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Flying Chaucers (Linguistics)
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DPCrisp


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Did you learn your alphabet at school? Were you taught that I is [ai] and G is [g] and H is [h]? Did you learn that "e" at the end of a (short) word changes the vowel from "short" to "long"? That "kit" is [kit] but "kite" is [kait]"?

No this is all news to me.

So why isn't [nait] "nite"?

Night, nite, nait, naight, nyt, nyht, nyght, nit, noit, nuit, nuet, nueet, naet, naeet, noet, noeet, naidt, niit, nijt, nijht, niiht...

You choose, but please tell us why it ought to be one rather than another.

But IGH only says [ai] because you have been brainwashed from infancy into seeing it that way.

We were all taught the convention, yes. G serves a number of purposes, it's not that strange, though we are taught to think of it as more of a "trick" than a "default" spelling, granted.

Familiarity has blinded you to the eccentricity of it.

Familiarity with a default value for G has created the illusion of eccentricity. Why no raised eyebrows where A is concerned? OK, everyone is familiar with the varieties of A... and they are all vowels, at least. But what about dichotomous C and J? And everyone has forgotten about K.

And by the way, it didn't take "centuries" for "the philological industry" to come up with an effective working model, It was essentially the work of Sir William Jones in the late 18th century. Everything since has been refinement.

That's what I said. {Talk about straw men...}
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DPCrisp


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So far, all I've got by way of explanation for the spelling and pronunciation of KNIFE or NIGHT are:

They must have been pronounced that way in the 11th century because that's how they're pronounced now.

That is quite the opposite of what we have been saying.

There has never been a relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

That is quite the opposite of what we have been saying.
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DPCrisp


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My problem is not with "starting at the bottom", but refusing to move on from there to explore the implications.

We have been applying some fundamental, logical principles, but you don't seem to have noticed. But we must have jumped ahead, because if you think

"if we build on shared principles then we're sure to have a shared understanding" is "another unsupported hypothesis", then we have not reached bottom.

universal experience... is that everything changes constantly.

You had better cancel your subscription to New Scientist then, because science can not be done.

We, on the other hand, will still be here because we recognise this is merely a Matter of Scale.
    Nothing ever changes... ... ...everything always changes.
This is a continuum, not a contradiction.

[1] "A, E, G, H, I, J, L, N, O, Q, R, U, V, W, Y, Z and M" are not vowels; they are letters of the alphabet, whereas vowels are speech-sounds. Some of the letters are used to represent vowel sounds, but not all of them. This is a matter of definition.

Oh, some non-falsifiable facts then. So is this pseudo-science? No, just run-of-the-mill theory-laden facts.

Linguistic Rectitude is a matter of definition.

[1]...[6]...

Thanks for all that. I had no idea. Really.

Not.

So what do you mean when you describe G as "acting as a vowel"?

Some variation on G = U/Y/I, GU = W is quoted around here a lot.

But U/W = V and -OUGH = "-uff". Occasionally, -GH makes a G/K/KH sound.

So the [ai] sound... doesn't need the GH.

Indeed. It could have been rationalised out at any time. But it hasn't. If we drop it now, will it denote a change in pronunciation?

It's only a curiosity because G is not taught of as a vowel. By default, we think of G as making only that "gg" sound... oh, and "dj/dg"... maybe "ch/kh". But that's only a matter of what is and is not on the training curriculum.

The fact is that they are not pronounced in NIGH, and NI on its own would have the same pronunciation.

Yeah, but ni could be "nee"... homonyms... heteronyms... we have them all.
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Donmillion


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Dan Crisp wrote:
OK, I feel a bit like we were led on, but is there still any prospect of seeing
  • what people wrote about their own language/what they were hearing at the time;
  • foreigners' descriptions of English pronunciation;
  • the implications of rhymed poetry;
  • and especially -- since you told us we were not to expect internal evidence in (changes in) the way things were written -- how pronunciation changes are supported by thousands of contemporary examples?

Yes. But as I said, you'll have to be patient.

(Sorry if you felt "led on" by what I wrote. I try to be clear, but I don't have infinite time to re-review it all, and inevitably any of us will sometimes write things that are equally clear to the author and to the reader, but interpreted differently by both.)

