phrase real English but these borrowed words break the rules of pronunciation - we still have no "English" word with a final silent "s" - all those in the list were borrowed in the last hundred or so years.
    Thanks for chassis and bas-relief and viscount and I still like Chablis so we'll keep that; any others are welcome.
    As an addition to the words that we English have borrowed and distorted so much in spelling and pronunciation - how about market and surrender (verb).
    Market if it was a modern borrowing should be marche (accent!) but we add the T as in cricket and wicket not following the French rule of silent "t" in balle(t), vale(t), croche(t) and croque(t)
    Surrender is se rendre so it is obviously twisted by our odd English letter "r" into something the average language student wouldn't recognise at first sight.
  15. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    What make you think that "market" derives from French "marché", guillaume? The OED devotes three whole paragraphs to the origins of "market", the first of which is
    As to "surrender", see my comment in another thread.

    I'm afraid I really haven't understood the purpose of your thread. Is it simply that you're trying to put together a list of English words with final silent "s"?
  16. guillaumedemanzac

    guillaumedemanzac Senior Member

    English - Southern England Home Counties
    :) Yes. the other points simply came out of that original thread see the All Blacks on word reference forum and was from a French speaker who asked if all English final "s" consonants were pronounced. The rules of that forum stopped two offthread comments and the replies to those so I took it to the cafe.
    Fot me as an amateur linguist it was interesting and threw up several sidelines (the ballet/valet/cricket/wicket/crochet/market for example) which are allowed in the cafe. There are good lists on the internet for all silent letters in English by Collins and Oxford. And there is another side line in that the French around 1600-1700 put these damned accents in for silent letters e.g. ile, cote, coute, etonner, etable, ecole - one other reason for blaming the MAF/Damned French Academy for interfering with language development.
    Thanks for all the "s" finals so far - others still welcome - I come across one almost every week and for my Chablis friend (Agro) some French ones with the "s" pronounced Cornas, Vaqueras and a southern word for farm le mas.
    And another sideline, where are the accents on this forum? I wanted to say that debri(s) in English has no accent but keeps the French pronunciation with silent "s".
    Thanks for your online dictionary : I haven't got a good one for etymology beyond the old Oxford concise dictionary of etymology edited TF Hoad 1986!!!
    So I will put that new dictionary in my favourites list along with the one I use most the BNC - brilliant usage "concordance" dictionary.

    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 13, 2012
  17. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The other way round: The circumflex indicates a lost "s" in French. English got these words before the were lost in French. You find the spelling coste rather than côte as late as the 16th century. The first attested English borrowing is from the 12th century, i.e. long before the "s" was lost in French.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  18. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The difference between thunder and Donner indeed reflects a sound shift in German but not the difference between night and Nacht. This is simply due to different spelling conventions in German and English (in Scots, by the way, night is spelled nicht) and they represented (in Scots still represent) the same sounds. The <gh> in night became mute in the late 15th/early 16th century and, with compensatory lengthening, /nɪçt/ became /ni:t/ which then became /naɪt/ as a result of the great vowel shift.

    PS: You were probably thinking of the 2nd Germanic sound shift. But this doesn't apply here because the sound was an original /h/ and not an original /k/.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  19. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    In Isle and Island the s for added for false etymology. See here.
  20. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)

    Yes, in the case of "island".

    No, in the case of "isle" < Old French isle < Latin insula. Here, the s is authentic.

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