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Why is "me" pronounced like "me" but "ne" is not pronounced with the same e sound?

According to a professor, "ne" is pronounced like "nuh". Why is it like this?

And more generally, does there exist a rule set on how to pronounce things so I don't have to ask a question like this again, or is it all word dependent and of unknown origin like idioms?

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    per Oscar Wilde: "Any language in which ghoti is pronounced fish clearly has no pronunciation rules." For the uninitiated: gh as in laugh; o as in women; and ti as in station. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 3 '13 at 4:22
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    English spelling doesn't represent the sounds of English. So you have to learn the spelling and the pronunciation separately. Plus, you can't just learn the spelling, because many things in writing depend on pronunciation, like when you use an and when you use a. – John Lawler Sep 3 '13 at 4:48
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    Well, first of all there are, if any, a limited number of rules to be followed when it comes the pronunciation of English words. Second, ne is not a word in English and its sound will depend purely on where its used. – Noah Sep 3 '13 at 5:12
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    @PieterGeerkens: Well, ghoti is supposed to be pronounced 'fish' as a parody (by whoever created the word) of English pronunciation. 'gh' isn't pronounced 'f' in the beginning of a word, while 'ti' can't be pronounced 'sh' at the end of a word. Just pointing it out. :P – mikhailcazi Sep 3 '13 at 7:10
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    @Dan, why on earth would any ‘reflexive property’ (which ‘me’ doesn’t usually have, by the way) influence the pronunciation of the vowel? That makes no sense whatsoever. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 3 '13 at 8:14
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I would pronounce "ne" (all by itself) as close to "neh". It's also "neh" in "necessary", "negligent", "Nellie", "nepotism", "nest", "nettle", "never", "nexus", -- but "new" is closer to "neew".

As the others have pointed out, English spelling is more like a suggestion about pronunciation. I think this is because we've borrowed from so many other languages - French, German, Italian, Russian, British English .....

One of the most famous examples is "through", "tough", "cough", "though", "rough", "thought", "bough". That's an extreme case - but I don't think it's anywhere nearly as complex as tonal languages like Chinese.

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    You forgot Slough, and plough :) – mplungjan Sep 3 '13 at 6:27
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    Your last sentence is a bit strange to me—you’re mixing (written) orthography and its oddnesses in English with (spoken) tonal contours in other languages. The two are completely different things and can’t be compared at all. You could argue that the orthographical mess that is English orthography is still easier to acquire than a working knowledge of Chinese characters and their pronunciations (or even worse, Japanese Kanji!), and you’d probably be right. That’s nowt to do with whether a language is tonal or not, though (Japanese is only marginally tonal). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 3 '13 at 8:16

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