(BTW, I realised after I'd posted that my lack of reflection had led me astray. Of course phonetic [h] is a consonant, and a continuant; if there is no restriction at all on breath emission, it is silent.)
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Donmillion


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Dan Crisp wrote:
There were lots of ways we could have spelled things. In Middle English, they did. They all made sense, but variation is burdensome when the number of players is large. Some were standardised upon. They were not further rationalised, so we still have a handful of ways to write the same thing.

What do you disagree with so far?

Largely the simplification of a complex situation for which there are sensible (not necessarily correct, but that has yet to be examined) explanations in terms of developing dialects. To be continued ...

You can only choose one spelling as the standard for each word. No matter how well it represented the exact pronunciation** of... whomever... it could not possibly represent all the pronunciations in all English accents. It represented the word: we don't use writing to represent pronunciation*

You may not, but that's at least partly because of the GVS. English spelling is notoriously difficult for speakers of other languages, where the relationship between spelling and pronunciation is much, much closer. Even so, you allow for an exception:

* Except in specialist circumstances, such as in plays, where we will probably use non-standard spellings to represent an accent. And how do we do that? By using some 'phonetic' conventions readers will probably understand, though a) we could still have used others and b) we can not guarantee the reader will get it, since the spelling alone can not be precise enough. Not even a pronunciation guide can be used on its own.

Quite correct, and the reason for inventing the International Phonetic Alphabet. Even languages that have a highly regular relationship between spelling and pronunciation, such as Welsh, or Italian, have exceptions to their regularity.

** Except of course, if X is not standardised, there is no such thing as accurately representing anything by X.

Again, the reason for inventing the IPA. Indications are, though, that there was widespread agreement about the pronunciations of letters in Middle English, and that speakers of different dialects were generally, not always, using the same letters to represent the same sounds. Hemce the variations in spelling, which actually show great regional regularity, much of which can be traced from Middle English into modern regional accents.

If, quite apart from the problems of individual letters and sounds, standardised or otherwise, written English did not represent English speech before the shift/standardisation ...

The problem here is, of course, that a written language never represents speech with accuracy, even when dramatists attempt to do so. Since writing is a more deliberate act than speech, writers will tend to use grammatical forms and semantic constructions they wouldn't use in speech.

But the orthodox position is that, within that limitation, written English did represent English speech, or at least, the spelling always attempted to represent pronunciation; vide supra.

... how can we hold that significant changes in speech are connoted by the changes in spelling?

Vide supra.

I was struggling with the GVS before, when I thought it was all about changes in spelling. But it's not even that, apparently. There were changes in spelling -- or, more to the point, the variations in spelling died down as they became fixed -- at the very time, but they are to be ignored...?

Not sure what that final question means, but no, absolutely not. Thing is, for the most, part, the variations in spelling preceded the GVS, and date from a time when there was no prestigious standard dialect; Norman French had usurped that spot. As the ties to France loosened, though, more and more material began to be written in English; but all English dialects had equal status (there was no "court English", let alone "educated English" at a time when all education was in Latin or French), and men and women wrote as they spoke. Again, there are clear regional patterns.

Only with the emergence of English as the language of law and government (which can be dated "officially" from October 1362 and the Statute of Pleading, which permitted the use of English alongside French in legal proceedings) did a "standard dialect", known as "Chancery English", begin to emerge. And a standard language requires standardised spelling--similar to what happened with the emergence (almost, "invention") of Classical Latin in the first century BC. 100 years later, the GVS (and other pronunciation changes, such as loss of initial K- and medial and final -GH-) were getting under way. But by then, the spelling was mostly fixed in its "modern" (i.e., 14th Century) form.
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Donmillion


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Dan Crisp wrote:
What's AE's alternative hypothesis for that huge eccentricity known as English spelling?

There were lots of ways we could have spelled things. In Middle English, they did.

But that doesn't answer the question. And this question is really the crucial one.

As I wrote above, English stands out from all West European languages in the peculiar relationship, or lack of relationship, between spelling and pronunciation. (Irish may appear worse, but is actually highly regular, just complex in its conventions). What is the explanation for this peculiarity of English?

Remember that the AE position is that English had never been written before, what, the 12th Century (?), so English speakers had to learn how to write their own language from scratch. Who were their tutors, and why did they make such a balls-up of it?

Or if there were no tutors, what was the model that the English followed themselves? Not (Norman) French, for which the spelling was very regular. Not Latin, ditto. Not Welsh, ditto. Not Old English/Anglo-Saxon, for which ditto with regional variants. Where did they learn the use of letters?

