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Henry Sweet.

A history of English sounds from the earliest period : including an investigation of th general laws of sound change, and full word lists online

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Online LibraryHenry SweetA history of English sounds from the earliest period : including an investigation of th general laws of sound change, and full word lists → online text (page 1 of 13)
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SERIES D.

MISCELLANEOUS.



HISTORY OF ENGLISH SOUNDS

FROM THE EARLIEST PERIOD,



INCLUDING AN



INVESTIGATION^ OF THE GENERAL LAWS OF SOUND
CHANGE, AND FTJLL WORD LISTS.



.\



TY'I



HENRY SWEET, ESQ.,

Membee of Council of the Philological and Early English Text Societies,
Editor op the Old English Version of Gregory's Cura Pastoeaxis,



{From the Transactions of the Philological Society for 1873-4.)



LONDON :

PUBLISHED FOR THE ENGLISH DIALECT SOCIETY

BY TRiJBNER & CO., 57 and 59, LTJDGATE HILL.

MDCCCLXXIV.

All rights reserved.



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f^AA\h)



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HERTFORD :

FEINTED BY STEPHEN AUSTIN AND SONS.



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CONTENTS.



FACE

Preface, Adduessed to Members of the English Dialect

Society. By the Rev. W. W. Skeat v

Introduction 1

General Laws op Sound Change 6

General Alphabetics 19

Quantity and Quality in the Teutonic Languages ... 24

Old English Period 26

Middle English Period-
Orthography 37

Vowel-levelling 38

General Laws op "Vowel Change in the Modern Teu-
tonic Languages 40

Close and Open EE and 00 48

Unaccented E 52

Diphthongs 52

Consonant Influence 53

Modern Period —

Loss op Final 'E ..'.'. '. 55

Early Modern Period 57

Quantity , 61

Consonant Influence 61

Transition Period 62

Late Modern Period 66

Quantity 67

Consonant Influence 67

Latest Modern Period 69

Diphthongization 70

Short Vowels 73

Quantity 73

Consonant Influence 74

Notes on the Consonants 75

Word Lists 82

Alphabetical Index to the Lists 139

Supplementary Lists op Irregularities . 146

Notes to the Word Lists 151

On the Periods of English 157

Concluding Remarks 161



PREFACE. .

Addressed to Members of the English Dialect Society.

The History of English Sounds, by Mr, Henry Sweet, was
originally written for the London Philological Society, in
further illustration of the great work on Early English Pro-
nunciation by Mr. Alexander J. Ellis. Upon application to
the Council of the Philological Society, and to the author,
permission was at once obtained for making arrangenients
whereby additional copies of the work should be struck off for
the use of members of the English Dialect Society. The im-
portance of it to all who study English sounds, especially such
sounds as are frequently well preserved in some of our provin-
cial dialects, will soon become apparent to the careful reader.
But as there may be some amongst our members who may
not be aware of what has been lately achieved in the study
of phonetics, a few words of introduction may not be out of
place here.

I have more than once received letters from correspondents
who boldly assert that, of some of our dialectal sounds, no
representation is possible, and that it is useless to attempt it.
Against such a sweeping denunciation of the study of pho-
netics it would be vain to argue. It may be sufl&cient merely
to remark that precisely the same argument of " impossi-
bility " was used, not so many years ago, against the intro-
duction of the use of steam locomotives upon railways. The
opinions of such as are unable to imagine how things which



VI PREFACE.

they cannot do themselves may, nevertheless, be achieved by
others, will not be much regarded by such as desire progress
and improvement.

