Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Great Vowel Shift

We don't have time to talk about ALL the possible consequences of a pandemic disease that kills maybe 1/4 of the world and up to 1/3 of Europe. But that isn't going to stop me mentioning one more here - the great vowel shift.

Sometime, probably quite quickly, and starting in the 1400's there was a major change in the way that the English language was pronounced. This has become known as the great vowel shift. One hypothesis for why this occurred is that it was related to the greater social mobility that occurred during and following the Black Death.

Curiously this change in the way words were pronounced occurred at the same time the printing press was creating its own revolution. It was only when printing was invented that word spellings became more fixed. So the Black Death may be one of the explanations for why many English words have what appear to be strange spellings - they are spelled as they used to be pronounced. However as this was becoming fixed by the spread of printed books a change in pronunciation swept through the land.

Strange but true.

Click here if you'd rather have the theory explained by dinosaurs.

No comments: