Sound Change and the History of English

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This book addresses the question: why do sound changes happen when and where they do? Jeremy Smith discusses the origins of a series of sound changes in English. He relates his arguments to larger questions about the nature of explanation in history and historical linguistics, and examines the interplay between sound change and social change. Drawing on the latest research in the linguistics and history he shows how insights in one field illuminate the other.

After the opening chapter describing the book's approach and a general theoretical framework for the study of sound-change, the author discusses problems of evidence and considers the nature of phonological processes. He then presents detailed investigations of major sound-changes from three transitional periods: first, when English emerged as a language distinct from the other West Germanic varieties; secondly, during the transition from Old to Middle English; and thirdly during the time when Middle English evolved into Early Modern English.

The book is written with minimal use of jargon and offers clear definitions of complex notions. It will appeal to all serious students of English historical linguistics, from advanced undergraduate to researcher.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Smith here updates and substantially expands the treatment of langauge change he articulated in A Historical Study of English. This title has a broad focus and considers sound changes in Old English, Middle English, and modern English. This authoritative and accessible book should become a major resource for those interested in language. Recommended." —Choice
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199291953
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/2/2007
  • Series: Oxford Linguistics Ser.
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Smith is Professor of English Philology in the University of Glasgow. His publications include Essentials of Early EnglishR (second edition, 2005), An Introduction to Middle EnglishR (with Simon Horobin, 2002), and An Historical Study of EnglishR (1996). He is a contributor to the Oxford History of EnglishR edited by Lynda Mugglestone (2006).

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Table of Contents

Preface     ix
List of Figures     xiii
Notations and Conventions     xv
On Explaining Sound Change     1
About this book     1
What is sound change?     7
Speakers innovate, languages change     9
Insights from pragmatics and sociolinguistics     14
The actuation problem     16
Hyperadaptation and hypoadaptation     18
Contact     21
Systemic regulation     24
The structure of this book     27
On Evidence     29
Witnesses     29
Writing systems     30
Verse practices     36
Contemporary comments     39
Reconstruction     45
The question 'why?'     50
Phonological Approaches and Processes     51
Splits, mergers, and shifts     51
Sound change as an emergent phenomenon     54
Explaining split: voiced and voiceless fricatives     57
Why phonology?     61
Taxonomic phonology     63
Generative phonology     65
Natural and Evolutionary Phonology     71
A theoretical framework     74
An extendedexample: Grimm's Law     75
Explaining Grimm's Law (I): phonetic processes     81
Explaining Grimm's Law (II): extralinguistic correspondences     84
From Pre-English to Old English     88
'Pre-English'     88
A description of Old English Breaking     92
The date of Breaking     95
The origins of /l/-Breaking     98
The origins of /r/-Breaking     100
The origins of /x/-Breaking     101
A hypothesis as to the origins of Breaking     103
Implications     105
From Old to Middle English     107
The transition from Old to Middle English     107
Compensatory Lengthening     108
Homorganic Lengthening     110
Middle English Open Syllable Lengthening: description     113
Quantitative changes from Old to Middle English: an historical explanation     116
Implications     126
From Middle to Early Modern English     127
Great Vowel Shifts?     127
The Southern Shift     129
The Southern Shift: the Mopsae and the Easterners     134
The Northern Shift     138
The Northern Shift: Aitken's discussion     140
Aitken's Vowel 5     142
Aitken's Vowel 7     143
Aitken's Vowel 3     146
Aitken's Vowel 4     147
The actuation of the Northern Shift     149
Implications of the study     153
On the Historiography of Sound Change     154
Multiple explanations     154
Assessment of historical explanation     156
Historical linguistics and history     160
The Principal Sound Changes from Proto-Germanic to Early Modern English     161
Middle English Open Syllable Lengthening of i, u: Etymological Notes     177
Suggestions for Further Reading     177
References     179
Index     189
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