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I am a language nut. I love, love, love to read and learn and study languages. Some people have comic books, others have stamp collections, others still have sports, I have language. There is something beautiful about the complexities and intricacies of how human beings communicate with each other. I want to communicate that beauty. I want us to realize how amazing our capacity for language actually is.

So I'm starting this series called the Phenomena of Language, in which I hope to bring to you what I find to be the most interesting aspects of languages. I think I'll start out with English and depending on the response also spread into foreign languages. I am still a student, so these installments will come when I have the time to write them.

In today's feature, I will discuss the Great English Vowel Shift (GVS), which is the reason the English vowel system so different from that of other European languages.

Disclaimer: I do not have a degree in linguistics. The extent of my exposure to the subject has been what I've read in my free time and the classes I took for my minor in undergrad. So I am in no way an expert on any of this stuff. I am simply a language nut, it's basically a hobby/obsession of mine. So if I get things wrong, I'd appreciate the help in getting it corrected.

The following are the basic long vowels of Middle English, which was the stage of English spoken from the Norman Invasion of 1066 to the late 15th century, and the corresponding sounds in Modern English.

Picture 1

If you’ll notice, the pattern of this sound change, you’ll realize why it’s called a "shift." The vowels literally shifted down (or up, depending on your starting point).

Now why would something like this happen? The most likely and most accepted explanation is called the drag chain vowel shift because the vowels were basically dragged by the diphthongs "ay" and "aw." A diphthong is a vowel sound which is actually made up of two vowels—e.g. ai "kite" or oi "oil."

Most likely under the influence of French, which because of the Norman invasion was the dominant language in England at the time, "ay" and "aw" monophthongized (say that five times in a row!), or in other words, became one simple vowel. Through a rather complicated process "ay" eventually became "eh" and "aw" eventually became "oh." It is hypothesized that "i" and "u" began to diphthongize to take their place.

These new diphthongs were the sound "i" as in "beet" followed by a "y" and the sound "u" as in "boot" followed by a "w."  If you try to say both of these sounds, you’ll see, relatively speaking, these sounds are quite long. It’s not normal to have vowels this long in English, so this change was unstable and destined not to last for long.

So the long "i" and "u" parts of the new vowels were shortened to "ih" as in "sit" and "uh" as in "put." The sounds were now "ihy" and "uhw." After a while, these new sounds were relaxed into schwas (ə), which is the "a" in "about." The new sounds were "əy" and "əw."

These two new sounds were nothing like the original "i" and "u," and that was a problem. In most (but not all) languages in the world, there are at the very least the following five basic vowels: a, e, i, o, and u. English had just lost two of them, and that could not stand. So the vowels "e" and "o" stepped up to the plate. They began to change and sound more and more like  "i" and "u" until eventually they became those two sounds.

At the same time that this was happening, an unrelated sound change was taking place. The long "a" was slowly becoming a long "æ," which is the sound in "cat" but longer. We’ll come back to the fate of this sound in just a second.

So, at this point the English langauge had its "i" and "u" back but was now missing long "e" and "o." Guess which two vowels took their place. That’s right, "eh" and "oh." These two vowels, most likely because of their similarity, became "e" and "o." And now we come back to "æ," which has been sitting in the wings ready to play its role. This vowel moved into the position in the vowel system that "eh" had formerly occupied.

Now all the vowels have moved at least once. You’d think this was good enough for English—well, you’d be wrong. The Great Vowel Shift had more shifting to do.

Because the language was in still in a state of flux, "e," the vowel formerly known as "eh," wasn’t stable in its position and eventually moved to "i." Now, we were missing an "e" sound again, but just like before "eh," which was formerly "æ," moved in to take its place.

Finally, we come back to "əy" and "əw." These two sounds eventually shifted further and became "ay" and "aw." Thus we come full circle back to the two diphthongs that started this whole mess.

