Influence of the consonant “r” upon the Great Vowel Shift


When a long vowel was followed in a word by the consonant “r” the given consonant did not prevent the Great Vowel Shift, but the resulting vowel is more open, than the resulting vowel in such cases when the long vowel undergoing the Shift was followed by a consonant other than “r”. For example:


[ei] but [εə] fate but fare

[i:] but [iə] steep but steer

[ai] but [aiə] time but tire

[u:] but [uə] moon but moor

[au] but [auə] house but hour


As a result of the Great Vowel Shift new sounds did not appear, but the already existing sounds appeared under new conditions. For example:


The sound existed the sound appeared

Before the Shift after the Shift


[ei] wey make

[u:] hous moon

[i:] time see, etc.


Two short monophthongs changed their quality in New English (XVII century), the monophthong [a] becoming [æ] and the monophthong [u] becoming []. For instance:


Middle English New English

[a] > [æ] that that


[u] > [] cut cut


However, these processes depended to a certain extent upon the preceding sound. When the sound [a] was preceded by [w] it changed into [o]. Compare:

Middle English New English


[a] > [æ] that that

[a] > [o] was was


(but: wax [wæks])


Where the sound [u] was preceded by the consonants [p], [b] or [f], the change of [u] into [] generally did not take place, hence:


bull, butcher, pull, push, full, etc.


But sometimes even the proceeding consonant did not prevent the change, for instance:


Middle English New English


[u] > [л] but [but] but [bлt]


Two out of the four Middle English diphthongs changed in New English, the diphthong [ai] becoming [ei] and the diphthong [au] contracted to [O:] For example:


Middle English New English


[ai] > [ei] dai day

[au] > [o:] lawe law



Quantitative change


Among many cases of quantitative changes of vowels in new English one should pay particular attention to the lengthening of the vowel, when it was followed by the consonant [r]. Short vowels followed by the consonant [r] became long after the disappearance of the given consonant at the end of the word or before another consonant:


Middle English New English

[a] > [a:] farm farm

[o] > [o:] hors horse


When the consonant [r] stood after the vowels [e], [i], [u], the resulting vowel was different from the initial vowel not only in quantity but also in quality. Compare:



Fir [ε:]



or [h] before [t]: might, night, light.




The changes that affected consonants in New English are not numerous. They are as follows.

a. Appearance of a new consonant in the system of English phonemes – [з] and the development of the consonants [dз] and [t∫] from palatal consonants.

Thus Middle English [sj], [zj], [tj], [dj] gave in New English the sounds [∫], [з], [t∫ ], [d∫]. For example:

[sj] > [∫] Asia, ocean

[zj] > [∫] measure, treasure

[tj] > [t∫] nature, culture, century

[d] > [d] soldier

Note should be taken that the above-mentioned change took place in borrowed words, whereas the sounds [t∫], [dз], [∫] which appeared in Middle English developed in native words.

b. Certain consonants disappeared at the end of the word or before another consonant, the most important change of the kind affecting the consonant [r]:


Farm, form, horse, etc.


c. the fricative consonants [s], [θ] and [f] were voiced after unstressed vowels or in words having no sentence stress – the so-called “Verner’s Law in New English”:

possess, observe, exhibition; dogs, cats; the, this, that, there, then, though, etc.


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