[ExI] Genes and the Great Vowel Shift

Technotranscendence neptune at superlink.net
Mon Feb 25 12:36:29 UTC 2008

On Sunday, February 24, 2008 4:47 AM BillK pharos at gmail.com wrote:
> On Sun, Feb 24, 2008 at 12:21 AM, hkhenson wrote:
> >
> >  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
> >  spoken.  It's part of the reason English spelling (partly set
> >  the shift) is such a non phonetic mess.
> >
> Invasions, migrations and the printing press.
> Oh - you want more detail??
> 1066 Norman Invasion started the end of Old English.
> The nobility (and courts, etc.) spoke Old French, the commoners - Old
> The Black Death, 1350, killed about one third of the population, and
> the working classes (and their language) grew in importance. By about
> 1400 or so, the mixture was complete and England spoke Middle English.
> The next wave of innovation in English, and the Great Vowel Shift,
> came with the Renaissance, 1450 -1700.
> The printing press, Shakespeare, standardised spelling, all created
> Modern English. The dialect of London, where most publishing houses
> were located, became the standard. Spelling and grammar became fixed,
> and the first English dictionary was published in 1604.
> I don't see any need to create a mystery about it. English is still
> changing as words from other languages and fashionable accents enter
> the mix.
> BillK

I generally agree.  The problem, too, before printing and literacy
became widespread was that language change was much more rapid and more
localized.  Printing and the unification under the London dialect froze
spelling at a time while the language was still undergoing major

Of course, it's still undergoing changes, but after printing and
standardizing languages (nationalizing one dialect to become the
official one) this process has slowed down.  So my guess is language
change before standardization -- in the "interval 800-1600" as Lee puts
it -- language change was much more rapid -- even leaving aside the
Danish and Norman invasions.  Cf. John McWhorter's _The Power of Babel:
A Natural History of Language_ for more on language change and Melvyn
Bragg's _The Adventure of English_ for the particulars of such in

I don't think this tracks genetic changes.  Of course, the Danish and
Norman invasions would, but the thing is they were bringing their word
hoards to the mix and my guess would be that their genetic contribution
was small.  (With the Danes, probably tiny and limited to the North.)



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