To make this clearer, I’ll use actual words and show how their pronunciation changed over time.

i "bite" (beetuh) > iy (beeyt) > ihy (biyt) > əy (bəyt) > ay (bayt) "bite"

u "bout" (boot) > uw (boowt) > uhw (buwt) > əw (bəwt) > aw (bawt) "bout"

e "beet" (bait) > i (beet) "beet"

o "boot" (bote) > u (boot) "boot"

eh "beat" (bet [hold the vowel longer]) > ai (bait) > i (beet) "beat"

oh "boat"  (bought [hold the vowel longer]) > o (bote) "boat"

a "name" (nahmuh) > æ (næm) > eh (nehm [hold the vowel longer]) > ai (naim) "name"

ay "bait" (bite) > eh (beht) > ai (bait) bait

aw "jaw" (jaw [rhymes with ‘cow"]) > oh (joh) "jaw"

Now, you may be wondering at this point what happened to the sound "a." Afterall, from all these shifts, it seems like "a" disappeared. Well, the thing about language is that for the most part it changes in a uniform manner, but there are always exceptions.

You can see these exceptions by the way we pronounce certain words such as "great" and "break." These were originally pronounced as "eh," so given what I have told you, you’d expect these words to be pronounced as "greet" and "breek." But they didn’t undergo that last step that would make them rhyme with "neat" and "meek."

In almost every instance that I can think of, the vowel shift was prevented because of the presence of the letter "r" or "l" in the word. Examples are words like "card" and "talk," which you would expect to be pronounced as  "kaird" and "tailk." Apparently these vowels were originally short. The nature of the sounds "r" and "l" are such that they prevented the vowel shift from occurring.  So the "a" sound continues to exist in English.

Note: To be sure, sometimes an "r" or an "l" wasn't enough to stop the change. For example, we pronounce "cream" as "kreem" not "kraim." In these instances, the important factor was actually the combined affect of "r" and the other sounds in the word. But that's getting too technical and beyond the scope of this diary.

Please see, WIds's comments on this below. Apparently these vowels were originally short and became long later on. The "r" and "l" may even have nothing to do with exceptions to the GVS.

Finally, what’s interesting about the GVS is that it only affected long vowels. Short vowels remained the same. This is why we have this weird dichotomy in English between are long and short vowels that doesn’t exist in any other language:

ay — ih "crime – criminal"
aw — uh "abound – abundant"
i — eh "keep – kept"
u — oh "goose – gosling"
e — æ "grateful – gratitude"

So, in conclusion I will leave you with a diagram of the sound changes that I found on this nifty website that displays the stages of the GVS in the order they occurred.



Furman University


Update: I would like to thank WIds and crossroads for their help in correcting what I had gotten wrong. I really appreciate it.

Originally posted to unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:17 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I love the idea (8+ / 0-)

    of the armchair expert in something.

    I suspect you know as much as someone academically trained in the field - or could at least teach someone like that something new.

    Very cool.

    Truth is what most contradicts itself in time.

    by Blicero on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:23:08 PM PST

  •  What a pleasure (8+ / 0-)

    to read a diary about an interesting subject outside of the sphere of politics written by an intelligent person.  

     The fact that Unspeakable is still a student is symbolic that studying should be a lifelong occupation.

  •  One question that's always troubled me with this: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trivium, mamamedusa, mayim, unspeakable

    I've read about this GVS before, but I've never been able to figure out how anyone knows what the pronunciations were like prior to the shift.  It's not as if there was anyone tape-recording things back then.  How exactly are the historical sounds (and their changes) reconstructed from written text?

    What's a community organizer? It's sort of like a small-town mayor, except that you can actually get elected President.

    by SLKRR on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:36:55 PM PST

    •  A lot of it is guess work. (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SLKRR, timmyk, Allogenes, trivium, mayim, budr

      English is not so different from other European languages. It has the same sources so at some point the vowels were pronounced in the same or similar ways.

