When I was 16, I decided I disliked the letter “Q.” There seemed to be a sort of “injustice” for English language learners. At a glance, it looked replaceable with “C” and “K.”
Now 21, I have realized its value and understand the letter Q’s existence. Even if altering our English alphabet could simplify the learning process for spelling, there would be complications in removing or replacing any letters.
“Q is in there for reasons that have nothing to do with what English is like,” Neil Myler, professor of linguistics at Boston University, said.
The English alphabet we have now was not necessarily designed for our language today, he said.
Jaeshil Kim, professor of linguistics at Liberty University, said the letter Q stretches as far back as the Hebrew language’s early history. Later, the Norman Conquest in 1066 took place and the letter Q, through the French language, invaded Old English spelling.
When it did, over time, words like “cwen” (queen) were no longer spelled in their original ways.
“Languages change constantly,” Kim said. “Languages are like the clouds. Clouds don't stay still. They constantly change. They change their forms and shapes, just like how language has changed constantly — but writing system[s] don’t change that fast.”
History has grafted different “unnecessary” letters into the English alphabet. It has impacted the way we spell — in ways beyond the letter Q. To change our spelling system today, however, would present several complications. Removing the letter Q is not as easy as it seems.
One major issue: the societal barrier.
“It’s partly inertia, right?” Myler said. “Nobody wants to have to learn a new way of spelling.”
We still need the letter Q to understand archived material and maintain historical preservation, he said.
As Kim said, writing systems are less malleable — they also take longer to change.
Michael Pasquale, professor of linguistics at Cornerstone University, said facilitating book reprints or street sign replacements would be costly — a similar reason why the United States did not adopt the metric system later in life. Even if it was cheaper, the learning curve would be immense.
“There actually was a huge push to spelling reform in the US back in the late 1800s, early 1900s,” Pasquale said.
Even though newspapers attempted to join this movement and simplify spelling, nothing advanced, he said.
Despite the fact that the letter Q’s function could be replaced in our English language, it still bears a strong purpose in others.
Sophomore Silvia Palax Cojtin, a Spanish tutor at Taylor University, said that many words in Spanish use the letter Q. The removal of the letter Q might confuse English language learners, particularly if they already used it in their own alphabet.
“I don't think you should remove [letters] because every language is unique,” Cojtin said.
Chin Chang, professor of linguistics at Taylor University, said there is social value to the letter Q — people find it appealing visually. That sort of beauty should not be overlooked.
Kim agrees. The visual beauty of the letter itself is special. However, so is its historical significance.
“If somebody came up with a very uniform and efficient spelling system, [most likely], young kids will be able to learn the writing system faster than now,” Kim said. “But we're gonna lose quite a lot. Every single word has its own history, and the spelling system — the way we spell the words — actually retains this cool history.”
To push for a change in our alphabet, may not be worth it in the long run. It may just be nice to appreciate its overall beauty and remember our roots — even if it does seem strange at times.