It may, however, be conceded that no system of symbols
existed which was of sufl&cient scientiac accuracy until the
publication of Mr. Melville Bell's singular and wonderful
volume entitled — " Visible Speech : the Science of Universal
Alphabetics : or Self-Interpreting Physiological Letters for
the Printing and Writing of all Languages in one Alphabet ;
elucidated by Theoretical Explanations, Tables, Diagrams,
and Examples." Now in this system none of the usual
alphabetical characters appear at all, nor is the alphabet
founded upon any one language. It is a wholly new collec-
tion of symbols, adapted for all or most of the sounds which
the human voice is capable of producing, and is founded upon
the most strictly scientific principles, each symbol being so
chosen as to define the disposition of the organs used in pro-
ducing the sound which the symbol is intended to rej) resent.
How this wonderful result has been achieved, the reader may
easily discover for himself, either by consulting that work, or
another by the same author which every one interested in
the study of phonetics is earnestly recommended to procure,
at the cost of only one shiUing. The title of this latter work,
consisting of only sixteen pages in quarto, is : — English
Visible Speech for the Million, etc. ; by Alex. Melville Bell.
London : Simpkin, Marshall & Co. ; London and New York :
Triibner & Co. A fair and candid examination of this
pamphlet will shew the reader, better than any detailed de-
scription can do, how the study of sounds has been rendered
possible. Every work on phonetics will, no doubt, always
be based upon, or have reference to, Mr. Bell's system, and
therefore it is the more important that, at the very least, the
existence of it should be widely known.



BY THE REV. W. W. SKEAT. VU

The work of Mr. Ellis is entitled : — On Early English
Pronunciation, with especial reference to Sbakspere and
Chaucer, by Alexander J. Ellis, F.R.S, The first two parts
were published in 1869 by three societies in combination,
viz. the Philological Society, the Early English Text Society,
and the Chaucer Society ; and the third part, b}'' the same
societies, in 1870. The work is not yet completed, and the
fourth part, not yet published, will contain a full account of
our modern English provincial dialects, shewing their distri-
bution and connections. Mr. Ellis employs a system of
symbols called paJceotype, but, as every one of these has its
exact equivalent in Mr. Bell's system, it admits of the same
degree of accuracy, and has the advantage of being wholly
represented by ordinary printing-types.

The next sj^stem is that invented by Mr. Ellis for the
special representation of English dialectal sounds, and deno-
minated Glos&ic} By the kindness of the author, a copy of
the tract upon Glossic is in the hands of every member
of our Society. The attention of readers is directed to page
11 of that tract, where the thirty-six vowels of Mr. Bell's
Visible Speech have their equivalent values in Glossic properly
tabulated.

In Mr. Sweet's volume, now in the reader's hands, the
corresponding table of vowel-sounds is given at page 5, and
one principal object of this short Preface is to shew how
Mr. Sweet's symbols and the 'Glossic' symbols agree together,
and how, again, each table agrees with that of Mr. Bell.

I shall refer, then, to the three tables as given at p. 5 of
Mr. Sweet's book, at p. 11 of the Glossic tract, and at p. 8 of
Visible Speech for the Million. See also p. 14 of Mr. Ellis's
Early English Pronunciation.

* The system called Glossotype, illustrated at p. 16 of Mr. Ellis's Early English,
rrouuuciation, may be considered as now cancelled, and superseded by Glossic^



TUl PREFACE.

Mr. Ellis and Mr. Sweet agree with Mr. Bell in their use
of the terms Sigh, Mid, and Low; in their use of the terms
Back, Mixed, and Front ; and in their use of the terms Wide
and Wide-round. The only difference is that Mr. Sweet uses
the term Narroio instead of Primary (see page 4, note 1),
and also uses the more exact term Narrow-round in place of
what Mr. Ellis calls Round simply. As Mr. Sweet has
numbered his sounds, it is easy to tabulate the correspondence
of the systems in the following manner. I denote here Mr.
Sweet's sounds by the number only, and include the Glossic
symbol within square brackets, in the usual manner.



1.


[uu-].


4.


[ca].


7. [ee].


10.


[F].


13.


[I'].


16.


[I]-


2.


[UU].


5.


[u].


8. [AI].


11.


[AA].


14.


[A'].


17.


[E].


3.


[ua].


6.


[ua'].


9. [AE].


12.


[AH].


15.


[E'].


18.


[A].


19.


[oo].


22.


[ui'].


25. [ui].


28.


[uo].


31.


[uo'].


34.


[UE].


20.


[OA].


23.


[oa-].


26. [EO].


29.


[AO].


32.


[ao'].


35.


[OE].


21.


[AU].


24.


[au'].


27. [eo'].


30.


[0].


33.


[0-].


36.


[oe'].



