How languages evolve

Really interesting happenings in English historical linguistics:

The Great Vowel Shift, or the beginning of “Modern English”.

Changes to the long front vowels Changes to the long back vowels
[aː] –> [æː] –> [ɛː] / [eː] / [eɪ]. [ɑː] –> [ɔː] –> [oː] –> [oʊ] / [əʊ].
 [ɛː] –> [eː] –> [iː]. [oː] –> [uː].
 [eː] –> [iː].
 [iː] –> [ɪi] –> [əɪ] –>[aɪ]. [uː] –> [ʊu] –> [əʊ] –> [aʊ].Before labial consonants, this shift did not occur, and [uː] remains.

The Great Vowel Shift? One of the many reasons that English spelling is so difficult to master. The printing press in the 1400s preserved the spellings of Middle English, while the Great Vowel Shift happened after these spellings were already printed. Nobody wanted to re-print the books, so we kept a nonsensical spelling system for Modern English.

H-loss, which occurred sometime between 1400-1600. the “gh” in many English words, pronounced /x/, became unpronounced such that “taught” and “taut” are homophones. This is an example of cheshirization, named after the cat in Alice’s Wonderland, since it disappears (the sound) but leaves a trace (the spelling / “gh”).

Initial cluster reductions: 1400-1600. The words “know” and “no” now sound alike. Cluster reductions do not just belong to kids with phonological disorders. The whole of the English language cluster reduced.

Grimm’s Law: How all of the Germanic consonants differ from the other IE consonants in an organized fashion. So the Latin “pes, pedis” is cognate with English “foot” because p>f, d>t.

  •  > b > p > ɸ
  •  > d > t > θ
  •  > g > k > x
  • gʷʰ >  >  >