An Historical Study of English: Function, Form, and Change

By Jeremy Smith | Go to book overview
Save to active project


Transmission II: sound-change


In Chapter 3, it was observed that linguistic variation arose in two ways: through divergence from a common inherited ancestor, and through contact with other varieties or languages, that is, through the interaction of intra- and extralinguistic phenomena. In the last chapter, the standardisation of written English in particular was placed within its extra-linguistic and intralinguistic context. In this chapter, the attention shifts to the transmission of the spoken mode, that is, phonology and phonetics, and it will be observed that dynamic interaction between extra- and intralinguistic processes is similarly of key importance. In short, it is argued here that a given sound-change is the result of a number of factors, both intra- and extralinguistic, acting in combination.

Historical linguists have traditionally focused their attention on soundsystems-that is, phonology-rather than phonetic detail, and there are good reasons for this. If we leave aside the science of phonological reconstruction, the history of sounds, before the widespread use of mechanical and electronic methods of recording language in the twentieth century, has to depend on the study of written language. As was noted in Chapter 2, alphabetic writing-systems, such as that in which English is and has been recorded, are designed to distinguish the smallest meaningfully distinctive units of language, and are thus broadly phonemic in the way in which they map the spoken mode-even though, given spelling-traditions, this mapping may reflect an earlier stage in the language's history.

Linguists have traditionally compiled a language's or variety's phonemic inventory by noting the existence of 'minimal pairs', that is, pairs of words in which a difference of a single sound in an identical phonetic environment indicates a difference of meaning. To distinguish allophones (i.e. varying realisations of phonemes) in orthography is in principle uneconomical and would be communicatively confusing. Efficient written communication therefore depends on a correlation between grapheme and phoneme. As a result, we can expect at least a tendency for allophonic variation not to be reflected in the written mode.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
An Historical Study of English: Function, Form, and Change


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 225

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?