Now it should be clearly understood that these two systems
are both perfectly exact, because both refer to the same posi-
tions of the organs of voice ; but, as soon as these sounds
come to be described by illustrative examples, a few slight
apparent discrepancies arise, solely from a difference of indi-
vidual pronunciation, even in the case of common 'key-
words.' I believe I am correct in saying that even Mr.
Bell's ' key- words ' do not represent to everybody the exact
sounds intended, but are better understood by a North-country
man than by a resident in London. Mr. Ellis describes this
difficulty in the following words : "At the latter end of his
treatise Mr. Melville Bell has given in to the practice of key-
words, and assigned them to his symbols. Let the reader be
careful not to take the value of his symbol from his own
pronunciation of the key-words, or from any other person's.
Let him first determine the value of the symbol from the



BY THE REV. W. W. SKEAT. IX

exact description and diagram of the speech- organs, — or if
possible also from the living voice of some one thoroughly
acquainted with the system — and then determine Mr. Bell's
own pronunciation of the key-word from the known value of
the symbol. This pronunciation in many instances differs
from that which I am accustomed to give it, especially in
foreign words."

In order to steer clear of such minor difficulties, Mr. Sweet
has adopted a very simple system of notation, which only
aims at representing the broader distinctions between vowels,
using, for example, the same symbol [a] for the mid-back- wide
and the low-back- wide sounds (nos. 11 and 12), without
further distinction, and defining it only as the sound a, as
most commonly heard in the word, father. Roughly speaking,
then, the symbols which Mr. Sweet employs in his vowel- table
may be thus represented in Glossic.

a, as the short vowel corresponding to the first vowel in
father; compare Glossic [aa], as in [faa'dhur].

SB, as a in m«n ; Glossic [a], as in [man].

e, as e in teU. ; Glossic [e or ae], as in [tel] ; provincial
[tael].

e, as ai in bff?'t; Glossic [ai], as in [bait].

e, as u in b?<t; Glossic [u], as in [but].

i, as in b?'t; Glossic [i], as in [bit],

6, as in not ; 66, as in nawght ; Glossic [o] in [not] ; [au]
in [naut].

6, as oa in bo«t; Glossic [oa], as in [boat],

oe, as o in Germ, schon ; Glossic [oe], as in Germ, [shoen].

u, as 00 in foot ; uu as oo in cool ; Glossic [uo, oo], as in
[fuot, kool].

y, as u in Germ, iibel; Glossic [ue], as in Germ, [uebu'l].

ai, a diphthong of a and i, as // in my ; Glossic [ei], as iu
[mei].



X PREFACE.

au, a diplitliong of a and u, as ou in house ; Glossic [ou],
as in [hous].

^i, a diphthong of e and i, as a in tale; Glossic [aiy], as in
[taiyl].

ou, as in no, i.e. 6 with an aftersound of u;^ Glossic
[oaw], as in [noaw].

oi, as 01/ in bo?/ ; Glossic [oi], as in [boi].

It may be added, that ]) is used to represent the sound of
ih in t/iin, Glossic [thin] ; and ^ to represent the th in this,
Glossic [dhis].

According, then, to Mr. Sweet's notation, the word father
is written faa^or ; man, msen ; tell, tel ; bait, bet, or (more
commonly) beit, in Southern English, beet in Scotch ; but,
bat ; bit, bit ; not, not ; boat, bot, or (more commonly) bout,
in Southern English, boot in Scotch ; Germ, schon, shoen ;
foot, fut ; Germ. Ubel, ybal ; my, mai ; house, haus ; tale, teil ;
no, nou ; boy, boi.

The long vowels are expressed by doubling the symbol
employed for the shorter vowels. The following are examples,
viz. father, faa^er (the short sound of which is found in the
Anglo-Saxon man, in modern English changed to mwn) ;
earn, tcorse, oon, woes ; saic, f aught, soo, foot ; whose, huuz ;
and the like. Examples of diphthongs are seen in eight, eit ;
lord, hoarse, load, hoas ; smear, smiar ; bear, bear ; etc.

The easiest way of becoming familiar with this very simple
notation is to observe the long list of words beginning at p.
84. By comparing the third column, which gives the modern
English sj)eliing, with the fourth, which gives the modern
English pronunciation according to the above system, the
sounds intended can be very easily ascertained, and the reader



' More clearly heard when used as a negative, in response to a question, than
•when used as in the phrase 'no man.' Example; Do you like that? Answer—
nou.