Why did they spell [naif] as KNIFE? What tutor or what language gave them their model for silent and useless initial K- and for I = [ai]? Or, as I've written before, did all the surrounding languages pronounce long I as [ai], and then all shift to [i:] (the Humungous Reverse Vowel Shift)?
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Donmillion


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DPCrisp wrote:
Spellings were standardised from the 15th century or so, but when were the conventions invented? ...

I'm responding as I can from a hotel room, while also trying to watch New Zealand play Ireland, and hence working from the top of my head. This one will require a little more work than I have time for right now, so I'll have to back-burner it (sorry).
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Donmillion


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Dan Crisp wrote:
Did you learn your alphabet at school? Were you taught that I is [ai] and G is [g] and H is [h]? Did you learn that "e" at the end of a (short) word changes the vowel from "short" to "long"? That "kit" is [kit] but "kite" is [kait]"?

No this is all news to me.

Sorry, that came across as sarcastic, which I didn't intend.

So why isn't [nait] "nite"?

Night, nite, nait, naight, nyt, nyht, nyght, nit, noit, nuit, nuet, nueet, naet, naeet, noet, noeet, naidt, niit, nijt, nijht, niiht...

You choose, but please tell us why it ought to be one rather than another.

There, your research may have exceeded my capacity/memory. How many of those examples come from English? How many pre-date the 15th century? How many come from other languages? (Nuit represents French [nyi], with a different diphthong from English [ai] and loss of final -T ...)

Prior to Noah Webster's advocacy of nite, can you identify for me English spellings of "night" that don't indicate a laryngeal fricative (H or GH, or the yogh letter)? I'll accept that there may be some. Gimme examples.

But IGH only says [ai] because you have been brainwashed from infancy into seeing it that way.

We were all taught the convention, yes. G serves a number of purposes, it's not that strange, though we are taught to think of it as more of a "trick" than a "default" spelling, granted.

Familiarity has blinded you to the eccentricity of it.

Familiarity with a default value for G has created the illusion of eccentricity.

Is there any other language on earth in which the diphthong [ai] is represented by IGH? That's why I regard it as eccentric.

Granted, all West European languages have spelling eccentricities. In most cases, they're relatively rare. English seems to have nothing but eccentricities.

Why no raised eyebrows where A is concerned? OK, everyone is familiar with the varieties of A... and they are all vowels, at least.

Perhaps you just answered your own question; but in any case, English A represents more vowels than in most languages, including [a]. [a:], [ś], [o:], and [ei]. Most of this variation can be traced to the GVS.

But what about dichotomous C and J? And everyone has forgotten about K.

Problem with C is this: in Old English/Anglo-Saxon, it originally repfresented the /k/ phoneme as in coc [ko:k], "cook". But /k/ before /e/ or /i/ has always had a tendency to move towards /s/ or /t$/ (using /$/ for English "sh". So /t$/ represents English "ch"). This linguistic phenomenon is called "lenition" or "palatisation"; Latin writers in the Imperial period increasingly complained about it as a growing phenomenon of "vulgar" speech. That's how (according to orthodoxy) we get "kitchen" from OE cycene.

But ancestral French developed the alternative /s/ pronunciation for /k/ before /e/ or /i/, not the /t$/ pronunciation. As a result, and via Norman French, C has three values in Emglish: /k/ as in "cook", /s/ as in "cease", and (as a digraph) /t$/ as in "church".

And by the way, it didn't take "centuries" for "the philological industry" to come up with an effective working model, It was essentially the work of Sir William Jones in the late 18th century. Everything since has been refinement.

That's what I said. {Talk about straw men...}

Hmmm, doesn't look to me like "what you said". I reiterate: a working model was invented by a single scholar. Despite thousands of refinements of detail, the central model has not had to change.
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Donmillion


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Dan Crisp wrote:
So far, all I've got by way of explanation for the spelling and pronunciation of KNIFE or NIGHT are:

They must have been pronounced that way in the 11th century because that's how they're pronounced now.

That is quite the opposite of what we have been saying.

There has never been a relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

That is quite the opposite of what we have been saying.

So how have I acquired such a total misunderstanding? Are you saying that KNIFE was pronounced differently a thousand years ago, and if so, how was it pronounced? And how do you know? And why is it pronounced differently now, along with all other long "i" words, if there was no vowel shift?

I'm baffled. What is the relationship between spelling and pronunciation? "Quite the opposite" implies that the relationship must be very close and consistent.
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Donmillion


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Dan Crisp wrote:
universal experience... is that everything changes constantly.

