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MODERN ENGLISH PHONETICS

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LECTURE 9. MODERN ENGLISH

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The beginning of the Modern English period was marked by the end of the Wars of the Roses, which marked the decay of feudalism. The development of capitalism and political centralization caused the centralization of the language as well and the predominance of the national language over local dialects. The introduction of printing and the spread of printed books also contributed to the normalization of spelling and also of grammatical forms. Norms adopted by the first printers have basically survived up to our days. Phonetic changes which have occurred since then have not been reflected in the spelling.

 

MODERN ENGLISH PHONETICS

 

Plan

1. The loss of unstressed vowels.

2. The loss of intermediate syllables.

3. The change of [er] into [ar].

4. The Great Vowel Shift.

5. Further phonetic developments in the 16th – 17th centuries.

 

At the outset of the MnE period the vowel [q] of unstressed endings was lost. This vowel had already been on the verge of loss in the 14th century. In the 15th century it finally disappeared. This process started in the Northern dialects. The neutral sound was lost when final (e.g. table, make, like, son) and also when followed by a consonant, as in plural forms of the noun: tables, hats books; in the 3rd person singular of the verbs: likes, sits, shines, seems, and in the past tense and participle II: lived, filled, stopped, walked, etc.

The loss of [q] had consequences for the spelling: the letter “e” was preserved in words having a long root vowel. That is how the “mute ”e” arose, which denotes length of the preceding vowel.

On the analogy of such words the letter “e” was added in words which had never had any unstressed vowel. Such was the origin of the spellings house, stone, wrote (compare OE hus> MEhous, OE stan>ME ston, OE wrat > ME wrot).

The loss of unstressed [q] is connected with important changes in grammatical structure: the infinitive of many verbs now coincided in its phonetic form with nouns, e.g. love (verb and noun), land (verb and noun), answer (verb and noun), hand (verb and noun), etc.

 

In some three- and four-syllable words the vowel of the middle syllable was lost: chapiter > chapter, phantasie > fancy, medicine [‘medsin], colonel [kWnl], business [‘biznis], etc.



 

At the same time [er] changed into [ar]. The process began in the 14th century but was completed only in the late 15th century. Spelling in many cases reflected the change (>”-ar-”), in a few words the combined “-ear-” was adopted and on some words the spelling “-er-” was preserved.

 

PHONETICS: [er] > [ar]

ar were>war, sterre >star

SPELLING: ME –er ear herte > heart

er Derby, Berkshire, Berkeley, Hertford, clerk, sergeant

However, there are a number of exceptions, where that change did not take place: certain, perfect, university, learn earnest, stern, mercy, etc. The word person developed 2 variants: person (an individual) and parson (a clergyman).

 

 


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