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Sometimes when working with servers, one may encounter a problem with the kernel. I have noticed many times when participating in support groups on IRC, that some people type "kernal" instead of "kernel". What could possibly incline so many people to do it that way and not another, like "kernol"? Could there be a common influence of other languages than English that produce this error?

I'm inclined to believe this is a lingual influence, because I myself sometimes, even without knowing, exhibit various influences of the languages I know when communicating in languages other than to which these influences belong to. Such as, using Polish grammar in English and Mandarin, using American phrasal verbs in Polish, etc. Anyone who's been learning languages can easily imagine that this is at fault for a lot of errors where we think something is pronounced, written or phrased one way, but it is wrong. If my inclination is itself in error, I am still more than happy to find out the truth.

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  • @DanBron you're absolutely right, I've corrected the case from hearing to reading. It's a long day. I've checked Oxford Dictionary, and the pronounciation is ˈkəːn(ə)l.
    – R Moog
    Oct 24, 2018 at 14:20
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    In text I imagine that it's a motor-memory thing: lots of fairly common words end with the Latin affix -al, and the fingers just take over. Oct 24, 2018 at 14:25
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    Lot's of words with final sound syllabic 'l' are spelled with an '-al': final, penal,renal, tonal,carnal,hymnal,spinal,eternal, journal. There are roughly the same amount ending in '-el': panel, funnel, kennel tunnel,channel,flannel. So it's an easy mistake to make.
    – Mitch
    Oct 24, 2018 at 16:02
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    It's simply because they don't know that it should be spelled "colonel".
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 24, 2018 at 16:17
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    They must be Commodore 64 hackers. Oct 24, 2018 at 23:30

3 Answers 3

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There's no truth here just an educated guess as to why it might happen.

A lot of words with final syllabic 'l' are spelled with an '-al':

final, penal, renal, tonal, carnal, hymnal, spinal, eternal, journal.

There are roughly the same amount ending in '-el':

panel, funnel, kennel, tunnel, channel, flannel.

On the other hand there are fewer that end in -ol' pronounced this way:

carol, symbol, petrol, pistol

(note that none end in '-nol')

and quite a few that are not pronounced at all with syllabic l:

alcohol, extol, ethanol, patrol

So it could be an easy mistake to make '-al' and '-el', but not as likely '-ol'.

This is all to say that it is most likely patterns of English orthography might give a tendency towards certain misspellings.


For full disclosure and repeatability, I used

egrep '^[a-z]{3,5}[aou]l$' /usr/share/dict/words

on unix to find the words of interest. If you do this yourself, you'll notice that there are way many more such words than I mentioned here. I took the liberty of mentioning only words that I personally thought are common enough. The great majority of those words are uncommon enough not to have an effect (my own judgement) on the 'confusion matrix' of spellings and sounds in English.

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I took a copy of a wordlist which gives the respective counts of a certain Google corpus's commonest 97565 words, in frequency order. I searched it using the regex [^aeuio][ao]l\t (The initial [^aeuio] is to exclude words such as school. The \t matches the tab which separates a word from its frequency count. This restricts the match to those words where the matching pattern is at the end.)

If I now exclude, as Mitch did, alcohol and other -ol words where the final o is not reduced all the way to schwa (e.g. control, vol) then the commonest matches that end in ol, and their positions among the matches to the above regex, are symbol 84, Bristol 218, carol 225, pistol 247. Clearly, words ending in al are commoner. Commoner by how much? To give just one data point, general is 18 times as common as symbol.

This wordlist is accessible from a link in this web page.

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Are you supposing that the people misspelling the word are not native speakers? I'm a native speaker and a poor speller and can easily see myself writing "kernal."

Anecdotally "kernal" looks like a real word, while "kernol" does not.

If there's any reason other than chance (or whatever it is that makes "kernol" look wrong), it would probably be that there are more words ending in "al" pronounced as əl than words ending in "ol" pronounced as əl.

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