You had better cancel your subscription to New Scientist then, because science can not be done.

[Irony, not sarcasm:] I guess you've never heard of acceleration, then, or calculus, which are scientific/mathematical concepts to do with the rate of change, in one variety. Perhaps you should read an elementary history of science, and see how much that has changed. Frankly, your statement baffles me. Perhaps you thought I meant, "everything changes constantly and with such rapidity that no-one can catch up with it"? I need hardly point to geological change as a contrary example. There is even mounting evidence that "fundamental constants" such as the speed of light may have changed over astronomical time.

We, on the other hand, will still be here because we recognise this is merely a Matter of Scale.
    Nothing ever changes... ... ...everything always changes.
This is a continuum, not a contradiction.

A meaningless piece of mysticism, I'm afraid, and possibly a truism: "Everything changes except change itself".

[1] "A, E, G, H, I, J, L, N, O, Q, R, U, V, W, Y, Z and M" are not vowels; they are letters of the alphabet, whereas vowels are speech-sounds. Some of the letters are used to represent vowel sounds, but not all of them. This is a matter of definition.

Oh, some non-falsifiable facts then. So is this pseudo-science? No, just run-of-the-mill theory-laden facts.

Linguistic Rectitude is a matter of definition.

Words are a matter of definition, Have I quoted Humpty Dumpty before in this forum? The definition I was referring to was the definition of "vowel" as "a speech-sound in which there is no obstruction of the air-flow through the mouth". If you want to define it to mean other things, that's not your problem, it's everyone else's, who won't understand what you're writing about (though some may think they do).

"Linguistic rectitude" has nothing to do with it: it's all about clear communication. What is your definition, or explanation, of "vowel"?

[1]...[6]...

Thanks for all that. I had no idea. Really.

Certainly seemed like it, Dan.

So what do you mean when you describe G as "acting as a vowel"?

Some variation on G = U/Y/I, GU = W is quoted around here a lot.


Can you give me an example in which "G" is pronounced as [u] or [u] or [i] or [i:] or [ai]? Is there any modern example of pronunciation of GU as W? English guard. French guerre, Italian Guido, Spanish guerra--All have gu = [g]. But "orthodoxy" tells us that French GU- was pronounced [gw] in words taken from German languages that had initial [w], a sound missing from French; hence guarantee corresponding to warranty. But neither [g] nor [gw] (nor for that matter [w]) is a vowel, though [w] is a continuant.

But U/W = V and -OUGH = "-uff". Occasionally, -GH makes a G/K/KH sound.

What are you suggesting? That G is part of the "-u-" vowel in -OUGH, and the H alone represents the "-ff"? But doesn't the U alone provide the vowel you pronounce? Apart from being silent, how does the G contribute?

Based on words with different vowels, such as LAUGH and COUGH, I'd say that it's the GH that represents "-ff". Still no vowels there.

So the [ai] sound... doesn't need the GH.

Indeed. It could have been rationalised out at any time. But it hasn't. If we drop it now, will it denote a change in pronunciation?

Yes, if the change was confirmed by other evidence. Since we have widespread evidence (phonetics, recordings ...) of the lack of change of pronunciation, the practical answer is "No".

A better example (on my part) would have been HI versus HIGH; or the "traditional" English pronunciations of Latin plurals such as "Gemini" [dzhemin-ai] (which all other languages pronounce "gheminee" [gemin-i:] or "jeminee" [dzhemin-i:]). Why were the inventors of English spelling so clumsy as to create a dozen different ways to represent [ai[, when other languages made do with only one or two?

It's only a curiosity because G is not taught of as a vowel.

And the reason for that?

You still have not presented an example in which G is pronounced with no closure at all of the vocal tract, i.e., as a vowel. In your examples, either it's silent in the presence of a vowel (e.g., HIGH rhymes exactly with HI or PI--where's the G vowel?), or was once pronounced as GW ("guard" used to be [gward]). Silence and GW still aren't vowels.

By default, we think of G as making only that "gg" sound... oh, and "dj/dg"... maybe "ch/kh". But that's only a matter of what is and is not on the training curriculum.

And why is it on the training surriculum? Because it's true except in those cases where, for historical reasons, it isn't pronounced at all. (I discount words such as Irish lough, [lox], which shows a pronunciation of GH in England in the 14th Century, assuming that Irish "lough" and Scots "loch" were both pronounced [lox] then as they are now. Still not a vowel, though.)

