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Re: Germanic vowel correspondences (was: Scots.)

From:Tristan McLeay <conlang@...>
Date:Monday, July 21, 2008, 7:45
John Vertical wrote:

> …Have any of you noticed the "reprise" vowel shifts taking place in English? > /O:/ merging with /A/ is still somewhat vanilla, but what I find a bit more > eerie is /au/ in many dialects working its way forwards to [&u] or somesuch. > Dutch /9Y/ <> German /au/ also parallels this, even tho I presume they got > it via */u:/ fronting to */y:/.
Yes indeed. I observed in an earlier email that in Australian English the phone corresponding to RP /au/ is very similar to the OE vowel i.e. a backing diphthong of which both segments are low. In Australian English the IPA symbols used are typically /&O/ but as used in AusE /O/ doesn't really represent a rounded vowel so in fact they're even closer. Perhaps invading another country causes problems with the diphthong /au/. Breaking, once a feature of OE before a number of consonants including /l/, has returned. This time around it only occurs before /l/ but occurs with more vowels and in more contexts. Incidentally the existence of breaking in OE implies that OE had light/dark allophones of its /l/, and I gather the distribution of light/dark allophones of /l/ in various English dialects is taken to imply the modern distinction only started a century or so ago --- so here is another reprise, albeit of consonant allophony. (Some dialects do have diphthongisation before some or all of /k g N/, but raising/towards /i/ rather than the backing breaking you got in OE --- which probably reflects generally more palatal sounds in Modern English for these phones compared with more uvular sounds in Old English.) Note that the combination of the two of these have given a nifty new pair of diphthongs in Victorian English, albeit one's only a phonetic: bell vs bowel is [b&@5] (a broken short vowel) vs [b&:@5] (the diphthong /&O/, somewhat broken), which nicely reflects the state in Old English (apparently Norfolk Island and New Zealand English both have celery/salary mergers too which might mean they have this same pair, but I wouldn't count on it. Other Antipodean Englishes don't tmk have the merger so probably don't have this pair, but might have things very similar --- and my source for Norfolk Island English is ambiguous about whether the celery/salary merger occurs only in the Pitcairn-based creole spoken there or also in the Standard Australian English used. And if it does occur in NI SAE it strikes me as very strange that the celery/salary merger appears to be occuring piecemeal in various Antipodean varieties with nothing in particular relating them --- Kiwis more frequently find thimsilves un Sudney then Milbourne, and I see no particular reason why Melburnians should've influenced Norfolk Island English given their location and the fact that WP says their school teachers came from NSW). PGmc -> OE had *a > & OE -> ME had & > a EMnE? -> MnE had a > & (in some dialects) and English English I gather is currently going back the other way again. I suppose these phonemes might keep going back and forth between each other until eventually enough of them get stuck up at /E/ that there's nothing left to swing back down again. Of course, then it'll start up again with a new /a/ < /V/. Various dialects of English, particularly in parts of America, monophthongise /ai/, same as OE did (PGmc *ai > OE A: > ME O:). It's possible some of these dialects do the OE > ME shift again as well, but I'm not aware of it. (Australian and New Zealand English have both reduced the diphthongisation from /Ai/ to /Ae/ --- but this is no doubt a technique to help distinguish them from the otherwise similar /&i/, rather than the start of a monophthongisation.) Various dialects of English have varying degrees of diphthongisation of /i:/ and/or /u:/, which reflects one postulated beginning of the Great Vowel Shift. I doubt this will result in a second Great Vowel Shift in Australian English because the place of /i:/ is being/has been taken by /I@/ but other dialects might be so lucky. On the other hand [u:] has been vacated by a fronting of the long "oo" vowel almost to [y:] in contemporary Australian and especially New Zealand English. The place of [u:] is being taken partially by a rehealed broken [u\@5] -> [u:(5)] and partially by /o:/ i.e. the "aw"/"or" vowel --- in NZ /o:/ is already higher than /U/, although this latter vowel has mid-centralised with /I/ to some extent. This is of course an isolated revisitation of one part of the Great Vowel Shift (and is motivated by a completely different cause!) so it's probably a little unfair to include. Of course, German has had two very similar consonant shifts so we don't have all the fun. And the problem is we get to pick and choose --- given that the structure of the language hasn't changed that much: long and short vowels (mostly the same), a few diphthongs, a nice supply of mostly the same consonants in mostly the same places --- it's not that surprising that a few of the same changes will occur again. Whatever motivated the au>&A change in OE might still've *been* here to motivate the au>&O change in AusE. I don't think any dialect has been rid of all the EMnE diphthongs in the same way as OE got rid of the PGmc diphthongs for instance, so the fact that two different dialects have each got rid of one (different) EMnE diphthong in almost the same way that OE got rid of two PGmc diphthongs is a little less impressive. (I owe you something else don't I, about tones? Sorry --- trying to pretend time's passing much slower than it really is. Ah for when you're a kid and it *is* an absolute aeternity between Christmas and Easter, rather than an adult and it only *seems* an aeternity from Monday to Friday...) -- Tristan.


Michael Poxon <mike@...>
Benct Philip Jonsson <bpj@...>