Toward a unified theory of chain shifting

Aaron J. Dinkin

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Toward a unified theory of chain shifting

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


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Chain shifts offer important insights into the phonological history of the English language—from the prehistoric chain shift of Grimm’s Law that separates the Germanic languages from the rest of Indo-European, to the Great Vowel Shift (GVS) that is widely assumed to define the boundary between Middle English and Early Modern English. A chain shift refers to a set of phonetic changes that affect a group of phonemes so that as one phoneme moves in phonetic space, another phoneme moves toward the phonetic position abandoned by the first; a third may take over the original position of the second, and (perhaps) so on. The GVS is the phenomenon or set of phenomena whereby the Middle English long monophthongs became the upgliding diphthongs of present-day English. This article focuses on a modern parallel for the GVS, a major apparent chain shift currently underway involving at least five phonemes: the Northern Cities Shift.

Keywords: chain shifts; chain shifting; English; Great Vowel Shift; phonemes; monophthongs; diphthongs; Northern Cities Shift; cycles; linguistics

Article.  5158 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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