John Larrysson Column: Silent D Is Not Always Silent

Some people claim that D is silent before J or a soft G. As I will show you, their claim is not quite true. DG is used to spell the J-sound /dʒ/ as in wedge. The original Latin alphabet (ABC) did not have a letter J. For example: The word judge comes from the Latin iudicare. So when English was first written using the Latin Alphabet instead of runic (see articles Ye and the Lost Letter and The Invention of the Alphabet) something else had to be done to represent the J-sound. In Old English the J-sound was often written CG. The word bridge comes from the Old English brycge. The CG spelling changed in Middle English to GG. The word ledge comes from the Middle English leggen. Finally in modern English the J-sound was spelt DG, as in badge, bridge and ledge. The D is not really silent, instead DG should be treated as a diagraph for the J-sound.

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To complicate the spelling of the J-sound we have the DJ problem. We know that the pronunciation of the J-sound in English changed over the centuries. This change can be demonstrated with the use of the DJ diagraph for one of the J-sounds. The structure adj- has the same type of diagraph as DG. These words are of Latin origin. For example (For simplicity the original Latin spelling is in brackets.): adjacent (adiacentem), adjective (adjectivum), adjunct (adiunctus), adjust (adiuxtare). In the name Django, the DJ is pronounced with a J-sound.

"What's your name?" asks the stranger in the white hat and purple ascot.
"Django, the D is silent." he answered.
(Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino)


The problem is that the D in Django is not really silent, it is just not from English. Djakarta, Djibouti and other names also use the diagraph DJ to write the English J-sound. In most European languages the letter J is pronounced /ʒ/ as in the French name Jean. The English version of the name, John, uses the English J-sound /dʒ/. There are two J-sounds in use today.

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There are some real silent D's in handkerchief and Wednesday. Also in some English varieties, when D is at the end of a noun the plural has a silent D. Example: hand/hands, maid/maids...

The DG and DJ diagraphs are used to spell the J-sounds. The DG diagraph is found most commonly at the ends of words (-edge, -idge, -odge or -udge). The DJ spelling is found at the beginning of some words from Latin (adj-). DJ is also used by European languages to represent the English J-sound and appears in English in some names.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.

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The Letter C is Useless

The letter B

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The Schwa Sound

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The Letter A a

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