Sound Change

1. Explain the so‐called regularity principle (“Neogrammarian hypothesis”).

-the Neogrammarians (beginning in about 1876, Germany)

- a group of younger scholars who antagonised the leaders of the field at that time by attacking older thinking and loudly proclaiming their own views

- the early Neogrammarians included Karl Brugmann, Berthold Delbriick, August Leskien, Hermann Osthoff, Hermann Paul etc.

-their slogan: sound laws suffer no exceptions → the assumption that sound chage is regular = the change takes place whenever the sound or sounds which undergo the change are found in the circumstances or environments that condition the change

Ex. In Spanish, p->b when intervocalic (no exceptions - sound change is not arbitrary)

- the regular sound changes are of high significance in historical linguistics - they are extremely important to the methods and theories about language change

2. Explain the difference between the following sound changes:

Sporadic / Regular

Sporadic = affects only a few words, not the entire language; the change is unpredictable.

Ex. OE spræc => PDE speech. Loss of r is not general – spring, spree etc. retain it

Regular = apply throughout language; are predictable

Ex. In Spanish, p changes into b when intervocalic


Conditioned sound change = dependent on certain contexts and affects only some of the sound’s occurrences.

Ex. In Spanish, p changes into b when intervocalic

Unconditioned sound change = occurs generally and is not dependent on the phonetic context or restricted by neighbouring sounds

Ex. P at the beginning of words = p.

Phonemic/phonological and Non‐phonemic/phonetic

Non-phonemic (allophonic change) do not alter the total number of phonemes in the language => non-phonemic shift = change in pronunciation (phonetic level), but no changes in phonemic level.

Phonemic = change the structural organization of the inventory of sounds – adds/deletes phonemes/basic sounds in the langauge

3. Etymological spelling: A system of spelling based not on contemporary pronunciation (phonetic spelling), but on the principle of preserving the traditional notation of words, regardless of subsequent changes in pronunciation. Viewed synchronically, etymological spelling is characterized by the preservation of the same spelling of a morpheme regardless of its changing pronunciation in different inflexional positions (eg, pot—potu [sweat, nominative–genitive singular] for the pronunciation pit—potu).

A spelling pronunciation: pronunciation of a word according to its spelling, at odds with a standard or traditional pronunciation. Words spelled with silent letters (island, often), or traditionally pronounced with reduced vowels or omitted consonants (cupboard, Worcester), may be subject to a spelling pronunciation.


Two or more distinct sounds merge into on, leaving fewer distinct sounds in the phonological inventory than there were before. E.g. Peninsular Spain I. /l/+ /j/; calle > /kalje/ > kaje Mergers are irreversible- later generations will not be able to restore the original distinctions.

Split Follows merger, merger in their environment cause the phonemic status of the sounds involved in the splits to change from being predictable conditioned variants of sounds (allophonic) to unpredictable, contrastive, distinctive sounds (phonemic). E.g. Umlaut in English Umlaut created front-vowel allophones of back vowels.

4. Explain the following concepts:


- one sound becomes more similar to another --> the influence of a neighbouring, usually adjacent, sound

- dichotomies: total-partial, contact-distant, regressive-progressive

- total - the soundbecomes identical to another by taking on all of its phonetic features

- partial - the assimilating sound acquires some traits of another, but does not become fully identical to it

-regressive - the sound that undergoes the change comes earlier in the word (more to the left) than the sound which causes or conditions the assimilation

- progressive/anticipatory - affects the sounds which come later in the word than the conditioning environment

contact - the sounds are immediately adjacent

distant - non-adjacent

a) total contact regressive assimilation: Latin octo > Italian otto (eight), noctem > notte (night)

b) total contact progressive assimilation: PIE *kolnis > Latin collis (hill); PG *hulnis > OE hyll > ModE hill; OE myln > ModE mill

c) partial contact regressive assimilation

d) partial contact progressive assimilation

e) distant assimilation

Chain shift

- interconnected changes with far-reaching impact on the overall phonological system of the language

