Vowel Shifts and the Middle English Vowels

D. Gary Miller

in Language Change and Linguistic Theory, Volume I

Published in print August 2010 | ISBN: 9780199583423
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191723438 | DOI:
Vowel Shifts and the Middle English Vowels

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The old hypotheses of teleology and equilibrium are illusions. Shifts do not fill holes to create symmetrical systems. Rather, sounds shift by phonetically and perceptually motivated mechanisms, and the selection of those changes is constrained (at least) by prototype perception. Perceptual space accounts for chain shifts better than system dependence or the idea that all vowel changes are independent. Tensed vowels are instrumentally more peripheral than non‐tensed and can rhyme with them. This provides a valuable clue to the Early Middle English vowels. The Ormulum [c12], which contextually writes VC for long vowels and VCC for short, rarely distinguishes the Old English long vowels from short vowels in open syllables. Instrumental evidence invites the hypothesis that open syllable lengthening had begun and that the old and new long vowels rhymed, so could be written the same way.

Keywords: sound shifts; perceptual space; chain shifts; Early Middle English vowels; Ormulum; syllable lengthening

Chapter.  6394 words. 

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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