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Why did the Great Vowel Shift, about 1400 and something happen?

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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-03-06 12:10 PM
Original message
Why did the Great Vowel Shift, about 1400 and something happen?

Does anybody know? Are there any theories?
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Lydia Leftcoast Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-26-06 07:05 PM
Response to Original message
1. The vowels didn't shift overnight
It was more of a gradual evolution, in which younger people, for some reason, began saying their vowels differently from their elders, and then the next generation said them a little more differently than that, and then the next generation, and so on.

The process was something like this, most likely.

Gen 1: hus "hoos"
Gen 2: "hyoos"
Gen 3: "hee-yoos"
Gen 4: "hay-yoos"
Gen 5: "haaoos" (as in a Georgia or Carolina accent)
Gen 6: "hahoos" "house"

The same kinds of changes are going on today in different types of English. Think, for example, of the way some people in the New York City and Southern New England areas pronounce "bear" as "biya," or the way Australians pronounce "mate" as "mite" and "mite" as "moyt."

The weird thing about the medieval vowel shift is that it happened in both English and High German at about the same time, even though the languages had little contact with each other.

Now that we've had recorded sound for over a hundred years, linguists of the future will be able to chart sound changes very precisely.

Note that nobody really talks like 1930s movies anymore. The differences are subtle, but they're evident if you listen closely.

The same types of phenomena have occurred in Japanese. For instance, the Japanese word for "yen" is "en." The reason we say "yen" is that the Japanese DID say "yen" in the mid-nineteenth century when large numbers of Westerners first went there. At that time, some words that now begin with "e-" began with "ye-," while others, which had once begun with "we-" centuries before already began with "e-." At some time between then and now, the "ye-" syllable disappeared completely and merged with "e-." There is no "why." It just did.

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Karenca Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Sep-15-06 06:12 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. That's very interesting.
Actors in movies from the 30's and even the 40's do sound
so different.

But the 'bear' 'biya" pronunciation is limited to
Southern New England....Massachusetts actually.

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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-28-07 10:03 AM
Response to Reply #1
3. Can you give some examples? nt
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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-28-08 09:04 AM
Response to Reply #1
4. Speaking of which, how do you pronounce "bury?"

I'm in my mid-50's and most of my life I've said "bury" to rhyme with berry, Kerry, and cherry. So did everyone else. But in recent years, I've heard more people pronouncing it to rhyme with hurry and scurry.

Your experience?
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KatyMan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-29-08 09:40 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. :D
bury, berry, Kerry, cherry, hurry and scurry all rhyme to this Philadelphia/Houston hybrid...!
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Lydia Leftcoast Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-24-08 10:44 PM
Response to Reply #4
6. This Minnesotan pronounces "bury" and "berry" the same
And "Mary," "marry," and "merry" are the same for me, although not for people in other parts of the U.S.
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SheilaT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-25-08 10:47 PM
Response to Original message
7. Keep in mind that the Great Vowel Shift
was not accompanied by a Great Spelling Shift, alas.

Actually, I do know that English spelling was not regularized anywhere near that early, but since it was, we've had a lot of vowel and other pronunciation shifts. One reason to oppose very much phoneticizing of our spelling is that we'd quickly devolve into several or perhaps many different spelling/dialect groups.

It does appear that spelling conventions tend to slow down pronunciation changes in literate populations, and to a lessor extent the existence of sound recordings also slow down pronunciation changes, but I suspect the jury is out on that. It can be quite interesting to listen to old movies and notice accents that have totally disappeared.
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-13-08 05:05 PM
Response to Original message
8. Interestingly, there is a major vowel shift going on in the Great Lakes area right now.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Cities_Vowel_Shif...


There is also a vowel shift going on in California (the "valley girl" accent).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_English
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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-24-09 02:18 PM
Response to Original message
9. It could have occurred as a result of the Black Death
Think about a 90% fatality rate in some villages. That had to have had an effect on spoken language at the time, some village dialects being completely submerged where others, with more survivors, remaining strong.

That's about the only thing I can think of that would have had such a dramatic effect.
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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-25-09 11:31 AM
Response to Reply #9
10. Never thought of that, but it seems possible to me.

Someone ought to do a doctoral dissertation on it.




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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-25-09 12:02 PM
Response to Reply #10
11. It would beat Milton's use of the comma
and yes, that one's been done.
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