Letter names, phonics and "magic e"
September 26, 2017 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I can't be the first person to notice that "magic e" often has the effect of replacing the "simple sound" of an English vowel with its "name sound" ...can I?

Reading Spell It Out got me thinking of more obvious, logical ways to teach English spelling, and now I have kids I think about it every day.

As we live in continental Europe now, where letters are often called by their phonic sound, not some "arbitrary" name, I got to thinking how to explain this to my kids when I realized:

The effect of silent ⟨e⟩ on simple vowels is very often to change their sound to the letter name itself.

I couldn't beleive I'd never heard this explained this way before!

I know this does not hold for all cases (what rule does, in English or any language for that matter?) but it suddenly made a lot of sense... is this handy rule documented anywhere?
posted by KMH to Education (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
PS. Yeah, I no I spellt "beleeve" rong.
posted by KMH at 8:02 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


That's because, in English, the names of the vowels are the same as their long sounds. There is a somewhat more complicated rule, of which the silent e rule is a subset, that says a vowel followed by a consonant, then a vowel, will be long, whereas a vowel followed by two consonants will be short. Of course, there are always plenty of exceptions, and that doesn't even begin to tell you what to do with vowels like "a" that have more than two sounds, but there it is.
posted by ubiquity at 8:04 AM on September 26


What do you mean by "documented anywhere"? It's in that Wikipedia article you linked to, so, yes? What sort of documentation are you looking for?
posted by brainmouse at 8:04 AM on September 26


My second grader was struggling with reading last year and this was one of the rules he had to be taught explicitly by the reading teacher.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:09 AM on September 26


I mean explicitly making the connection between the name and the silent e, not just explaining that silent e makes a sound change.

Also "the names of the vowels are the same as their long sounds" is not even mostly true.
posted by KMH at 8:13 AM on September 26


Yes, the names of the vowels are the same as their long sounds. (And the silent e makes the vowel sound long, most of the time)
posted by pinochiette at 8:17 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


"the names of the vowels are the same as their long sounds" is not even mostly true.
It is true in the English I speak, and I remember being taught about the silent E making the vowel say its own name when learning spelling in elementary school. I have never heard it called the magic E, though.
posted by soelo at 8:17 AM on September 26


Sooo.... the long version of "u" sounds like "you"? Or the letter "u" is called "oooh"?
posted by KMH at 8:20 AM on September 26


Yes, like "unique" or "ukulele".
posted by pinochiette at 8:21 AM on September 26


I distinctly remember learning about short and long vowel sounds and the silent e in kindergarten/first grade. And we were taught that the long vowel sounds were the same as the vowels' names. Not sure what kind of documentation you're looking for, but it is definitely taught in school.

(Somewhat related: we also learned "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.")
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:21 AM on September 26 [8 favorites]


I teach first grade, and I've always told the kids 'magic e makes the vowel say its name.' Also 'Two vowels together make the first one say its name.'

Also "the names of the vowels are the same as their long sounds" is not even mostly true.

It's mostly true... pretty much always except sometimes for 'u'.

This is in California, fwiw.
posted by Huck500 at 8:23 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


Cute is an example of the long U being pronounced "you"
posted by soelo at 8:25 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the anecdotes... just wondered if this is documented anywhere other than... here...? ;-)
posted by KMH at 8:28 AM on September 26


Unless I am misunderstanding you, this is exactly how it was taught when I learned spelling many decades ago - "the silent E makes the other vowel say its name." A cursory google search brings up many phonics websites that teach it the same way.
posted by muddgirl at 8:29 AM on September 26 [5 favorites]


The issues with "u" aside, this approach is certainly better than the traditional long/short distinction often taught in American schools, which bears no relation to actual vowel length. This is a pretty good discussion of the issue.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:29 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


Thanks muddgirl!

I would note that I grew up more/less in the UK and there it is not taught this way AFAIK... sad...
posted by KMH at 8:31 AM on September 26


I learned Metroid Baby's rhyme from my grade 2 English teacher, Mrs Collins. But our version had a few extra words:

"When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking and says its own name."


There are of course exceptions, but this describes a more general case of the OP's specific "e" situation (and also uses the fact that the English vowel names are the same as their long sounds).
posted by MangoNews at 8:43 AM on September 26 [4 favorites]




Historically, the "long u is pronounced 'yoo'" thing was true in more words. It's stayed that way in many parts of the UK, where tune is "tyoon," due is "dyoo," new is "nyoo," etc. But in most parts of the US, we dropped the "y" sound in these words, so we say "toon," "doo," and "noo" instead.

This is sometimes called yod-dropping — where "yod" is a fancy old-fashioned name for the "y" sound.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:28 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


I grew up more/less in the UK and there it is not taught this way AFAIK

The method and practice of teaching kids to read tends to go through cyclical fashions. I grew up in England and I was certainly explicitly taught this rule, though that was in the mid 1960s so I'm sure things have had time to go through several cycles of teaching it/not teaching it since.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:34 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


(Ack! The edit window's closed, but actually new isn't an example of the spelling thing you're talking about, though it does demonstrate the difference in pronunciation.

For one that's spelled U-E or U-consonant-E, a better example would have been minute the adjective, which is "my-NYOOT" in parts of the UK and "my-NOOT" in most of the US, or avenue, which is "AV-uh-NYOO" in parts of the UK and "AV-uh-NOO" in most of the US.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:36 AM on September 26


I'm in the U.K. It was taught this way to me in the late 80s (I can vividly remember it – well done Mrs Clarke!).
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 10:38 AM on September 26


Long-u-with-y-sound: Use, muse, statue, mute, cube, cure, pure, module, costume, perfume, abuse, fume...

I've heard tune pronounced both ways; I've only heard lute pronounced the same as loot.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:32 PM on September 26


I never heard of of "magic e" either. I was told that a trailing E makes the previous vowel long. Nothing to do with its name.

KMH,

>> Also "the names of the vowels are the same as their long sounds" is not even mostly true.

Here are rhyming examples of how I say the long version of each vowel (which is also how I say their proper names):

A - pay day
E - be me
I - dry eye
O - oh no
U - you too

How do you?
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 12:39 PM on September 26


That's how I learned it and I have been ASTONISHED at the number of people who give me uncomprehending looks when I explain the rule in the context of my name. Both first and last name have vowel consonant silent e.
posted by janey47 at 12:53 PM on September 26


Please enjoy Lin-Manuel Miranda (aka Hamilton) singing about how Silent E Is a Ninja for US educational television.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:26 PM on September 26 [2 favorites]


I grew up in the UK and was also taught the "magic e makes the vowel say its name" rule, fwiw
posted by Acheman at 7:18 AM on September 27


I learned the magic e rule.

when I had to teach it in Korea, I used to tell them silent e was a bully and made other vowels say their names. Of course I only taught that in terms of magic e. THe bully thing entertained the kids, especially older low level learner.
posted by kathrynm at 8:31 AM on September 27


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