Even though English spelling is so irregular, native speakers still share a common writing system with little regional difference. When you refer to the moving organ in your mouth, you may pronounce it differently, but all native speakers write T_O_N_G_U_E, in such obviously "wrong" spelling.

Why? Why didn't different regions develop different writing systems, since they have different accents and word-choices?

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    American and British spelling, on the other hand, are really quite different. It might be an idea to clarify what regions you are talking about? Sep 13, 2018 at 11:07
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    Autocorrect.... Sep 13, 2018 at 15:21
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    Do other languages with similar number of speakers show more variance in spelling? Sep 13, 2018 at 15:56
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    @Azor Mandarin can be written by two not extremely different writing system. But people without any kind of education or material reading will not be able to read the other writing system.(Not a so obvious phenomenon because of modern internet information exchange, but DO exist in Mandarin) Sep 13, 2018 at 16:04
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    @Azor 简体中文(Simplified Chinese) vs 繁體中文(Traditional Chinese) I am native in system S, but most people, like me, are able to READ system T. It reminds me Cantonese writing system is more like old English, not as standardized as modern English or Mandarin. It's complex and native speakers don't get the knowledge (In case you're reading). Sep 13, 2018 at 16:17

2 Answers 2


They did in the really old days, even 2 people sat next to each other spelt things differently (think of young kids learning to write). But in the 17 century they invented dictionaries, but

It was not until Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) that really took off and it became the standard dictionary for 150 years that our (Brits) spelling became standardised.

It is all well and good having regional spellings when the only people to read your work are other locals, but once travel became easier writing also had to travel.

My husband would spell my pronunciation of the word bath as Barugh, as he is northern and I am southern.

But that makes written communication completely unfeasible, so we had to standardise.

A wiki link on dictionaries

As mentioned in a comment printed books also had the same effect, a very popular printed item could change/standardise the spelling of words

Source - logic and hundreds of hours of watching documentaries on social history

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    +1 May be worth adding that while dictionaries had the greatest effects, all printed material contributed to standardisation, and the effect was not limited to spelling but also word choice. Chaucers' 'eggys' being a common example
    – user172447
    Sep 13, 2018 at 13:55
  • @Orangesandlemons so words would shift towards the spelling used in the most popular books?
    – WendyG
    Sep 13, 2018 at 14:15
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    people would reuse spellings (and word use) they'd seen. And the fact that the exact same version could be used across the whole country helped spread it across differently pronounced dialects. Many peculiarities can be attributed to the fact that the printing press predates much of the great vowel shift
    – user172447
    Sep 13, 2018 at 15:36
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    Sometimes books were so influential that they caused change of established spellings. Example: Caxton's dictionary added h into the word gost, giving us the modern ghost, a new and now accepted spelling in English. Sep 13, 2018 at 16:46
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    I would like to add... Your husband pronounces it correctly! Sep 13, 2018 at 19:01

Education encourages conformity, my friend. European languages are phonetic. If a word is misspelled in English or in any other European language most people would understand the writer's intent.

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