Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Recently my students have been doing lesson with the /c/ and /k/.  They have discovered that when using /k/ it must follow the letters "i", "e", "y" & when using /c/ it must follow "a", "o", "u", and consonants.  We soon come upon words such as "skate", and "skull", and "skunk". I was not sure how to explain it to them.  Upon doing a bit of research I found a few things but I am not sure if I am correct.  If anyone has any suggestions on how I can explain this to my students it would be most helpful. 

I took a look at the etymology and found that that these are words that are borrowed and are widely used in the English language.  This especially refers to words that begin with "sk". For example, skate came from the Dutch language, skull came from Scandinavia, and skunk is a Native American word.  

I was reminded  of graphemic signals of language of origin like

<ch> for /k/ and and internal <y> are signs of Greek
<igh> and <ugh> are signs of Old English as is the <kn> for /n/.
<ch> for /ʃ/ is a sign of French...
I wonder  if the <sk> letter sequence have a similar origin from northern Europe?
What do you think?

Comments (4)

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That is a great point about spelling bee participants. I want to share that with students and parents as we talk about the process of word study.


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Wow thank you for the feed back. It looks like I was on the right track. It is pretty cool to know that there is a reason for words being spelled the way they are instead of hearing "The English language is so confusing because it has so many rules." When I was explaining this to my student a light bulb came on. This is the reason why Spelling Bee participants ask for the origin and the definition of words. It all influences the spelling. It is beginning to come together. Thanks all.

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Depending on when they came into English - could it be to distinguish from Old English sc, pronounced /sh/. I know <skunk> is Native American, and would have come into English very differently. According to etymonline, <skulll> is Old Norse and is spelled <sk> throughout the Scandinavian languages, as is typical. It looks like the <k> in <skeleton> may have been a Greek kappa. Skate seems a bit more complex, coming from Dutch and spelled with a <sch> like <school>, but earlier versions were Swedish <skulle> or perhaps Norwegian <sk>. Since it is typical for Scandinavian words to use the <sk>, a perception of Scandinavian heritage may have influenced the spelling of <skate> and <skull>.

Kristin Clark
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Great stuff Nechele!

I love how you are posing your question with so much evidence for your thinking. I just shared your question with some teachers who had a wonderful suggestion that builds on the 3rd question about "relatives" in the four questions we should ask when investigating an interesting spelling.

She asked, could the word <skull> use the <k> as a link to the related word <skeleton>? That's particularly lovely, because in <skeleton> there is an <e> after the <k>, so the <c> grapheme would not work there. Nice.

I'm still interested in your hypothesis about a potential connection to words from Northern Europe. But I recommend taking this idea about looking for related words to see if similarly compelling discoveries are to be found with your other words.

Peter Bowers
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