[ExI] Genes and the Great Vowel Shift

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Feb 24 05:48:31 UTC 2008

Keith writes

> One of the mysteries of the past is why both German
> and English underwent a serious shift between 1200
> and 1600 in the way vowels are spoken.

It's a good one.  We could surmise that following 1600 greater
communication and the printing press could have retarded such
changes. Does anyone know how the interval 800-1600

> Having read Gregory Clark's works on this period, I wonder
> if the shift was partly due to shifts in gene frequencies?

Outrageous.  But is it outrageous enough?   :-)

If it was parallel to Clark's theory, then the richer classes
would be infiltrating the poorer classes with their genes,
and we would expect tendencies towards differential
pronunciation among classes. While in England there
was such a differential between Anglo and French, surely
the same thing was not occuring in lockstep on the continent.

So what on Earth could be the mechanism?  After all, we
must have differential selection at work, I cannot think of
any effect (outside of science fiction) that would cause 
those skilled at a certain kind of pronunciation to have
more children.

Except, of course, fashion.  Sexual selection could indeed
do it.  But then, as is so often the case, why not lay the 
whole phenomenon at the feet of fashion.  That is, fashion
might as well be invoked in explaining the vowel shift in
the first place.


> As the gene 
> mappers get deeply into whatever changes the long period Clark writes 
> about caused in the population average, I wonder if they will find 
> genes that tend affecting vowels (or more like mouth shape) becoming 
> more common over the period of the Great Vowel Shift?  If they do, 
> chances are they will be associated with genes that enhance the 
> traits Clark notes in his work.

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