[ExI] Genes and the Great Vowel Shift

Tom Nowell nebathenemi at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Feb 24 22:55:23 UTC 2008

The Great Vowel Shift is a linguistic mystery, so it
may be premature to suggest a genetic basis. Given the
current disparity in the ways vowels are pronounced
(how I pronounce the A's in bath & grass are different
from my friends in Yorkshire and most americans would
pronounce them), and how language is influenced by the
media I would say that there may be an equal shift
going on now.
 Although the printing press may have standardised
spellings a good deal, it did not nearly as much as
the works of Samuel Johnson's dictionary on English,
and Mr. Webster's dictionary on American, which come a
good deal later. In one book I read on literacy
education, it was claimed the biggest problem with
english spelling is that there are 43 or 44 sounds
(depending on which linguists you follow), 26 letters,
and several different ways of spelling the same sound.
While Clare (or Claire) the bear with hair to spare is
economical on sounds, it shows a lot of spelling
Also, while the written word may have a strong
influence on some parts of a language, it doesn't
necessarily follow that it will affect the spoken
pronunciation. I don't know how accurate the factoid
that "Cantonese and Mandarin are completely
interchangeable when written down, but spoken very
differently" is, but that would suggest writing hasn't
affected the language of the people who invented paper
too much. Norwegian has two written forms, and I don't
know how much effect this has on the spoken language.
I could read as many American novelists as I liked,
and an American could read as many English authors as
he liked, and it wouldn't affect our pronunciation.
 I think changes in pronunciation are more likely due
to radio and TV now, and the pace may well have
accelerated. I'm certainly familiar with large amounts
of americanisms thanks to LA's television industry,
and many people around the world are familiar with the
"mockney" accents of British gangster movies. I'm sure
these media affect the vocabulary we're familiar with
and expressions we use, but I don't know how much
effect they have on pronunciation.

Finally, to add that most serious of academic
resources to my posting, here are some youtube clips
to aid understanding of 20th century accents:





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