The fact is that they are not pronounced in NIGH, and NI on its own would have the same pronunciation.

Yeah, but ni could be "nee"

I think you are only able to say that because of the 20th-Century revolution in the pronunciation of non-English words such as "Gemini" aforementioned. In my post-WWII childhood, Italians were "Eye-ties" and the third sign of the Zodiac was "Gemi-eye". What English examples can you come up with in which final -I is pronounced [i:]?

A quick computerised dictionary search gives me the following:

  • "bi"(sexual): [bai]
  • "bi-" (prefix): [bai]
  • "di-" (prefix): [dai]
  • "hi" (greeting): [hai]
  • "hi" (high): [hai]
  • "hi-fi": [haifai]
  • "mi." (abbreviation for "miles"): [mai]
  • "mi" (abbreviation for "minor"): [mai]
  • "pi" (Greek letter): [pai]
  • "pi" (Chinese ornament): [pai]
  • "pi" (pious, sanctimonious): [pai]
  • "wi-fi": [waifai]
  • "xi" (Greek letter): [ksai], [gzai], [sai], [zai]

There are also a number of -[i:] pronunciations, but all are relatively recent imports into English:

  • "ai" (3-toed sloth, from French): [ai:]
  • "ki" (Polynesian shrub): [ki:]
  • "li" (Chinese mile): [li:]
  • "li" (Confucian concept): [li:]
  • "li" (Chinese bronze pot): [li:]
  • "mi" (3rd note of musical scale): [mi:]
  • "qi" (Chinese: life-force): [t$i:]
  • "ri" (Japanese mile): [ri:]
  • "si" (18th-century variant on "te" for 7th note of scale): [si:]
  • "ti" (NZ cabbage-tree): [ti:]
  • "Ti" (Chinese god): [ti:]
  • "Yi" (Chinese tribe): [ji:]

None of the -[i:] words except "mi" predates the 17th Century in English.

It's telling that modern coinings such as "hifi" and "wifi" are not pronounced "heefee" and "weefee". The convention follows traditional English understanding of how to pronounce CI, where "C" stands for any consonant.

So why also invent IGH? What was the advantage? Was it a determination to reverse the trick of the Italians in inventing Latin, by increasing the amount of writing you have to do?
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Chad


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Knight 1: We are now no longer the Knights who say Ni.
Knight 2: NI.
Other Knights: Shh...
Knight 1: We are now the Knights who say... "Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-PTANG. Zoom-Boing. Z'nourrwringmm".
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Donmillion


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Chad wrote:
Knight 1: We are now no longer the Knights who say Ni.
Knight 2: NI.
Other Knights: Shh...
Knight 1: We are now the Knights who say... "Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-PTANG. Zoom-Boing. Z'nourrwringmm".


Someone was asleep in class. I wrote about traditional English pronunciations, the "old-fashioned" sort that gave us Eye-wrack (Iraq) and eye-talics (italics).

The Python crew are part of the sea-change that took place in the second half of the 20th Century, driven partly by a revolution in the taught pronunciation of Latin during that period, and partly by a diminution in English insularity and growing awareness of "continental" pronucniations.

When my father was taught Latin, he was taught that the plural of dominus was pronounced domin-eye. Thirty-five years later, I was taught that it was domin-ee.

But the old English habits of pronunciation, while in flux, linger on. I would guess that, if you asked 100 people for the pronunciation of "anno domini", about 50 would say domin-ee and 50 would say domin-eye. But if you asked them how to pronounce "cacti" or "fungi", 99 out of 100 would say cact-eye and fung-eye. "Decree nisi"? Perhaps 75 decree nigh-sigh versus 25 decree nee-see.

My parents and grandparents would have sung "Mar-eye-a! Eye just found a girl named Mar-eye-a", if the song had been written then. I doubt that you'd find many English people in the 21st Century who would say, "Mar-eye-a". But you would have found very few before about 1950 who would have said, "Mar-ee-a".

It's a matter of having historical perspective.
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Donmillion


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I discovered a very interesting page of DPC and BG contributions that I'd missed (the structure of the forum is very clumsy for conducting debate). My apologies. Most of them need a bit of thought on my part, but I can deal with this one now:

Dan Crisp wrote:
examples of the GVS: They may perhaps be found in Welsh, where a substantial number of words were absorbed from English before the GVS took place

Again, I didn't understand what the examples were supposed to be telling us. With Welsh dialects, written Welsh, English dialects, written English, mass literacy, untold centuries and the tendency to borrow words "in your own style" to throw into the equation, please tell us again what clear deductions can be made from Welsh spellings.


