Major consonant changes in the history of English.
On the whole, consonants were historically more stable than vowels, though certain changes took place in all historical periods.
Some of the consonant changes dated in pre-written periods are referred to as "West Germanic" (WG) as they are shared by all the languages of the WG subgroup; WG changes may have taken place at the transitional stage from Proto-Germanic(PG) to Early OE prior to the Germanic settlement of Britain. Other changes are specifically English; they took place in Early OE.
1) In OE there were no affricates and sibilants except [s,z]
2) Hardening. The PG voiced [ð] (due to Verner's Law or to the third act of the shift) was always hardened to [d] in OE and other WG languages. The two other fricatives, [v] and [y] were hardened to [b] and [g] initially and after nasals, otherwise they remained fricatives.
3) PG [z] underwent a phonetic modification into [r] and thus became a sonorant (maiza→māra). This process, termed rhotacism, is characteristic not only of WG but also of North German.
4) voicing or devoicing of [v, f, θ, y, s]. In Early OE they became or remained voiced intervocally and between vowels, sonorants and voiced consonants; they remained or became voiceless in other environments, namely, initially, finally and next to other voiceless consonants.
5) In all West Germ languages, at an early stage of their independent history, most consonants were lengthened after a short vowel before [j] This process is known as WG "gemination" or "doubling" of consonants, as the resulting long consonants are indicated by means of double letters, e. g.: * fuljan > OE fyllan (NE fill)', * sætjan > OE settan<NE set)
During the process, or some time later, [j ] was lost, so that the long consonants ceased to be phonetically conditioned. The change did not affect the sonorant [r], e. g. OE werian (NE wear), nor did it operate if the consonant was preceded by a long vowel, e. g. OE deman(NE deem).
6)Loss of Consonants in Some Positions Comparison with other OG languages has revealed certain instances of the loss of consonants in WG and Early OE. Nasal sonorants were regularly lost before fricative consonants; in the process the preceding vowel was probably nasalised and lengthened. ( uns — OE ūs (NE us). Fricative consonants could be dropped between vowels and before some plosive consonants could be lost. We should also mention the loss of semi-vowels and consonants in unstressed final syllables, [j] was regularly dropped in suffixes after producing various changes in the root: palatal mutation of vowels, lengthening of consonants after short vowels.
7)In OE there were no sibilants like [ш,ж] and affricats [ч,дж]. All of them but [ж] developed on the boundary of OE and ME. [ж] is the youngest and came recently from French.
[k’→ ч] (cild- child) [g’→дж] (ecge- edge), [sk’→ш] (fisk- fish)
8)In Early New English another changes took place:
[sj → ш] (condisju:n - condition), [zj →ж](plezju:r - pleasure), [tj→ч] (natju:re - nature), [dj →дж] (souldjer - solder)
9) In the transitional period from OE to ME the voiced consonants [j] and [y] between and after vowels changed into [i] and [u]. They fused with the preceding stressed vowels into diphthongs or made the preceding short vowels long.
10) [x, x’] were not vocalized until late ME when they changed into [u] and [i]. They formed glides of diphthongs or lengthened the preceding vowel. (niht- ni:t-night).
In the final position x→f (rough[ru:x] – rough[raf])
11) Some consonants underwent positional changes like[j, r] which were vocalized finally and before consonants and continued to be used initially.
12) In 16 c. new vowel [ə:] appeared, which cause some changes of vowels before [r] and vocalization of [r]. A new monophthongs arises in the following cases:
--- I +r (dirt, fir)
--- u + r (turn, burn)
--- o + r after w (word)
---e + r (fern)
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