- often attributed to notions such as "symmetry in phonemic inventories", "naturalness", "markedness", "maximum differentiation", "a tendency for holes in phonological patterns to be filled"

the general idea: sound systems tend to be symmetrical or natural, and those that are not (with gaps in the inventory(, tend to change to make them symmetrical or natural (to fill the gap) --> a change which fills one gap may create other gaps elsewhere in the system -> other changes towards symmetry

- 2 types: pull chains x push chains

- a pull chain: one change may create a hole in the phonemic pattern which is followed by another change which fills the hole by "pulling" some sounds from somewhere else in the system and changing that sound to fit the needs of symmetry --> the sound which shifted to fill the original hole in the patterns leaves a new hole elsewhere in the pattern --> some other change may "pull" some other sounds to fill that gap

- a push chain: notion that languages (or their speakers) want to maintain difference between sounds in the system in order to facilitate understanding, the processing of what is heard. A sound starts changing by moving into the articulatory space of another sounds --> change where the sound moves away from the encroaching one in order to maintain distinctions important to meaning --> if the sound is pushed towards articulatory space of some other sound, then it may shift to avoid the encroachment

Apocope (tata > tat)

- loss of a sound, usually a vowel, at the end of a word

- OE vs PDE nouns sticca> stick, sunu > son, mona > moon

Syncope (atata > atta)

- the loss of a vowel from interior of a word

- in many varieties of English = fam(i)ly, mem(o)ry

- Vulgar Latin > Western Romance languages = the unstressed vowels other than a lost in the interior of words three syllables long or longer (pópulu > poplV-, French peuple, English people)

5. Explain the following concepts: monophthongisation and diphthongisation; compensatory lengthening; metathesis; breaking.


- a change in which an original single vowel changes into a sequence of two vowel segments which together occupy the nucleus of a single syllable

- examples from English: /mis/ > /mais/ 'mice', /mus/ > /maus/ 'mouse'. We see that the original long high vowels /i/ and /u/ became /ai/ and /au/ respectively.


- the opposite of diphthongisation: a former diphthong changes into a single vowel

- an example from Spanish: tauru > toro 'bull'

Compensatory lengthening

- one segment is lost and another one (usually a vowel) is lengthened in order to compensate for the loss

- in the history of English, a nasal was lost before a fricative and the vowel was subsequently lenghtened

- ex. Proto-Germanic to English: gans > gos (> Modern English /gus/) 'goose'


- it is the transposition of sounds; sounds exchange positions within a word

- although most instances of metathesis are sporadic changes, metathesis can also be a regular change

- examples from English: OE brid > PDE bird, OE hros > PDE horse


- diphthongisation of a short vowel in particular contexts

- a term used mainly in Germanic languages, for example in discusssion of the history of English

- OE underwent the breaking of i > io, e > eo and a >ea before l or r followed by a consonant, or before h

- examples: kald >ceald 'cold', nach > neah 'near'

6. Explain the following concepts: palatalisation, gemination; allophonic change; relative chronology.


- can effect both vowels and consonants

- vowels: back vowel is fronted or front vowel is raised

- consonants: can change place or manner of articulation: (for example: velar ---palatal/ alveolar, alveolar ---- postalveolar)

- is usually conditioned and anticipatory - conditioned by front vowels (primarily 'i') or semivowel 'j'

- uncontitioned patalisation can also occur, but is not so common

Example: umlaut


- doubling of consonants - any change that produces two identical consonants from a single starting one

- in English double consonants are not distinguished phonologically, mainly a feature of spelling

- examples found in Finnish dialects

Allophonic change

- mentioned above under non-phonemic change

Relative chronology

- sound changes are distinctive to a particular period of time

- they are not all active at once - one change occurs, ceases, another can occur, sometimes conditioned by the first

- we can usually determine in what order did the changes happen = determine their relative chronology