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Phonetic peculiarities of the Germanic languages





Common Linguistic Features of Germanic Languages

Lecture 3

The periods of the development of English as offered by A. Markman and E. Steinberg

The American linguists A. Markman and E. Steinberg also admit that it is not possible to precisely divide the history of the English language into periods. In their periodization they use the dates of written documents. As it is impossible to determine the exact date of the earliest Old English texts, the beginning of the Old English is recognized as 450 AD, when the Germanic tribes landed on the island. The year of the last chapter of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1154, is regarded as the end of the Old English Period. The end of the Middle English Period coincides with the death of the famous writer Thomas Malory – 1471, which is also the time of the introduction of printing in England and Caxton’s activities. The Early New English Period (1500 – 1700) is the period of England’s two prominent poets – William Shakespeare and John Milton. The year of 1700, which is the year of John Dryden’s death, is recognized as the end of the Early New English Period.

 

6. David Burnley’s periodization of the history of English

According to David Burnley, the history of English is divided into:

· Old English (700 – 1100)

· Early Middle English (1100 – 1300)

· Later Middle English (1300 – 1500)

· Early Modern English (1500 – 1800)

· Modern English (1800 – 1920)

 

 

Although the history of the English language begins in the 5th century (with the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Great Britain) and the earliest written documents belong even to a later date, the comparative-historical method makes it possible for us to reconstruct some of the phonetic features which characterized the speech of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes before the invasion.

1.1. The First Consonant Shift

On the basis of observations made by Rasmus Rask in 1818, Jakob Grimm codified the correspondences between certain consonants in the Germanic languages and those in Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek in 1822. Following the genealogical classification of languages, the Germanic languages diverged from the other Indo-European languages as a result of the operation of the First Consonant Shift (“First Germanic Sound Shift”), which is often called Grimm’s Law. The essence of Grimm’s law is that the quality of some sounds changed in all Germanic languages while the place of their formation remained unchanged.

As proved by Grimm, all the Indo-European stops seem to have gradually changed in Old Germanic. Correspondences between Indo-European and Germanic consonants may be grouped under three categories:



1) The Indo-European voiceless stops [p, t, k] and their aspirated parallels [ph, th, kh] changed to corresponding spirants, i.e. the labial [p] and [ph] changed to the labial [f], the dental [t] or [th] changed to the dental [θ], and the velar [k] or [kh] changed to the velar [h] (originally pronounced as [x] in the Ukrainian хата).

Examples:

p(ph) > f U п’ять, Gk pente, G fünf, E five

t (th) > θU три, L trēs, Gt Þrija, E three

k(kh) > hGk kunos, L canis, G Hund, E hound

2) The Indo-European voiced stops [b, d, g] became voiceless [p, t, k].

Examples:

b > p U слабий, E sleep; U болото, E pool

d > t U два, E two; U вода, E Water

g > k U іго, E yoke

3) The Indo-European aspirated voiced stops [bh, dh, gh] correspond to Germanic voiced stops without aspiration [b, d, g].

Examples:

bh > bSkt bhrātar, E brother

dh > dSkt vidhavā, E window

gh > g Skt vāhanam, E wagon

There are some exceptions to Grimm’s law. For example, the Indo-European [p, t, k] remained unchanged after the sound [s]. E.g. U стояти, E stand.

Certain apparent exceptions to Grimm’s law were explained by a Danish linguist Karl Verner in 1877.

Let us compare the Latin words frāter, māter, pater with their Old English equivalents broþor, modor, fæder. In accordance with Grimm’s law the sound [t] in all the Latin words should have corresponded to the sound [θ] (written þ) in all the Old English words. As it was, only the word broþor showed the regular consonant-shift [t > θ]. In the two other words we find the voiced stop [d].The explanation given by K. Verner is that if an Indo-European voiceless stop was preceded by an unstressed vowel, the voiceless fricative which developed from it in accordance with Grimm’s law became voiced, and later this voiced fricative became a voiced plosive (stop). That is p, t, k > b, d, g. Latin pater has a Germanic correspondence fæder because the stress in the word was on the second syllable, and so voiceless plosive was preceded by an unstressed vowel.

Verne’s law explains why some verbs in Old English changed their root consonant in the past tens and in Participle II – originally, these grammatical forms had the stress on the second syllable. Hence the basic forms such as sniðan (to cut) and weorðan (to become) were sniðan – snað – snidon – sniden; weorðan – wearð- wurdon – worden.

 





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