      We don't know everything about the pronunciation of Middle English. For example, we don't know if "r" was pronounced like it is today or if it was more like Italian.

      But from we know about Germanic languages and Norman French, which is what dominated England at the time, we can make fairly informed guesses about how the sounds were produced.

      So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

      by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:40:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We also have many songs and poetry (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Allogenes, mayim, unspeakable
        and patterns within the variations in spelling to work from, e.g. Chaucer.

        We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. Martin Luther King Jr.

        by killjoy on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:54:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  "Pronunciations" plural, right? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Allogenes, mayim, unspeakable

        I seem to recall that the Northumbrian dialect of the Gawain-poet not only was grammatically different from Chaucer's ME, but sounded different as well. Would you know anything about this?

        Politics, please.

        by timmyk on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:57:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There were certainly "pronunciations" (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          timmyk, Allogenes, mayim

          of Middle English, just as their are "pronunciations" of Modern English.

          I don't know any of the specifics on those differences but I'm sure they account for why the varieties of English spoken in northeastern England are so peculiar. If you're interested, you should look up Geordie, which is an extreme example those dialects.

          So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

          by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 01:25:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Right. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Allogenes, mayim, unspeakable

            I believe it was the relative lack of the influence of French: at least, I know this was the case for the vocabulary and syntactic differences, so probably the same for pronunciation too.

            That northeastern ME is so damn knotty and intractable, just looking at it makes me sad that all those (to us) strange and wonderful words missed out on being incorporated into modern English....

            Politics, please.

            by timmyk on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 01:30:01 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  I'm sure there are various ways... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SLKRR, Allogenes, mayim, budr determine this, but one way is to see what words people rhyme in poetry.  Spelling may also be a clue, since before standardization, people in different regions may have regularly spelled words in distinctive ways that represented how they pronounced them.  

      Sometimes, though, you then get interesting spellings popping up where spelling from region becomes the standard, but the pronunciation from another region becomes standard -- for example, both "bury" and "busy" are spelled today as they were in the East Midlands, but pronounced as they were in the south and southeast of England.

    •  People in early modern times weren't dumb (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SLKRR, high5, Allogenes, mayim

      They were quite capable of recording pronunciations in phonetic form and describing the pronunciations -- and they did.  We have phonetic records for English going back to the beginning of the 1600s, and thus covering the last half of the "Great Vowel Shift".

      Even before that, we can use the treatment of loanwords (either into or out of English) and changes in the way words are spelled (Middle English spelling was not yet standardized, and spelling changes often track pronunciation shifts) as evidence.  Poetry often provides vital information on rhymes and syllabic structure.  We can't get exact information on pronunciation, which in any case differed from place to place and speaker to speaker; but we can reconstruct the phonemic inventory, and some broader phonetic details, with good accuracy.

  •  Ever since I learned what a fricative ... (6+ / 0-)

    ...was I have loved this stuff, too. Nice Diary.

    Americans do not like to think of themselves as aggressors, but raw aggression is what took place in Iraq. - John Prados

    by Meteor Blades on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:41:18 PM PST

    •  Do you know what a stop is? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Allogenes, bythesea, mayim

      Because that's the reason that the vowel in "great" and "break" didn't change to "greet" and "breek." I didn't want to include because I thought it might get too confusing.

      So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

      by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:43:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I had a single linguistics class ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Allogenes, mayim

        ...but have read several books and a few articles on the subject. So, yes, I know about stops. And, having lived with Arabic speakers over the past seven years, I have still not been able to reproduce the pharyngealized glottal stop essential to separating one set of phonemes.

        Americans do not like to think of themselves as aggressors, but raw aggression is what took place in Iraq. - John Prados

        by Meteor Blades on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:53:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  As a native Arabic speaker, (5+ / 0-)

          those are quite easy for me!