BY THE REV. W. W. SKEAT. XI

will be prepared to understand what is meant by the first and
second columns, which exhibit the pronunciations of the Old
and Middle period respectively. The thanks of students are
especially due to Mr. Sweet for these word-lists, with the
alphabetical register of them appended. They can only
have been compiled at the cost of much labour and diligence,
and shew an intimate acquaintance with the spellings and
pronunciations of all periods of English.

w. w. s.



HISTORY OF ENGLISH SOUB"DS.

By nENPvY SWEET, Esq.



INTEODUCTION.

In studying tlie phonetic development of a language two
methods are open to us, the historical and the comparative ;
that is to say, we may either trace the sounds of one and the
same language through its successive stages, or else compare
the divergent forms in a group of languages which have a
common origin.

Each method has its advantages. In the historical method
the sequence of the phenomena is self-evident ; when we
compare two forms of the same sound in several co-existing
languages, it is often doubtful which is the older. The
peculiar advantage of the comparative method is that it can
be applied to living languages, where nothing but careful
observation of facts is required, while in the case of dead
languages the phonetic material is often defective, and is
always preserved in an imperfect form by means of graphic
symbols, whose correct interpretation is an indispensable pre-
liminary to further investigation. In short, we may say
that the comparative method is based, or may be based, on
facts, the historical on theoretical deductions.

It need hardly be said that the first requisite for phonetic
investigation of any kind is a knowledge of sounds. Yet
nothing is more common in philology than to see men, who
have not taken the slightest trouble to make themselves
acquainted with the rudiments of vocal physiology, making
the boldest and most dogmatic statements about the pro-
nunciation of dead languages — asserting, for instance, that
certain sounds are unnatural, or even impossible, merely be-
cause they do not happen to occur in their own language.
Such prejudices can only be got rid of by a wide and impar-
tial training.

1



HISTORY OF EKGLISH SOUNDS



The second requisite is a collection of carefully recorded
facts. In this respect the present state of phonology is
somewhat anomalous. As far as living languages are con-
cerned, the amount of reliable material that exists is still
very small, although it is rapidly increasing, while if we
turn to the dead languages we find an enormous body of
careful fuU, often exhaustive, observations of the varied
phenomena of letter-change in the Teutonic languages-a
dead mass, which requires the warm breath of hvmg phono-
loo-y to thaw it into life. Before the word-lists in such a
bo^'ok as Grimm's Deutsche Grammatik can be intelhgently
utilized, the spoken sounds they represent must be deter-
mined. The first step is to determine generally the relations
between sound and symbol. The ideal of a phonetic notation
is, of course, a system in which every simple sound would
have a simple sign, bearing some definite relation to the
sound it represents. It need hardly be said that all the
modifications of the Roman alphabet in which the Teutonic
languages have been written down fall far short of this
standard. The Roman alphabet was originally, like aU
naturally developed alphabets, a purely hieroglyphic system,
representing not sounds but material objects : the connection
of each symbol with its sound is therefore entirely arbitrary.
When we consider that this inadequate system was forced on
languages of the most diverse phonetic structure, we need
not be surprised at the defects of the orthography of the o d
Teutonic languages, but rather admire the ingenuity with
which such scanty resources were eked out.

The maximum of difficulty is reached when a language
changes through several generations, while its written repre-
sentation remains unchanged. In such a case as that of
En-lish during the last three centuries, we are compeUed to
disregard' the written language altogether, and have recourse

to other methods.

Foremost .moBg these is the study of the oontemporary
evidence afforded by treatises on pronunciation w.th theu
descriptions of the various sounds and comparisons with
foreign utterance. It is on this kind of evidence that the



/



BY HENRY SWEET, ESQ. 3

well-known investigations of Mr. Ellis are based. The great
value of Mr. Ellis's work consists in the impartial ana
cautious spirit in which he has carried it out, advancing step
by step, and never allowing theories to overrule facts. Mr.
Ellis's method forms a striking contrast to that pursued by
some Early English students, who, starting from the assump-
tion that whatever pronunciation is most agreeable to their
own ears must be the right one, take for granted that Alfred,
Chaucer, and Shakespere spoke exactly like 19th-century
gentlemen, and then, instead of shaping their theories by
the existing evidence, pick out those facts which they think
confirm their views, and ignore all the rest. The result of
Mr. Ellis's investigations is to establish with certainty, within
certain limits, the pronunciation of English durino- the last
three centuries; absolute accuracy is impossible in deductions
drawn from the vague statements of men who had but an
imperfect knowledge of the mechanism of the sounds they
uttered.

