You are on page 1of 17

ENG 4820

History of the English Language
Dr. Michael Getty | Spring 2009
WEEK 4: MOVING BEYOND THE
ABSOLUTE BASICS
WHAT SHOULD HAVE STUCK
A Language is a System of Arbitrary
Symbols…
• Which of the following best captures the concept of ‘five’?

• Kannada aydu (South Asia)
• Basque bost (Western Europe)
• Arabic xamsa (Middle East)
Answer:
• Coptic
p tiw ((Egypt)
gyp ) All of them and none
• Somali shanti (Northeastern Africa)
• Hausa biyar (Western Africa)
of them.
• Yoruba erin (Western Africa)
• Guarani po
p ((South America))
• Finnish viisi (Northern Europe)
• Indonesian lima (Southeast Asia)
• Japanese itsutsu (Eastern Asia)
• Mohawk wisk (North America)

2
ENG4820 | Week 3
WHAT SHOULD HAVE STUCK
The -emes
Phoneme: An abstract mental representation that …
• Organizes different sounds into a single mental unit

To American English speakers, the usual pronunciations
corresponding to the letter ‘t’
t in write and writer seem the
same, even though they are phonetically different.

• Distinguishes between meaning-bearing sound differences and
those that are determined only by their sound environment:

– [i] and [I]: High front tense vs. High front lax

– Greek: Two sounds
sounds, one phoneme (Kal (Kal-El
El = Superman/Clark Kent)
– [i] appears in open syllables: [ti] ‘what’
[I] sppears in closed syllables: [tIs] ‘that one’

– English: Two sounds, two phonemes (Kal-El and some other alien)

ENG4820 | Week 3 3
WHAT SHOULD HAVE STUCK
The -emes
Morpheme: An abstract mental representation that …
• Organizes different affixes into a single mental unit

– The words irrelevant, illogical, impossible, and inconsistent all
contain something that means NOT
– The words riots, kids, roses, oxen, children, and sheep all
contain something that means PLURAL

• BIG DEAL: If we see/hear an affix in some words,
words we can infer its
presence in related words that appear to not have it.
v
– The ‘null’ plural morpheme: /kId + z/ vs. /sip + Ø/

– Overt /-z/ vs. Covert /-Ø/ morphs

ENG4820 | Week 3 4
WHAT SHOULD HAVE STUCK
Regular vs. irregular morphemes

• Regular Morphemes Irregular Morphemes

– Rule-governed
R l d forms
f Arbitrary
A bit fforms; No
N rhyme
h or reason!!
– Apply to all new words Apply only to certain existing words
– Learned early by children Learned late by children
– Appear more frequently Appear less frequently

v

ENG4820 | Week 3 5
WHAT SHOULD HAVE STUCK
Regular vs. irregular morphemes
• Regular Morphemes Irregular Morphemes
– Rule-governed
Rule governed forms Arbitrary forms; No rhyme or reason!
– Apply to all new words Apply only to certain existing words

• Plural forms of nouns
– Nouns that end in [s,z] Æ /-Iz/ horse, rose
– Nouns that end in other, voiceless consonants Æ /-s/ mat, tiff
– Nouns that end in other voiced consonants Æ /-z/ lab, grave, name
• Past tense forms of verbs
– Verbs that end in [t,d] Æ /-Id/ wait, raid
– Verbs that end in other, voiceless consonants Æ /-t/ thank, laugh
– Verbs that end in other, voiced consonants Æ /-d/ beg, bathe, name
v

• P
Pretend d that
h the
h following
f ll i made-up
d wordsd are nouns or verbs:
b
biss, lozz, veck, drid
• You already know their plural forms if they are nouns, their past-
tense forms if theyy are verbs!

ENG4820 | Week 3 6
WHAT SHOULD HAVE STUCK
Regular vs. irregular morphemes
• Regular Morphemes Irregular Morphemes
– Rule-governed
Rule governed forms Arbitrary forms; No rhyme or reason!
– Apply to all new words Apply only to certain existing words

• Why oxen, children, and sheep instead of oxes,
oxes childs
childs, and
sheeps?
• For that matter, why not ox, childen, and sheepren?
• Whyyaate, o e, and
e, wrote, a ds u instead
swum stead of
o not
ot ea
eated, ed, and
ed, writed, a d
swimmed?
• For that matter, why not ote, wrate, and swom?
• Pretend that the following made-up words are nouns or verbs:
biss, lozz, veck, drid
– No one would guess plural forms like bissen, lozzren, and vock
– No one would guess past tense forms like bass, vock, or drod

ENG4820 | Week 3 7
WHAT SHOULD HAVE STUCK
Regular vs. irregular morphemes
• Regular Morphemes Irregular Morphemes
– Rule-governed
Rule governed forms Arbitrary forms; No rhyme or reason!
– Apply to all new words Apply only to certain existing words

• Language change tends to favor regularization.
regularization
– As late as the 17th century, help was an irregular verb:
help ~ halp ~ holpen
– Wed and dive are on their way towards becoming completely
regular
l
• Especially true in the course of periods of extended contact
with other languages

• The bigger picture: Regularization and re-deregularization
probably run in cycles of many thousands of years. Ask me how!