          The best way to do it is to practice with the "t" or the "d." Hold your tongue in place like you're going to pronounce either one. Then, push the back of your tongue against the back of your throat and then release the sound. It may work or it may not. But that's the best advice I can give you on that.

          So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

          by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:58:30 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, next you have to try ... (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Oaktown Girl, Allogenes, trivium, mayim

            ...Xhosa "clicks."

            Americans do not like to think of themselves as aggressors, but raw aggression is what took place in Iraq. - John Prados

            by Meteor Blades on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 01:02:55 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Native Arabic speaker? (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ybruti, Allogenes, unspeakable, budr

            That is cool.  I picked up the "glottal stop" when I learned (a little of) Persian.  There are also some other interesting consonants (ghain and qaf) which I think were borrowed from the Arabic.

            The best way I've heard for an English speaker to understand the glottal stop is to imagine someone with a thick Cockney accent saying "bottle" - it will sound something like boh-ul with a break in the word where the "-" is.  That is the glottal stop.

            What's a community organizer? It's sort of like a small-town mayor, except that you can actually get elected President.

            by SLKRR on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 02:08:25 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  From what I've seen, (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              SLKRR, Allogenes

              there are some words in Persian with the "gh" sound that are definitely not borrowings from Arabic. But they could be borrowings from another language, so I don't know.

              But yeah, the glottal stop is usually explained to English speakers with that particular Cockney accent example. It's really funny watching the look of realization on their face, when they realize that there is a consonant in our language that they had no idea about.

              So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

              by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 02:15:14 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Gh words in Persian (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                SLKRR, Allogenes, unspeakable

                There are definitely some which are non-Arabic and non-Turkish; e.g. cherâgh ("lamp" -- the Arabic cognate sirâj was borrowed from Persian).  These words are almost always spelled with a ghayn instead of a qâf.

                •  But the fact that it's spelled with a (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  SLKRR, Allogenes

                  jim in Arabic suggests to me that these sounds were originally [g] and later on fricativized. I'm not sure about why the "ch" in the Persian was transliterated as "s" into Arabic. That could be a result of affrication in Persian but also something else. Am I close?

                  So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

                  by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 02:58:25 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Arabic didn't have a ch (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    SLKRR, Allogenes, mayim

                    But the closest approximation to ch would, you'd think, be shîn. Shîn was used in some other borrowings -- e.g. shatranj for chatrang -- but that was probably borrowed centuries later than sirâj.

                    The answer -- which I've just found out, and which is a little surprising but makes perfect sense, is that the word was first borrowed into Aramaic as shirâg, and was then borrowed into Arabic from Aramaic rather than directly from Persian.  The Aramaic speakers must have pronounced their s and sh a little differently from the Arabs; how I don't know, but Arabic borrowings from Aramaic typically turn sh into s.  

                    I have a Middle Persian dictionary that shows the last consonant of cherâgh (or chirâgh as it was then) was gh, at least as early as the late Sâsânid period.  Aramaic represented both g and gh (which were in predictable variation with each other) with the letter gimel; gimel normally becomes j in Arabic.

                    •  I can explain why Aramaic sh is s (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      SLKRR, Allogenes, mayim

                      This is because there were three "s" sounds in Semitic languages, [s], [ʃ], and [ɬ]. In Arabic, [s] and [ʃ] were merged into [s], and [ɬ] changed to [ʃ]. This didn't happen in either Aramaic or Hebrew, which is why "sun" is shimsha and shemesh in those languages, respectively and why it's shams in Arabic.

                      The borrowing could possibly have occurred before this change happened. OR it could be that Arabs were aware of the different sound correspondences between their language and Aramaic, and when they borrowed words, they transliterated them accordingly. I'd put my money on the latter hypothesis, as I think that the sound change happened fairly early on.

                      So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

                      by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 03:31:53 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

          •  Maybe a dumb question (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mayim, unspeakable

            but is the glottal stop in Arabic the same as in the "Cockney" English accent?  As in the way a person with that accent would pronounce "better". Or is a bit different?

