THE GREAT VOWEL SHIFT—CHAUCER’S PRONUNCIATION.

THE GREAT VOWEL SHIFT—CHAUCER’S PRONUNCIATION. Being a part of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift has a romance for me because it is reminiscent of the Great Vowel Shift which separates Chaucer’s pronunciation from ours. This wikipedia article describes the Great Vowel Shift, which took place between the 1100’s and the 1700’s, with the main change being in the 1400’s and early 1500’s. The main effect was in the pronunciation of long vowels. “Prior to the Great Vowel Shift, these vowels had “continental” values much like those remaining in Italian and liturgical Latin.” If you have heard the beginning of the Canterbury Tales with the equivalent of “showers” being pronounced with a vowel sound like that in the current word “boot”, you will get an idea of the changes. This article on Chaucer gives another example: the “Middle English “long e” in Chaucer’s “sheep” had the value of Latin “e” (and sounded like Modern English “shape”). The shift came from changes in the position of the tongue in the mouth when the words were spoken. The wikipedia article says:”The exact causes of the [Great Vowel Shift] are continuing mysteries in linguistics and cultural history.” The same is true for the Northern Cities Vowel Shift that is in progress today.

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One Response to THE GREAT VOWEL SHIFT—CHAUCER’S PRONUNCIATION.

  1. RAB says:

    You realize, of course, that in grad school we all called it “the Great Vowel Movement.”

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