ENG4820 | Week 3 8
WHAT SHOULD HAVE STUCK
THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN WORD
AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE
• Overt case marking: A relationship between the shape
of a phrase and its role in the action of a sentence
THE KING,
KING THE BISHOP,
BISHOP AND THE DOG
• cyning = ‘king’ biscop = ‘bishop’ hund = ‘dog’
• geaf = ‘gave’ se / tham / thone = ‘the’
Giver Givee Gift
King Bishop Dog

King Dog Bishop

Bishop King Dog

Dog King Bishop

Bishop Dog King

Dog Bishop King

ENG4820 | Week 3 9
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN WORD AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE

• English has a few pieces of overt case marking left, all in the
pronouns:
(* = ungrammatical, i.e. inconsistent with what native speakers of the language say and accept as well-formed)

– He loves her
– *He loves she
– *Him loves her
– Whom/Who did you see at the party last night?
– *Whom went to the party last night?
• English had a rich overt case marking system from its pre-
historic beginnings to the 11th century CE.

ENG4820 | Week 3 10
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN WORD AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE

Wh h
What happened
dbbetween the
h 88th
h and
d 11
11th
h centuries?
i ?

• Phonological changes: Reduction of unstressed syllables, already
underway since the early Germanic period

QuickTime™ and a
QuickTime™ and a TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor
TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor are needed to see this picture.
are needed to see this picture.

Primary Stress

ENG4820 | Week 3 11
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN WORD AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE

Wh h
What happened
dbbetween the
h 88th
h and
d 11
11th
h centuries?
i ?

• Phonological changes: Reduction of unstressed syllables, already
underway since the early Germanic period

– Loss of final consonants
– Loss of range of possible vowels

• Since overt case marking in Old English is realized in unstressed
syllables, the system collapses, leaving us with the essentially fixed word
y
order system we have today.
y

ENG4820 | Week 3 12
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
THIS IS THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
IN A FOUR-WEEK-LONG NUTSHELL

• Centuries-long games of musical chairs in the inventory of phonemes
– Another taste of the Great Vowel Shift (14th to 18th c.)

• Step-by-step regularization of morphology
– holpen Æ helped
• Erosion of overt morphology to mark case, number, gender, person

• Shift from relativelyy free to relatively
y fixed word order

ENG4820 | Week 3 13
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
WHY DO LANGUAGES CHANGE?

• A
Aside
id from
f broad,
b d identifiable
id ifi bl trends
d in
i language
l change
h like
lik
the one’s we’ve discussed the past few weeks, a lot of change
appears to happen for no good reason.
• But there are still patterns
patterns, and we can drive ourselves crazy
looking for reasons for them …
• … but we may not have to!

ENG4820 | Week 3 14
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
WHY DO LANGUAGES CHANGE?

Q i k answer: Variation,
Quick V i ti Interaction,
I t ti and
d Time
Ti

• Variation is constant in language use in all communities and at
all times.
times
• We vary constantly in our pronunciation of various phonemes
and which affixes and words we use in particular contexts.
• We have a g geneticallyy endowed but mostly y subconscious ability
y
to monitor the statistical prevalence of one variant over another
in a given setting.
• Children acquiring their native language(s) are especially
sensitive to statistical patterns, and their speech tends to reflect
and amplify statistical trends in the variation to which they are
exposed.

ENG4820 | Week 3 15
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
WHY DO LANGUAGES CHANGE?

W ’
We’re going
i tto simulate
i l t this!
thi !

• You are a speaker of a pretend language, Eekspeak, and you
notice that the people in your country have different words for a
berry everyone likes to eat and make jewelry out of.
• Some call the berry eek, and some call it ook. Still others say
ahk or oke,, and some reallyy weird people,
p p , immigrants
g from a
strange land, call it kwid.
• You will be assigned one of these five variants at random.
• Get to know your neighbors, learn the names by which they call
the berry, and adjust your word according to each of the
following rules …

ENG4820 | Week 3 16
THE ABSOLUTE BASICS
WHY DO LANGUAGES CHANGE?

W ’
We’re going
i tto simulate
i l t this!
thi !
• Run #1 & #2:
If you have heard a word that is different from yours in 3 of your last 5
conversations switch to that word!
conversations,
• Royalty #1 & #2
If you talk to someone wearing a crown, change your word to what they
y
say!
• Kwid Oppression:
KWID speakers don’t change. Everyone else ignore KWID and play by
Run #1
• Kwid Rule:
If you talk to someone wearing a crown, change your word to what they
say!

ENG4820 | Week 3 17