            Your political compass Economic Left/Right: -6.50 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.67

            by bythesea on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 03:24:49 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Stop? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Allogenes, mayim

        A stop is simply a class of consonant in which, for at least part of the time for which the consonant is produced, air does not emerge from the mouth.  [p], [b], [t], [d], [k], [g], [m], [n] are all stops (the last two because, although sound emerges from the vocal tract, it does so through the nose and not the mouth).

        That doesn't have anything to do with the words "great", "break", and "steak", which have no phonetic grounds for behaving differently from words like "seat" or "leak".  Perhaps you were thinking of a different term than "stop".

        The fact is that the changeover of the common pronunciation of words from [e:] to [i:] was a prolonged and messy affair -- and for some words it just never got completed by the time English was standardized.  It was even messier than those three examples suggest; there was a substantial body of words which formerly had long [E:] (the precursor of [e:]) which was shortened, but is still memorialized in the spelling "ea": e.g. deaf, bread, thread, dead, death, bear, wear, heaven, leaven, feather, weather, heather.

        •  Here's a link that explains (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Allogenes, mayim

          what I learned when we were studying this. It's a PDF file though.


          It's on the second page under "Likewise instead of i:"

          So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

          by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 01:33:00 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I don't find the argumentation persuasive.  For one thing, the sample is just too small (two words!) for such a generalization -- basically that Cr_C[-son -cont +voice] is a relevant environment.  We have words not in that category with the same change (like "steak") and words in that category without the change (like creak, which is precisely parallel to break).

            •  Alright, but there has to be something (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              to it that the exceptions do have an "r" or an "l," doesn't there? Or am I just seeing something that isn't there?

              So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

              by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 01:56:22 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Linguistics is full of uncertainties (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Allogenes, mayim, unspeakable, budr

                And the best I can answer is that there could be something there, but there doesn't have to be.

                I work with all kinds of small data sets, and I have to ask myself all the time "am I seeing a pattern that's really there, or is it just a mirage?"  One way to deal with the problem is to cast your net as broadly as you can -- make sure you've really looked at all the relevant items; then see if you can aggregate enough data (maybe from superficially separate categories) to create a statistically meaningful pattern.  But then you really need to be sure that you can apply your rule uniformly!  If you have exceptions, you need to ask: are these just sporadic exceptions?  Or are these indications that my rule just doesn't work?

                Sometimes there just aren't any clear answers.  Sometimes a rule which looked like it was no good turns out, with some extra qualification, to be perfectly applicable.  Other times, you just have to admit that you can't be sure you know what's going on.

    •  I think you just like saying (5+ / 0-)

      the word "fricative".

  •  Transformational Grammar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oaktown Girl, unspeakable

    How about a diary on Chomsky's theory?

    Dialog macht Sinn / Dialogue makes sense

    by DowneastDem on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:45:55 PM PST

  •  There's no such thing as the Great Vowel Shift! (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, bushondrugs, TNThorpe, budr, crossroads

    Okay, I exaggerate.  But the idea of a "GVS" suggests a single process taking place at one time, or at least within a well-defined span of time.

    In fact, the many shifts which the "GVS" summarizes took place over an approximately 400-year span of time (c. 1400-1800) and at different times.

    For instance, long [i:] and [u:] had become diphthongs by 1600 (not [@I] and [@U], but [Ei] and [ɔu] -- their values are well attested in contemporaneous phonetic literature) -- but [E:] and [ɔ:] remained more or less unchanged for another hundred years.

    The "GVS" as shown above also contemplates only long vowels, and yet the entire system can't be comprehended unless you consider the parallel shifts of the short vowels which were occurring in the latter stages -- particularly in the later 17th, early 18th century.

    In particular, the rising movement of [æ:] has to be seen in the context of the split of short [a] into a short and long variant; this split is of quite recent vintage (it's not attested for the 17th century) and isn't reflected in most American dialects, but it's reflected in modern British pronunciations of the a in, e.g., can't, half, advance, glass.

