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Why is great pronounced /greit/ while in other words the ea is pronounced differently? Take treat, for example: /tri:t/. Why are two words with the same number of vowels and consonants and the same syllable structure are pronounced differently? Is there any way for people to guess a word's pronunciation at first place correctly? How can we trace pronunciation history of a word?

closed as too broad by FumbleFingers, aedia λ, Mari-Lou A, RegDwigнt Aug 15 '13 at 22:14

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    After you get through with those, consider teat (tɪt) which can be pronounced to rhyme with sit. The point is, English spelling and pronunciation are capricious and unpredictable. So we can't give you simple rules that will always apply. You just have to learn the variations as you go along. – Robusto Aug 15 '13 at 20:16
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    I think this is just Too Broad. I'm pretty sure that in the case of ea, the most common pronunciation is /i:/ as in treat. But there's no universal rule to distinguish between alternatives such as great or threat. Not to mention beau, bureaucrat, and beauty, which represent yet another three different vowel sounds. – FumbleFingers Aug 15 '13 at 20:18
  • Thanks to both of you guys, i see that the ground is so broad, but what happened in the first place that we have these pronunciation now? how decided in the first place? is there any way to look back at the creation of these differences? – Benyamin Hamidekhoo Aug 15 '13 at 20:25
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    @Benjamin: The words come from a variety of sources. In some cases they go all the way back to pre-Norman times. Old English ea would have been pronounced as it is in great, except with a diphthong (i.e., as two syllables). A word like beau comes from the French. Over time pronunciations change, as does orthography. For example, Boswell, who wrote the biography of Samuel Johnson, usually spelled the past tense of eat as eat, but would have pronounced it somewhere between ate and et. – Robusto Aug 15 '13 at 20:29
  • @Benjamin: Also note that even the etymology won't always explain differences in pronunciation for the same sequence of letters. For example, create and creature share the same basic root, but are pronounced very differently. A lot of it is just a matter of learning on a case-by-case basis. – FumbleFingers Aug 15 '13 at 21:41
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Perhaps this will help sort out why English vowel structure appears to have inconsistent pronunciations (and its origins):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift

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