Linguistics 105 * Words and Sounds
Lecture Number Twenty Four
The History of the English Language

Brief Chronology of the English Language
43 Roman Occupation Pre-English (Celtic) Period
early 5th century Romans leave British Isles Old English Period
787-794 First Viking Occupation  
834-878 Second Viking Occupation  
1066 Norman Conquest (William the Conquerer)  
ca. 1200 Normandy & England separate Middle English Period
1476 First book published in English
English spelling "standardized"
Early Modern English Period
1564-1616 European Renaissance; Shakespeare  
16th - 19th cent. British imperialism Modern English Period
19th - 20th cent. Independent development of American, Australian, African, South Asian, and other varieties of English  


Sound Changes


1. Grimm's Law (see lecture 22).


Old English to Middle English

1. i-Ablaut: Back vowels become front if following syllable contains an [i].

foti > feti > fet
lusi > lisi > lis

2. Reduction of unstressed vowels from Old to Middle English (the origin of silent 'e') These unstressed vowels were pronounced /Ï/ and they began disappearing in the North in the 1300s.

Original 1st Reduction 2nd Reduction
ridan [ridan] ride [ridÏ] ride [rid]
faran [faran] fare [farÏ] fare [far]
lama [lama] lame [lamÏ] lame [lam]
stanes [stanes] stones [stØnÏs] stones [stØnz]
nacod [nakod] naked [nakÏd] naked [nakÏd]
medu [medu] mede [medÏ] mede [med]

3.  Allophones [f] /[v] and [s] /[z] became phonemes because of  borrowing from French.

4.  /x/ > /h/ initially; drops elsewhere, except word finally after rounded vowels:
        a. heovan, helpan, head
        b. night, bought, right
        c.  laugh, cough, tough (but: though, thorough)

5.  Loss of /h/ before sonorants:
        hlaf > laf "loaf, bread"
        hroof > roof
        hnoll > (k)noll "top of head"

Middle English to Modern English

5. The Great Vowel Shift (1400-1600): All long vowels shifted upwards one level while the high vowels became diphthongs. The short vowels remained pretty much unchanged.

The Great English Vowel Shift
  /aj/   /aw/  
  Raise to   Raise to  
night, light, tid(e), side /i/   /u:/ loud, shout, house
  Raise to   Raise to  
three, beet, meet, eel  /e:/   /o:/  shoot, boot, good, look
meat, beat, seal /ê:/   Raise to  
  Raise to   /Ø:/ broken, stone, globe, boat
shake, gate, shade 

Compounds replaced by French terms; technical terms borrow from French and Latin

boc-hord 'book-hoard' : "library"
folc-riht 'folk-right' : "common law"
galdor-craeft 'incantation-skill' : "magic"
ni-fara 'new-farer' : "stranger"

rain, snow: precipitation

Selected semantic changes

dream "joy"
hlaf "bread"
winnan "fight"
with "against"
tid = time
faran "travel by vehicle (farewell, welfare)"
wamb "belly"

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