I hope, however, to show that that minute accuracy which
is unattainable by the method adopted by Mr. Ellis, can be
reached through a combination of the comparative with the
historical method, taking the latter in its widest sense to
include both the external evidence employed by Mr. Ellis,
and the internal evidence of the graphic forms. This gives
us three independent kinds of evidence, which, as we shall
see, corroborate each other in the strongest manner.

Before going any farther it will be necessary to say a
few words on the phonetic notation I have adopted. The
only analysis of vowel-sounds that is of any real use for
general scientific purposes is that of Mr. Bell. His system
difiers from all others in two important particulars, 1) in
being based not on the acoustic efi'ects of the sounds, but
on their organic formation, and 2) in being of universal
applicability: while most other systems give us only a
limited number of sounds arbitrarily selected from a few
languages, Mr. Bell's Vmhle Speech is entirely independent
of any one language— it not only tells us what sounds do



4 HISTORY OF ENGLISH SOUNDS.

exist in a given language, but also what sounds may exist
in any language whatever. It is therefore of priceless value
in all theoretical investigations like the present.

The following remarks will help to elucidate Mr. Bell's
table of vowels with key-words, which I have given on the
opposite page.

Every vowel is, as regards position, either hack (guttural),
of which aa is the type, front (palatal), typified by ii, or
mixed, that is, formed by the back and front of the tongue
simultaneously, as in the English en\ Each vowel, again,
has one of three degrees of elevation — it is either high,
mid or loic. Each of these nine positions may be round-
ed (labialized). Each of the resulting eighteen vowels
must, lastly, be either narrow ^ or tvide. In forming narrow
vowels the pharynx or cavity behind the mouth is com-
pressed, while in wide vowels it is relaxed. The distinction
will be clearly felt by any one who pronounces not, naught,
several times in succession, drawling them out as much as
possible : it will be found that in sounding not the pharynx
and back of the mouth is relaxed, while in naught there is
evident tension. The vowel in both words is the low-back-
round, but in not it is wide, in naught narrow.

In treating of the formation of the sounds, I have alwaj^s
described them in Mr. Bell's terminology, which is admirably
simple and clear. If I could have made use of his types, I
could have avoided a great deal of circumlocution, which, as
it is, has proved unavoidable.

Tor the convenience of those who are not able to appre-
ciate minute jDhonetic distinctions, I have also adopted a rough
practical system of notation, in which only the broadest dis-
tinctions are indicated. In this system a, e, i, o, i(, y, are
employed in their original Roman values, the distinction
between open and close e and a being indicated by accents.
To indicate that class of sounds of which the English
vowels in hut and err are types, I have adopted the turned
e [d). The English vowel in man is written ce, and ce is used

' I have ventured to substitute ^'narrow" for Mr. Bell's "primary," as being
both shorter and more expressive.



BY HKNRY SWEET, ESQ.



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G HISTORY OF ENGLISH SOUNDS.

to designate the German d. Long vowels are doubled, and

diphtliongs indicated by combining their elements.^

a as in f«tlier Nos. 11, 12, (3) on Bell's Scale.

ro.au ,, 18 ,,

tell ; „ 9,(17) „

Scotch tale, French 6 „ 8 ,,

hut, bird, German gahe „ 2, (3), 5, 6, (10), 14, 15.

hit,'beat ,, 7,16.

not „ 21, (29), 30 on Bell's Scale.

Scotch note, Genn. sohn „ 20 „

Gmw. sclwu ,, (26), 27, 35, 36 „

w/flf „ 19,28.



ai
an



Germ.uhel „ 25, (26), 34

my. Germ. mem.
house. Germ, haus.
tale.



boy.

I have not made any use of Mr. Ellis's "palgeotype," as, in
spite of its typographical convenience, its extreme complexity
and arbitrariness make it, as I can testify from personal ex-


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryHenry SweetA history of English sounds from the earliest period : including an investigation of th general laws of sound change, and full word lists → online text (page 1 of 13)