PHY122 - Vowels and Vocalic Change

dialectal change can be determined by

the linguistic analysis of regional

vowel systems

why not consonants you might ask well

continental variation does not involve

variation in terms of degree but

primarily follows a binary principle

that is either speakers use a particular

consonant or continental feature or they

don't look at these examples here now

depending on the dialect you speak the

English dialect you speak you might

realize orthographic are either as an

alveolar approximant as an RP or as an

alveolar flap as for example in Scottish

English or take the German orthographic

CH especially at the beginning of words

now you might in standard German use the

palatal fricative as in china hemi china

chemistry whereas in some selected

variants of german we might use the

velar plosive as in kina or chemi so we

have the choice between two variants in

each case an either/or but nothing in

between decision now vocalic variation

by contrast is gradual take the two low

back vowels as presented here or as in

British English cut verses or as in

British English Court now there is a

clear-cut difference between them in RP

however there are varieties where they

have merged to become just one phoneme

in many parts of North America for

example in Canada or the west of the

United States however there are in

betweens for example in some parts of

the United States where there's this

where there's still a difference even if

this difference is not as big as in

Arpi so vowels may involve gradual

differences that is a vowel can be more

or less front can be more or less high

or low and this allows us to build

phonological Maps not only in an

either-or fashion but in terms of

gradients ease

however gradual variation is extremely

difficult to identify

let's nevertheless try and do it here

you have three North American vowels

let's listen first brah

cut cut now as well educated linguists

you must be in a position to locate them

on a vowel chart so let's breath move

them into their position so I would say

that this is a back wall which is

slightly fronted cut this is a low wall

which is lower than cardinal vowel

number six cut and the one in court is a

vowel which is close to cardinal vowel

number six

such impressionistic judgments are

relatively unreliable vocalic studies

are thus mostly supported by precise

spectrographic analysis of the vocalic

formant frequencies involved one

question in comparative phonology

concerns the general organization of

McCulloch systems more precisely the

predictability of vocalic changes that

is are there tendencies that vowels

arrange themselves according to

particular patterns well let's look at

this problem in more detail most

languages have their vowels evenly and

widely distributed over the chart

exhibiting a triangular vowel pattern so

this would be the simplest one we have

one front vowel one back vowel which

corresponds to this front vowel so it is

produced with the same tongue height and

we have one

central vowel like this so this would

then constitute a neat triangular

pattern such a pattern can be found in a

language such as Greenlandic however

such a pattern is the exception rather

than the rule I will now present two

vocalic patterns one consisting of five

vowels and one consisting of seven

vowels and the languages are taken from

the virtual English this campus language

index namely Spanish with five vowels

and Romanian with seven vowels now here

we have Spanish with five vowels visa

basic acyl volta boodle and again we

have a nice triangular pattern with a

central vowel at the bottom and two

front vowels which have a back vowel

counterpart let's look at Romanian next

now this speaker from sibiu in romania

has seven vowels in better half okay

and this would be ident almost identical

to Spanish but now we have to further

vowels namely two central vowels contact

Y so again we have our triangular


but this time we also have in the middle

bowels that can be added to the pattern

Romanian belongs to the majority of

languages that have between five and

seven vowels these examples show that

languages seem to develop geometrical

vowel patterns each front vowel has a

corresponding back vowel and vice versa

this phenomenon has become known as

pattern congruence but what about those

languages where this is superficially

not the case for example RP let's look

at the tense vowels in RP now the tense

vowels in RP are the green ones the

light green ones well here we have of

course a front ball with the back ball

counterpart but what about this one

where is the counterpart and furthermore

this back ball which for many speakers

is even further back than for this one

what about the counterpart well we might

argue that this counterpart is

developing right now for example if you

look at some varieties of English North

American for example then you know that

the diphthong a in British English as in

say is treated as a monophthong in North

American English and that relaxed low

front vowel as in ah as in Ashe is

raised in some varieties of English and

is becoming longer as in man

so the congruent pattern seems to


in German now the German tense

monophthongs constitute an almost

perfect pattern let's look at it now

here we have a speaker from central

Germany speaking standard German let's

listen to the two vowels I have in folk

first feet now this means the bed in the

garden it's clearly a high front ball

beat and this Velen means English select

Valen it's a mid vowel but what about

the counterparts the back vowel

counterparts well this one can clearly

be associated with this one but what

about the counterpart here it doesn't

exist and for this reason there's a

sound shift going on in standard German

where many Germans merge these two

vowels so they become identical just

like the two low back vowels in North

American English let's listen to one

example now here we have a speaker from

Berlin well and this speaker has clearly

merged these two vowels beat ela and now

the pattern is in line again because we

do not have to take care of these mid

low vowels anymore having discussed the

distribution of vowels on the cardinal

vowel chart let us now look at the

mechanisms of vocalic change now in many

languages vocalic changes often affect

the entire vowel system and not just

individual vowels in North American

English for example the status of the

short or as in cot and dog and the short

as in ash and hat will influence the

behavior of the rest of the vowel system

this system effect can be observed in

the so-called northern cities shift NCS

which is a series of innovations in the

vowels of the English spoken in the

urban centers around the Great Lakes

for example Detroit Chicago and so on

the result of the northern cities shift

is that each of a series of vowels

seems a new place of articulation along

the parameters of tongue advancement

front back or tonight the low vowels are

advanced so here are the low bounds

they move to the front one of the high

vowels and the mid vowels they are

retracted so here the most well-known

system effect in the history of English

is the great vowel shift GBS are roughly

between 1350 and 1555 of the seven long

monophthongs of middle english were

raised and to two top ones here

they were diphthong guised system

effects are triggered by individual

vocalic changes so let's finally look at

these in more detail the first group of

vocalic changes that I want to introduce

involves vowels where the change has no

particular direction or location on the

chart this one here this picture stands

for the effect of merging two vowels

into one well

the Lobeck merger as in Cottard court or

the em8 merger in the south of the

United States where pin and pin are

pronounced identically may be examples

the opposite is called splitting or

split and a typical example this is the

short a split that affects the English

spoken in New York City in the southern

states of the United States we have an

effect that can be called breaking where

one vowel especially the vowel of short

I is a little bit gray

and then it is broken into several parts

with a glide in between this effect has

become known as the Southern drawl and

it affects words like Kant which would

be pronounced as Kant in the south of

the United States in addition to these

non positional changes we have vowel

shifts that can be located on the chart

for example we might have something we

want to call raising so if a vowel

changes from a low tongue position to a

higher tongue position it is raised now

a typical effect would be the short

raising where something like man

mechanic becomes man the opposite would

be lowering and then finally if valves

move to the center well then we have an

effect of centering let's summarize the

whole system seemed to organize

themselves in a systematic way congruent

patterns seem to be the target of this

self-organization process and as soon as

incongruent patterns emerged through

general effects of language change sound

shifts come into action that repair

these deficits by re-establishing a

congruent pattern these sound shifts may

affect just two vowels or the entire

vocalic system with a great vowel shift

and the northern city shift we have

presented some well-known examples from

the history of English and from

present-day English