    The following is incorrect:

    In almost every instance that I can think of, the vowel shift was prevented because of the presence of the letter "r" or "l" in the word. Examples are words like "card" and "talk," which you would expect to be pronounced as  "kaird" and "tailk." The nature of the sounds "r" and "l" are such that they prevented the vowel shift from occurring. So the "a" sound continues to exist in English.

    This "a" was a short a and furthermore in a closed syllable, so it participated neither in Middle English lengthening nor the much later Modern English lengthening.  The shift from "al" to what is now [ɔ] or [ɒ] was first to a diphthong [au], and occurred prior to 1600; subsequent changes occurred parallel to changes in that diphthong.  The backing of [a] before r is a much more recent change, and does not occur in many English dialects.

    •  You're right about the change (0+ / 0-)

      taking place over a long period of time. I don't think I suggested that it happened otherwise.

      As for the long a, what about the example in "father." Was the "a" short? Or was it not subjected to change?

      So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

      by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:52:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  A in father (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mayim, budr

        The a in father has a very peculiar history that has more often than not been distinct from other phonetically similar words.

        It was originally short [a] (in Old English short [æ]) and if it had evolved parallel to other words it ought to have ended up rhyming with "lather". Early 17th-century phonetic records indicate that it was already beginning to be lengthened by 1600, though they don't adequately distinguish between the long [a:] in "father" and the long [æ:] in "name" -- if, indeed, there was any such distinction at the time.  

        By the 18th century the a in "father" was identified with the (long) a in "glass" etc. (as pronounced by the British).  But that was not long before length distinctions were lost, or rendered secondary to other qualitative distinctions.  In American English the difference between the two British a's for the most part no longer exists; "father" is one of the few words in which a peculiar a (different from the a in "hat") is preserved, though in a lot of American dialects it's no longer distinct from the o in "bother".

        I guess that the unique history of "father" has something to do with it being in very common use, particularly as a term of direct address.  

        •  Is this history also shared by "rather"? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I've noticed that certain people (like John McCain) pronounce it such that it rhymes with "father" while most other people pronounce so that it rhymes with "lather."

          So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

          by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 01:05:36 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, it is (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mayim, unspeakable, budr

            The same early 17th-century phoneticians who mark the a in "father" long also mark it long in "rather".  By the beginning of the 19th century its pronunciation was already in doubt; there were even some people who pronounced it to rhyme with "bather" (i.e., one who bathes).  In southern England it still seems to be common to pronounce it to rhyme with "father", but in America I think the "lather" rhyme is the most common.  This is just a case where different dialects have produced different pronunciations, and no one of these dialects has sufficient prestige to establish itself as the unquestioned standard.

  •  What I find interesting..... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oaktown Girl, timmyk, mayim listening to the very odd accents you hear in American movies from the thirties and early forties. I guess we could call it the "oh rully" accent, as no one ever said "reel-y" when saying "really". They always said "rully" or something like that. And many of these actresses were from the lower class. So I can only imagine they were trained this way. What say you, oh non-expert?

    Tonight I'm going to party like it's 1929.

    by Bensdad on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 01:06:35 PM PST

  •  The origin of short vowels is fascinating. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    timmyk, Allogenes, trivium, unspeakable, budr

    Which reminds me: I just recently stumbled over the reason for the spelling discrepency with C in Latin.

    For example we pronounce "Caesar" as "Seesar"--when what they said was closer to "Kaiser."

    The change was post Latin, with c shifting to ch shifting to s (e.g., three ways to pronounce cento in different Romance languages).

  •  Thanks (6+ / 0-)

    for starting up a linguistics diary.

    But since you sort of asked for it, here are my nitpicks:

    I'm not sure whether the move from i and e to schwa (I won't bother looking for the fonts for now) should be considered shortening. It could better be described as centering or perhaps laxening from tenser vowels to the lax schwa.

    There are also quite a number of languages in the world without all 5 "basic vowels", so I don't know whether it was entirely preordained that the shift would continue.

    Also, de-diphthongization doesn't have to be a tongue twister if you call it monophthongization (slips rollingly off the tongue that way, of course...)

    In any case, thanks for all your work. It would be interesting to discuss the vowel shift happening right now in our very midst! (Well not my personal midst, but many of you are probably affected first hand - er - tongue!)

  •  OMG the wonkiness (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bythesea, mayim, unspeakable, budr

    More, please! ;-)

  •  Yummy. (6+ / 0-)

    I've learned a certain amount about middle english and old french because I'm very interested in high medieval cookery. Their recipes are different, too, because they are more notes on how to do it than directions.


    Take muskels, pyke hem, seeþ hem with the owne broth, make a lyour of crustes & vynegur do in oynouns mynced. & cast the muskels þerto & seeþ it. & do þerto powdour with a lytel salt & safron the samewise make of oysters.

    "þ" is pronounced "th" so "seeþ" is "seethe".

    It translates modernly as follows:

    Take a pound of mussels, wash them and pick them over, reserving the liquor. Mix 1 cup bread crumbs with enough white wine vinegar to barely moisten, around a quarter cup. Mince half a white onion. Put the broth in a saucepan, add the breadcrumbs and the chopped onion and the mussels to this. Add 1/8 tsp. cloves, 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper, 1 tsp. ground mace, and a pinch of saffron. Heat through and serve. This can also be done with oysters.

    I've done it with oysters, and it won first place at a cooking competition.

  •  fascinating diary! (6+ / 0-)

    Keep it coming please!
    I wanted to take the History of the English Language class when I was in college, but I was the only student to sign up for it that semester (very small school) so they cancelled it and I never got another chance.  I've always found this interesting stuff!
    Also, when I was in college studying in Italy, we were taken to the ruins of a small amphitheater, having imbibed much local vino that day.  Most of the other students faced with these surroundings began to spout Shakespeare.  Not me.  Chaucer.  In Middle English, probably badly, considering the level of alcohol involved.  The prof said he could always tell which of us were natural born English majors.

    "I will sing you a song no one sang to can be anybody that you want to be

    by two moms in Az on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 01:57:43 PM PST

  •  Okay, this (0+ / 0-)

    is off topic but it is the only diary I've ever seen where this question might be remotely appropriate:

    How do you pronounce the proper name "Baoth"?

    To make it slightly on topic, I used to live in Australia and the vowel situation used to baffle me, along with the rising inflection that made every statement a question.  

  •  where's gchaucer2? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, unspeakable

    Surely that would be an interesting perspective.

    grok the "edku" -- edscan's "revelation", 21 January 2009

    by N in Seattle on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 02:39:46 PM PST

  •  I was surprised to hear some Brits (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, unspeakable

    in Northern England twenty years ago pronounce "running" as "rooning".

    •  Northern English (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti, mayim

      is particularly well known for being very different from other varieties of English English. Someone upthread mentioned that it had to do with the fact that the English spoken there was less affected by French and so developed differently.

      So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

      by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 03:35:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A language is the dialect of the winning army (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but England/ Scotland/ Ireland have been fractious places for centuries. (What European country hasn't really?)

    Scouse, Northumbrian, Glaswegian, or Oxbridge are as different as daisies from daffodils.

    For an aural taste of Chaucer's English,

    Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please: Marx

    by TNThorpe on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 04:42:38 PM PST

    •  Certainly true. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I would amend, however, and add "schools" to the army requirement. It's not enough to be in power, you have to teach your kids the language.

      Afterall, the Visigoths conquered Rome but modern Italian is no Germanic language.

      So you think you can love me and leave me to die?

      by unspeakable on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 05:05:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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