The Great Vowel Shift from Chaucer to Shakespeare. Changes in vowel pronunciation in English poetry from the Middle English to Early Modern English period


Term Paper, 2018
9 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Excerpt

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The Great Vowel Shift: features and changes

3.1 Middle English vowel pronunciation
3.2 Early Modern English vowel pronunciation

4. Vowels in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

5. Conclusion

Bibliography

1. Introduction

The Great Vowel Shift terms the change of sounds of long vowels in the English language within the period from 1400 to 1700. This period can also be referred to as the change from Middle English, hereafter ME, to Early Modern English, hereafter EModE. This paper investigates the very basic and commonly agreed on changes of the vowel system from ME to EModE. Additionally, works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare who serve as representatives for each period are being examined in order to proof the previously stated sound changes by means of English literature.

2. The Great Vowel Shift: features and changes

„The term [Great Vowel Shift] was first coined by Jespersen” (Fulcrand 2015: 535) and is a “systemic shift of either push chain or drag chain” (Yamada 1984: 44). The push chain theory was introduced by Luick (1896) and implies that [e:] and [o:] become [i:] and [u:] which consequently are pushed to diphthongize to [aɪ] and [aʊ]. The drag chain theory, on the other hand, was introduced by Jesperson (1909) and implies that [i:] and [u:] first diphthongize and leave a gap which is subsequently filled by [e:] and [o:] (cf. Krug 2017: 247). According to Kiparsky (1995) the directions of vowel shifts can be generalized in that „tense [or “peripheral”] vowels tend to be raised, lax [nonperipheral] vowels tend to fall, and back vowels tend to be fronted“. Kiparsky (1995) refers to Dobson (1968) by dividing the GVS into three stages: First, a raising shift, taking place about 1500. Here, the long vowels [e:] and [o:] were raised to [i:] and [u:], and the other long vowels which were already in the highest position and therefore could not be raised any further, namely [i:] and [u:], were diphthongized to [ei] and [ou]. The second shift is coined as tensing shift and took place around 1650. During that shift, „[3] was tensed to [e:], [ɔ] was tensed to [o:], and long and short [a] were tensed to [æ]” (Kiparsky 1995: 23). The third and final raising shift with merger took place in the 18th century: „[e:] was raised to [i:] […] and [æ] was raised to [e:]." (ib.) Throughout the history of English, vowels did also lengthen and shorten (cf. van Gelderen 2006:53). The reason why there exist words such as children and child as well as dead and mead or flood and mood which are spelt the same way but have differently pronounced vowels is because is because of “sporadic shortenings” and “due to the shortening happening at different times” (Smith 2005: 129).

3.1 Middle English vowel pronunciation

The ME period reaches from 1150 to 1500. One of the most significant authors during this period is Geoffrey Chaucer. His language was „the English of late-fourteenth-century London” (Smith 2005:92). Besides reconstruction, most of „our [today's] knowledge of ME pronunciation derives from the analysis of rhyming verse” (ib.: 94). A new feature that appears in ME concerning the spelling of vowels is „the use of double vowels, e.g. Old English, hereafter OE, boc becomes book; and bete beet(e)” (van Gelderen 2006: 117) and the OE letter æ ('ash') was substituted by a/e (cf. Smith 2005: 93). As the GVS starts in 1400, there are only little changes in vowel pronunciation during the change from OE to ME and the focus in this work lies on the change from ME to EmodE.

The vowels in the ME period “had still their so-called 'continental value' – i.e., a was pronounced like a in father and not as in name, e was pronounced either like the e in there or the a in mate, but not like the ee in meet” (Wolfe 1972: 1). As in PDE the vowel system in ME consists of stressed monophthongs, subdivided into long and short vowels, unstressed syllables and diphthongs. The short vowels [ɪ, ɛ, a, ɔ, ʊ] were generally spelt i, e, a, o, u; [...] the long vowels [i:, e: ɛ:, a:, ɔ:, o:, u:] were generally spelt i/y/ij, e/ee, e/ee, a/aa, o/oo and ou/ow” (Smith 2005:94). The vowels of unstressed syllables [ə, ɪ] were spelt e, i/y and the diphthongs were spelt as follows (cf. Smith 2005: 95):

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

As the pronunciation of long vowels is most interesting for the analysis of the Great Vowel Shift, the system is depicted below (2) by Smith (2005:95) as well as (3) by Wolfe (1972: 2) who adopts Baugh's (1952) supposed pronunciation of Chaucer. Both systems are equal and only differ in vocabulary examples.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

3.2 Early Modern English vowel pronunciation

When we think of EModE, 1500 – 1700, usually Shakespeare comes to mind. He is one of many authors who play a part in contributing to the “emergence of mass literacy and the consequent demands of a reading public” (Smith 2005: 125). The ME and EmodE vowel systems are equal consisting of vowels of unstressed syllables [ə, ɪ], long and short vowels as well as diphthongs. The short vowels of ME remained the same in EmodE, “the long vowels however had undergone a marked change of distribution within the lexicon by EmodE times. This change is referred to as The Great Vowel Shift” (Smith 2005:128). Wolfe again (1972: 2) takes up Baugh's (1952) supposed pronunciation, this time of Shakespeare, which, again, apart from the vocabulary examples is identical to the system depicted above it:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The diphthongs in EModE play a very special role. Some of them have maintained from OE, others, however “were the result of the Great Vowel Shift” (Smith 2005: 129). Smith (ib.) lists seven diphthongs and their emergence, summarized as follows:

1. [aɪ] as in day remained the same in EModE. However, according to Görlach (1991: 70), between 1600 and 1700 ME [aɪ] was pronounced [ɛ:] before it became ModE [eɪ].
2. ME [ɔɪ] as in joye and [ʊɪ] as in poynt „had probably merged on [ɔʊ] by Shakespeare’s time” (ib.: 129).
3. [əɪ] is the result of the Great Vowel Shift, as [i:] could not further raise and thus became a diphthong, examples are the words life or five.
4. Words with [aʊ] in EModE usually contain [ɔ:] in PDE, e.g. law. Smith (2005: 129) assumes that the subsequent pronunciation was already customary in Shakespeare times.
5. EModE [ɔʊ] as in boat „merged with the reflexes of ME [ɔ:]” (ib.: 130).
6. ME [ɛʊ] as in lewd and [ɪʊ] as in newe „had probably merged into [ɪʊ] by Shakespeare’s time” (ib.).
7. [əʊ] is another outcome of the Great Vowel Shift, deriving from ME [u:].

[...]

Excerpt out of 9 pages

Details

Title
The Great Vowel Shift from Chaucer to Shakespeare. Changes in vowel pronunciation in English poetry from the Middle English to Early Modern English period
College
Free University of Berlin  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
Course
History of English II: Historical Linguistics
Grade
1,7
Author
Year
2018
Pages
9
Catalog Number
V459039
ISBN (eBook)
9783668894310
ISBN (Book)
9783668894327
Language
English
Tags
Chaucer, Shakespeare, Middle English, Early Modern English, The Great Vowel Shift, Vowel Pronunciation, IPA, Long Vowels, Short Vowels, Diphthongization, Diphthongs
Quote paper
Lucia Maea (Author), 2018, The Great Vowel Shift from Chaucer to Shakespeare. Changes in vowel pronunciation in English poetry from the Middle English to Early Modern English period, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/459039

Comments

  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Great Vowel Shift from Chaucer to Shakespeare. Changes in vowel pronunciation in English poetry from the Middle English to Early Modern English period


Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free