Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Now You See It, Now You Don't: Middle English Lengthening in Closed Syllables. (1)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Now You See It, Now You Don't: Middle English Lengthening in Closed Syllables. (1)

Article excerpt

Es racht sich ganz einfach, sagte Reger, wenn wir uns

dazu hergeben, em Objekt einfach blind zu akzeptieren

noch dazu uber Jahre und Jahrzehnte und moglicherweise

ein ganzes Leben lang, ja gar verehren und lieben, ohne

es immer wieder auf die Probe gestellt zu haben.

Thomas Bernhard, Alte Meister

"[A copy of] the ACHILLES symbol and [a copy of] the TORTOISE symbol encounter each other inside the author's cranium

ACHILLES: Fancy meeting you here! I'd thought that our dialogue in [... Hofstadter's cranium] was the last one we'd ever have.

TORTOISE: You can never tell with [... humans]. Just when you think [... one]'s done with you, [... another one] drags you out again to perform for his readers" (Hofstadter 1985: 604). It's out of the frying pan and into the fire, I'm afraid. I mean we didn't fare too badly with Hofstadter, did we? With Ritt on the other hand I have my doubts. I don't know what he's up to, but if it's not more original than having us re-born just for the fun of it, I fear the worst.

ACHILLES: Don't be such a pessimist. After all, this is the only life we have, and it's certainly good to see you. So, tell me, what have you been up to, all these years?

TORTOISE: I don't know if this will surprise you, but I've read into the history of our mother tongue a bit.

ACHILLES: Now, that is indeed surprising, because I also happen to have developed an interest in that subject, though I wouldn't really refer to English as 'my mother tongue' ...

TORTOISE: ... and you're still calling me a pessimist, are you? (2)

ACHILLES: I beg your pardon?

TORTOISE: Never mind, you were saying?

ACHILLES: ... that English wasn't my mother tongue, but that I still enjoy reading into its history, because it is full of rather mind boggling problems. Take Middle English Closed Syllable Lengthening, for example ...

TORTOISE: My dear ACHILLES, I suppose you mean OPEN Syllable Lengthening. Have you not studied the Handbooks carefully enough?

ACHILLES: I'm sorry, of course I meant 'Open'. But you see, I have become a bit confused, because I have not only read the handbooks but also some more specialised literature on the subject ... (3)

TORTOISE: ... just to make sure we're talking about the same thing. You ARE referring to the change that explains why we say [meik] rather than [maek], [wi:v] rather than [wev] and [houp] rather than [hop]?

ACHILLES: The very same, but, you see, not all linguists agree that the long vowels, most of them now showing up as diphthongs, were indeed brought about by events and processes that deserve to be called 'Open Syllable Lengthening'.

TORTOISE: But certainly you don't deny that the ancestors of make, weave and hope were, at some stage, maken, weven and hopen, and that these word forms syllabified [ma][ken], (we][ven] and [ho][pen) so that one is justified in calling their first syllables 'open', or 'unchecked'?

ACHILLES: Actually, I could, because the principles of syllabication that you seem to be applying are not uncontested either, (4) but for the present argument I won't. Carry on, please.

TORTOISE: My point is just that if vowels in open syllables came to be lengthened by some processes, then 'Open Syllable Lengthening' strikes me as quite an appropriate term, don't you think?

ACHILLES: No, I don't. I would accept the term only, if being in an open syllable was sufficient for 'triggering' the processes that amounted to the 'lengthening', but it wasn't. And here I'm not just reminding you that only NON-HIGH and STRESSED vowels were lengthened in open syllables, and only if it was followed by exactly ONE more syllable. What I mean is that not even every non-high stressed vowel in the penultimate syllable of a word form seems to have been lengthened, if that syllable was open. Had it been, then, we ought to say ['kl[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] rather than [[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] [[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] rather than [[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] and ['di:z[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]t] rather than ['des[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]t], which we don't. …

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