The Great Vowel Shift


 The Great Vowel Shift

The Great Vowel Shift

The Great Vowel Shift

The Great Vowel Shift

English is a continuously growing language with some changes, especially in pronunciation. This changing phenomenon of the English language is explained by two shifts: one is called Vowel Shift and the other is called Consonant Shift. The Vowel Shift shows how Modern English pronunciation is shifted or changed from  Old English Pronunciation. And the Consonant Shift shows the relationship as well as the shifting of consonants of the Teutonic Families of language from the consonants of Indo-European Families of language. Let us discuss the two shifts briefly as under:

With the beginning of the Modern English Language in the sixteenth century, English pronunciation began to change which continued till the end of the seventeenth century. For that change, we see a great difference between the pronunciation of Chaucer and that of Shakespeare. It is to say that Shakespeare wrote when this great change only began. Hence there is also a difference between the pronunciation of Shakespeare and that of our day. But this difference is not vast but slight. This change greatly affected the long vowels, which is analyzed by C. Barbar under the title The Great Vowel Shift. The essential of The Great Vowel Shift is as follows:

(a) Front vowels- a, ea, ee, i – diphthong

(b) Back vowels –oa, oo, u – diphthong

Now let us analyze the pronunciation of these vowels-

(i) ‘a’ when is used at the beginning of a word then its pronunciation becomes as ‘a’ in the Modern English word father.

(ii) ‘Ea’ if used in the front of a word, it is pronounced as an open vowel and its sound becomes ‘a’ in as air.

(iii) ‘Ee’ is a vowel having the sound of French word e’te’.

(iv) ‘I’ is pronounced as the ‘i’ in machine.

Similar is the case with the back vowels such as: 

(i) ‘Oa’ when used at the back of a word it is pronounced as ‘aw’ as in law.

(ii) When ‘oa’ is used at the back of a word its sound becomes as ‘eau’ in French word beau.

(iii) And ‘u’ when used as a back vowel its pronunciation becomes ‘u’ as in lunar.

Thus the Great Vowel Shift greatly differentiates Modern English from Old or Middle English. But it is to say that the vowel shift has made the English language somewhat logical and easy if compared with that of the pronunciation of Old English or Modern English. 0 0 0

Read More: French Influences on English

N. B. This article entitled ‘Greek Influences on English’ originally belongs to the book ‘A Brief History of the English Language‘ by Menonim Menonimus.

Books on Linguistics by M. Menonimus:

  1. A Brief History of the English Language
  2. Essays on Linguistics
  3. My Imageries
  4. Felicitous Expression: Some Examples
  5. Learners’ English Dictionary

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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