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Middle English





Vowels

The Development of Vowel System in Middle English and New English

Word Stress/Accent:

In ME and NE word stress acquired greater positions freedom and greater role in word derivation.

Recessive tendency –stress in loan-words moved closer to the beginning of the word (e.g. in French words the stress is usually placed on the ultimate or pen-ultimate syllable, but the stress in the words of the French origin that penetrated into English has moved to the beginning of the word).

E.g. ME vertu [ver’tju:] – NE virtue [‘vз:t∫ə]

Rhythmic tendency – regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables (3 or more) that creates rhythm and has led to the appearance of the secondary stress.

E.g. ME diso’beien – NE ,diso’bei

 

English vowels proved to be more changeable than consonants. Long vowels proved to be more changeable than short ones.

 

The changes that occurred to vowels in ME were as follows:

1. Quantitative:

Reduction –weakening and disappearance of unstressed vowels. As far as the stress was mainly on the root the vowels in prefixes and suffixes got weak and underwent reduction. In unstressed position only two vowels were left – [ə] and [i]. They had never been contrasted.

E.g. ME tale [‘ta:lə], body [‘bodi]

In NE sound [ə] (schwa) was dropped at the end of the words but the letter e was left in spelling to show the length of the preceding vowel.

 

Shortening –all long vowels became short before consonant clusters (NB!! except [ld, nd, mb] –before these clusters vowels remained long or if a vowel was short it became long)

E.g.

Other Consonant Clusters
OE ME
fīftiζ fifty (fifty)
fēdde fedde (fed)
wīsdom wisdom (wisdom)

 

Lengthening (12th – 13th c.) –short vowels became long:

· before clusters [ld, nd, mb];

· in 2-syllable words, only to [e, o, a]in open stressed syllable

E.g.

Clusters [ld, nd, mb] 2-syllable words
OE ME OE ME
cild chīld (child) mete mēte (meat)
findan nden (find) open ōpen (open)
climban clīmben (climb) talu tāle (tale)

 



2. Qualitative:

The system of vowels in ME were no longer symmetrical as it was in OE

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