The Spelling of "Who"

Today as I was working on writing Foundations D, I made a discovery about the spelling of the word who. I had always thought this word was one of the 2% of words that are true exceptions. However, now I know there is a logic to its spelling.

Until an hour ago, I always thought I heard /h-oo/. However when I applied the concept of a kinesthetic awareness of sounds to this word and felt the shape of my mouth as I said who, I realized that I am not saying /h/.

Who cooks for you?
Who cooks for you?

To feel this, say /h/ in isloation. Feel how your lips pull slightly back in a line to blow the puff of air that makes /h/. Now say who. Notice that for the intial sound your lips are rounded. Now say the phonogram WH as in when. You will feel the same rounded position of the lips.

I now think the WH in who was chosen because of this position. But why does it make a different sound? Or, if at one time both the position and the pronunciation matched the spelling, why did the pronunciation change?

The answer lies in the vowels. Say words such as when, what, why, and whistle. Notice that the second sound in each of these words moves back in the mouth. Compare this to who or whose. The /oo/ sound is forward. Now try feeling the position of the long /ō/ in whole.

It seems to me that the fact that the mouth is not moving back to form the second sound is what creates the distinct sound for WH that we hear in the word who, as well as in its derivatives whose and whom and the word whole.

From now on, when I teach how to read and spell who I will use a kinesthetic awareness of sounds to help students understand this word!

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