Gee, English pronunciation rules are antiquated
West Coast Editor,
September 2005

At some point, every schoolchild will be taught the dubious “g” rule—the consonant is pronounced “hard” [g], unless it precedes “e” or “i,” in which case it’s pronounced “soft” [j].Get me a dictionary and I’ll show you this rule doesn’t hold water.

Notice the first word in the last sentence? It’s not pronounced like an aircraft (jet,) yet according to the rule it should be.

Seems the proper thing to do would be to abandon orthographic obfuscation in favour of teaching children to distinguish between a Germanic “g” and a French “g.” Not only would this be pedagogically superior, it would give them a sounder understanding of their own language.

What made me think of this was the headline to Vaughn Palmer’s April 5, 2005, column in The Vancouver Sun: “Wally’s nominating meeting gave Campbell only a mild singeing.” When a gerund is formed from a verb ending in “e,” the letter is dropped before the “ing” suffix is added. Therefore, the gerund of “singe” should be “singing” [sin-jing]. The “softness” of the “g” remains because “e” and “i” are both front vowels.

“Singing,” though, is the gerund of “sing”—from the German singen—and the “g” isn’t soft, despite the front vowel. Meanwhile, “binging,” “hinging,” “impinging,” “twinging,” and “whinging” all have the soft “g.”The source of the difficulty is the letter itself. In Old English, “g” was written as “3 ” (yogh) and pronounced [g], [y], or [gh], depending on the circumstances. (Note: The yogh, which resembles a squared, printed “3” is not “z,” though confusions would occur.) “Singe” comes from the Old English sen3an, where “3” was pronounced [gh] because it was in medial position and came before a back vowel

In 1066, the invading French brought to England the Latin “g,” and so in Middle English, the [g] form of “3” fell into disuse. English also incorporated an entire French vocabulary, including the soft “g” before “i” and “e.”

The upshot is that “singe” is a Germanic word with a French “g,” and “sing” and “get” are Germanic words with a German “g.” That wasn’t too hard, was it?