Let's start with "the tendency to borrow words 'in your own style'." What this means, I suppose, is that speakers of X adopting words from Y give the pronunciations of those words an X "flavour", particularly where they include sounds that language X lacks. Thus, W.W.I English Tommies supposedly would say, "Pahlay-voo Frongsay": lacking the French uvular R, they omitted it; lacking the pure [e] sound, they used the [ei] diphthong they were used to; lacking the strong lip-rounding of French vous, they substituted the less-rounded sound heard in, e.g., "book" ... and so on.

There is some justice in this view. But note that the Tommies (supposedly) said, "Pahlay", not "Paylay", and "voo", not "vow". The Tommies tried to reproduce what they heard, using the closest sounds available in their own language. The followup to this requires a temporary belief in the adoption of words from French into English, but (as I'll show) the argument works in both directions. It also requires (temporary) rejection of the "Great Vowel Breaking" hypothesis, part of the GVS.

When French "table" replaced English "board", then (assuming this for the sake of argument), the English seem to have replaced the French long monophthong [a:] (as in parlez) with the [ei] diphthong; when the English adopted French vou [vu:], they replaced the long -[u:] monophthong with the -[au] diphthong, and produced "vow". In both cases, they replaced the single vowel that they heard with two different vowels that were nothing like what they heard. This, despite the fact that English had (has) [a:] and [u:] monophthongs very close to the French vowels, and could have adopted the words as [ta:b@l] and [vu:] respectively.

Of course it's possible that English already had the nouns "table" [teibl] and "vow" [vau], had had them for hundreds of years, and the vowel replacement went the other way: the French took the words from English, but converted the diphthongs into monophthongs, even though they had those diphthongs (or vowels that were close) in their own language.

But either way flies in the face of linguistic experience. Iona and Peter Opie tell of an English nursery rhyme that was heard being chanted by children on a remote Danish island in 1940-something. The words made no sense to the children, but they "accurately" (with a Danish shading) reproduced the words of "Jack and Jill", which had been brought to the island by British sailors almost 200 years earlier.

I think we can be confident that someone actively trying to reproduce the sounds of a "foreign" language, using the orthography of their own, will do so to the best of their ability. That's an assumption, but one well-founded in probability and experience. It's the essential starting point of the examples from "foreign" writers that I've cited.

the pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs throughout Europe is as in Welsh; it's English that spells words one way, but pronounces them quite differently.

So, why have I never heard of the Bleedin' Immense Irish Consonant and Vowel Shifts?

If it's true that Irish was the first vernacular in writing, it's no surprise that its spelling is so... er... challenging.

This is a digression, but ... As I've already pointed out, Irish spelling is extremely regular, and mostly is an adequate reflection of pronunciation. Even where the pronunciation of particular graphemes varies between regional accents, the variations are regular. The peculiarities arise mainly from the adaptation of one language's alphabet to the needs of a language that exhibits phenomena not found in the other language, such as lenition and mutation. To give a simple example: Catriona isn't pronounced as spelt, but as [katrina], because an /i/ sound adjacent to a consonant "lenites" the consonant ("weakens" its pronunciation). The o is inserted as a convention to prevent the lenition; without it, Catriona would be pronounced something like [katrinja], which is not the correct Irish pronunciation. So here, the conventions of spelling mirror accurately the phenomena of pronunciation.

If, BTW, you've heard of "mutation" of Irish or Welsh initial consonants, then you have heard of "the Bleedin' Immense Irish (and Welsh) Consonant Shift", at least in part. (There's also things like Welsh replacement of the [kw] sound with [p], giving Old Welsh map = Old Irish maq, "son of".) Those languages had, or are supposed to have had, vowel shifts, too, but on nothing like the scale of the southern English GVS.

But English was pretty early on the scene, too, so why would we expect it to be as uniform (rationalised) as other languages that may have had the benefit of Irish/English/blah-blah experience, plus a few centuries of their own literisation?

