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GREAT VOWEL SHIFT

GREAT VOWEL SHIFT. A sound change that began c.1400 and ended c.1600, changing late MIDDLE ENGLISH long, stressed MONOPHTHONGS from something like the sounds of mainland European languages to those that they now have: for example, Middle English fine had an i like Italian fino. Words that entered English after the completion of the shift have often retained the original sound, as in police: compare polite, which entered earlier. In terms of articulation, the Middle English front VOWELS raised and fronted and the back vowels raised and backed; vowels already at the top became DIPHTHONGS with ah as the first element and the old vowel as the second, as in fine (see diagram). The shift marked a major change in the transition to EARLY MODERN ENGLISH, and is one reason the works of Geoffrey CHAUCER and his contemporaries sound so unlike present-day English. Chaucer's a in fame sounded much like the a in present-day father, his e in see like the a in same, the i in fine like the ee in fee, the o in so like the aw in saw, the o in to like the oe in toe, and the ou or ow in crowd like the u in crude. See E, LATIN, JESPERSEN, VOWEL SHIFT. Compare GRIMM'S LAW.

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