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Vocalisation of [r]

It occurred in the 16th – 17th c. Sound [r] became vocalised (changed to [ə] (schwa)) when stood after vowels at the end of the word.


    • new diphthongs appeared: [εə], [iə], [uə];

    • the vowels before [r] were lengthened (e.g. arm [a:m], for [fo:], etc.);

    • triphthongs appeared: [aiə], [auə] (e.g. shower [‘∫auə], shire [‘∫aiə]).


1. Ex. 4-6 on p. 218 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

Lecture 12 The Development of Consonant System in Middle English and New English

English consonants proved to be more stable than vowels. Nevertheless, new sets of consonants started to appear.

Sibilants and Affricates

Sibilants – a type of fricatives, narrower and sharper than all other fricatives ([f, v, , ð, h]) – [s, z, ∫, ζ].

Affricates – sounds consisting of a plosive immediately followed by a fricative – [t∫, dζ].

In OE there were only 2 sibilants – [s, z]. [∫] appeared in ME and [ζ] – in NE.

Affricates [t∫, dζ] appeared both in ME and in NE.

Middle English

New consonants developed from palatal plosives [k’], [g’] and the cluster [sk’]:

OE Sounds

ME Sounds

In Writing





tch, ch

cild [k’il’d]

child [t∫ild]



g, dg

ecge [‘egg’ə]

edge [‘eə]



sh, ssh, sch

fisc [fisk’]

fish [fi]

New English

Palatalisation – as a result of reduction of unstressed vowels several consonants merged into one:

ME Sounds

NE Sounds





commissioun [komi’sjon]

commission [kə’miən]



pleasure [plə’zjurə]

pleasure [‘pleζə]



nature [na’tjurə]

nature [‘neit∫ə]



procedure [,prosə’djurə]

procedure [prə’siə]

There were some exceptions though, e.g. mature, duty, due, suit, statue, tune, etc.


Voicing – occurred in the 16th c. (NE) to fricatives:

    • in functional words and auxiliaries that are never stressed;

    • when preceded by an unstressed and followed by a stressed vowel.

ME Sounds

NE Sounds





possess [pə’ses]

possess [pə’zes]



this [is],the [ə], there [εə]

this [ðis],the [ðə], there [ðεə]



of [of]

of [ov]



anxiety [,ən’ksaiəti]

anxiety [,ən’gzaiəti]



knowledge [‘kno:lət∫ə]

knowledge [‘no:li]

Loss of Some Consonants

In NE some consonants were vocalised or gave birth to diphthongs and triphthongs.

    • [r] was vocalised at the end of the word in the 16th -17th c. (see Lecture 11);

    • [j] disappeared as a result of palatalisation (see palatalisation in Lecture 12); [j] remained only initially (e.g. year, yard, etc.);

    • [х, х’] were lost (e.g. ME taughte [‘tauхtə] – NE taught [to:t], ME night [niх’t] NE night [neit]

    • [kn][n] (e.g. ME know [knou] – NE know [nou]);

    • [gn] [n] (e.g. ME gnat [gnat] – NE gnat [næt]);

H/w: 1. Ex. 10-14, 17 on p. 219 in “История английского языка” by Т.А. Расторгуева (copies).

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