I thought the AE position was that "English" is not recorded prior to the emergence of "Middle English" about 1100, which makes it pretty late on the scene. And since the only models for spelling that the English had available to them were the more-or-less regular models of French, Latin, Old English, and Welsh (perhaps Irish too), I'd have expected the creators of English writing to have followed those models. Sure, different writers would follow different models; so one writer might follow Welsh spelling conventions, another French, and another Old English; but then, none of those would have led to the invention of KNIGHT for [nait], which is still an unexplained mystery of the AE universe.

Turning to a related posting:

there are several examples of English poetry transliterated into Welsh orthography from the period preceding the GVS.

And Welsh orthography is somehow immune from the logical problems with English orthography? Are we going to corroborate one set of assumptions by another?

But most vowels in Swrdwal's transliteration for Welsh speakers retained their "continental" values.

How can we possibly know this when the text is all we have to go on?

What makes you think that? We have the text, and a long history of texts (as you mention), and pronunciation guides (as you mention, and see my remarks above contraverting your own), and more-or-less accurate recordings of pronunciation since the invention of phonetics, followed by sound recording.

How can we tell that michti ladi was not pronounced "mighty lady", ffest "feast", Maedyn "maiden", lwf "love" and god mat trwn "God-made throne"?

Their spellings all look perfectly sensible. Mighty and "trone" might repay closer inspection, but no-one ever said there have been no changes.
.

Re michti: We have two apparent differences from modern English pronunciation: the I and the CH. Dealing with the latter first: the CH digraph is a very common feature of Welsh spelling, which in all dialects of modern Welsh has the pronunciation [x]. To assume that it was silent in michti, as in modern English mighty is to assume that either Swrdwal was incompetent at transliterating what he heard, and arbitrarily inserted two letters for which his own language had a standard pronunciation, but which were not sounded in English [maiti:]; or that Welsh, Irish, Breton, Manx, and Cornish all developed a [x] sound at some time after about 1450 to fill the place of two silent letters they'd been writing for centuries. Coincidentally, the words corresponding to English mighty in Danish (magtige), Dutch (machtig), German (mächtig), Norwegian (mektige), and Swedish (mäktiga), all have a laryngeal fricative ([x], for practical purposes) exactly where Swrdwal placed his CH.

Turning to the (internal) I of Swrdwal's michti: modern Welsh has a couple of different diphthongs closely approximating English [ai]. The vowels making up the diphthongs vary very subtly between the Welsh dialects, but an untrained English ear would hear them all as [ai].

The question is, were they pronounced as [ai] in the 15th Century? Let's suppose they were, and that Welsh pronunciation has not changed immensely since then. In that case, the I was pronounced [i:], as now, and exactly as the English GVS theory requires: Welsh michti = 15th-Century English [mi:xti], and the long vowel subsequently "broke" to the [ai[ diphthong in English (and the [x] was dropped from speech).

The alternative is to suppose that 15th Century English mighty was pronounced [maiti], as at present; and that Welsh medial I was pronounced [ai], unlike at present. In that case, as I wrote before, Welsh must have undergone a Great Reverse Vowel Shift since the 15th Century, in which all occurrences of -[ai]- were replaced by -/i/-. And either Irish, Manx, Breton and Cornish had already undergone the same change, or underwent it subsequently; or Welsh prior to the 15th Century converted -/i/- to -[ai]-, then after the 15th Century, converted it back.

I could make similar observations about maedyn, ffest, trwn, and the rest, but the point is made. Three basic alternatives, then; either:

  • Swrdwal's transcription bears no relation to contemporary English pronunciation; or
  • Swrdwal's transcription was essentially accurate, and approximates modern Welsh pronunciation, meaning that there have been substantial changes in English pronunciation (consonants and vowels) since the 15th Century; or
  • There have been massive changes in the pronunciations of all Welsh, parallelled by the same changes in the other Celtic languages, which exactly reverse the changes (consonants and vowels) proposed for (southern) English.

As so often in science, the model to pick is the one that has greatest internal consistency, greatest consistency with all phenomena it is based on, and greatest probability of being true. As always in science, it can only remain the preferred model as long as it explains the phenomena more satisfactorily than any alternative.

Of course, I may have missed some other alternate hypotheses. What can you come up with that addresses the details?
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berniegreen



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DPCrisp wrote:
Is it harder to accept that Z can be G?
Than what? Harder is a comparative. To what are you comparing?

Constricted and unconstricted are two ends of a continuum
. Bollocks. They are two discontinuous states like 1 and 0. They exist or they don't.
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Ishmael


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My eyes are bleeding.
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