I am in the midst of my investigation of <ugh>. Having talked with several expert Real Spellers, studied Tool Box 1 Kit 6-I (/ai/) on <ugh>, and been mulling it over for the past couple of weeks, the following are my thoughts and questions.
Having spent many years dabbling in the Latin and Greek roots of words as well as relying on linguistic phonics to inform my teaching (I hear you cringing), I find myself constantly comparing my previous knowledge with my burgeoning Real Speller knowledge. Debbie Hepplewhite's synthetic (linguistic) phonics chart has informed my own slightly modified version (due to pronunciation differences) and, despite some major differences which I am in the process of reevaluating since discovering Real Spellers, I am finding it fits quite nicely in many cases with the phonographic portion of Real Spellers. It also has naturally led me to pinpoint my questions toward some of what appears to be the more "difficult" or controversial cases, thus my predicament of starting out my investigations with somewhat less clear-cut examples, <ugh> being a case in point.
I have been told that there are no quadragraphs in English but I am not convinced. I now understand that <ugh> can represent /f/ at the end of a word as elegantly proved by <laugh>, therefore, <o> or <a> alone are representing the vowel phonemes in words such as "laugh," "enough," "cough," etc. It would then seem to follow that <o> is also representing the various vowel phonemes in words such as "though," "thought," "through," etc., however, I'm not convinced by the evidence I have seen so far that it is not <ough> that is representing those phonemes.
I understand that several (all?) of the words involved come from Old English and originally included a <g> or <h> in their spelling and pronunciation but none (a few?) had both. I understand the need to distinguish between homophones, as well. But is it not still possible that the simplest, and hence, most elegant way to accomplish this would be with one quadragraph, <ough>?
Or better yet, could it be that the vowel digraph <ou> (which, in many other words is often used to represent the same vowel phonemes as found in "though," "thought," "through," "plough," etc.) coupled with <gh> as the ending consonant digraph is the most elegant explanation? This explanation would also cover <au> as in /aw/ (I can't type IPA symbols yet) in words such as "daughter". The same explanation might also be able to cover words such as "straight" and "neighbor" and even "height" and "sleight" as well. Despite <ei> most often representing /ei/, or /ee/, it does have a rare use as representing /ai/ as in "heist." Since many of these words that originated in Old English actually had the spelling <g> and the pronunciation /g/ and since there already is a precedent of having the <gh> grapheme to represent /g/ at the beginning of some words, isn't it feasible that <gh> is the digraph in what have traditionally been seen as words having <ough>, <augh> <aigh> quadragraphs or, as in Real Spellers the <ugh> trigraph? This <gh> digraph would not play any phonologic role but would serve an etymologic function while also allowing for a homophonic spelling differential yet retaining typical/common vowel digraphs (which couldn't otherwise be used in the final position of a word).
Thoughts? As a Real Speller neophyte, am I missing something vital here?