Growth of Sibilants and Affricates

§ 403. In OE there were no affricates and no sibilants, except [s, z].

The earliest distinct sets of these sounds appeared towards the end of OE or during the Early ME period. The new type of consonants de­veloped from OE palatal plosives [k', g'] (which had split from the corresponding velar plosives [k] and [g] in Early OE (see § 141), and also from the consonant cluster [sk']. The three new phonemes which arose from these sources were [tʃ], [dʒ] and [ʃ]. In Early ME they began to be indicated by special letters and digraphs, which came into use mainly under the influence of the French scribal tradition — ch, tch, g, dg, sh, ssh, sch (see § 357, 358).

The sound changes and examples are shown in Table 9.

Table 9

Development of Sibilants and Affricates in Early Middle English

Charge illustrated Examples
k' cild child [tʃi:ld] child
    tǣcan techen ['tɛtʃən] teach
g' ecʒe edge ['edʒa] edge
    brycʒe bridge ['bridʒə] bridge
sk' ʃ fisc fish [fiʃ] fish
    scēap sheep [ʃɛ:p] sheep

It must be added that the affricates [tʃ] and [dʒ] could also come from a different source: they entered the English language in loanwords from French, e.g. ME charme ['tʃarmə], gentil [dʒen'til] from O Fr charme, gentil ([tʃ] and [dʒ] in the Anglo-Norman pronunciation)

As a result of these changes — and also as a result of the vocalisation of [γ] (§ 360) — the consonant system in Late ME was in some respects different from the OE system. The opposition of velar conso­nants to palatal — [k, k'; γ, j] — had disappeared; instead, plosive consonants were contrasted to the new affricates and in the set of affri­cates [tʃ] was opposed to [dʒ] through sonority.

§ 404. Another development accounting for the appearance of sib­ilants and affricates in the English language is dated in Early NE and is connected with the phonetic assimilation of lexical borrowings.

In the numerous loan-words of Romance origin adopted in ME and Early NE the stress fell on the ultimate or penultimate syllable, e.g. ME na'cioun, plea'saunce (NE nation, pleasance). In accordance with the phonetic tendencies the stress was moved closer to the beginning of the word (see § 363). The final syllables which thus became unstressed, or weakly stressed, underwent phonetic alterations: the vowels were reduced and sometimes dropped; the sounds making up the syllable became less distinct. As a result some sequences of consonants fused into single consonants.

In Early NE the clusters [sj, zj, tj, dj] — through reciprocal as­similation in unstressed position — regularly changed into [ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ]. Three of these sounds, [ʃ, tʃ, dʒ], merged with the phonemes already existing in the language, while the fourth, [ʒ], made a new phoneme. Now the four sounds formed a well-balanced system of two correlated pairs: [ʃ, ʒ], [tʃ, dʒ]; see Table 10 for examples.

Table 10

Development of Sibilants and Affricates In Early New English

Change illustrated Examples
Late ME NE Late ME NE
  ʃ condicioun [kondi'sju:n] condition
    commissioun [komi'sju:n] commission
  plesure [ple'zju:r(ə)] pleasure
    visioun [vi'zju:n] vision
tj nature [na'tju:r(ə)] nature
    culture [kul'tju:r(ə)] culture
dj souldier [soul'djer] soldier
    procedure [prose'dju:rə] procedure

Compare these words to NE suit, mature, duty, where the same consonant clusters were preserved in stressed syllables. (In some Mod E words, however, we still find the sequences with [j] in unstressed position as well, usually they are secondary variants in Br E, or Amer­ican variants of pronunciation, e.g. Br E issue ['iʃju:] despite the change of [s] to [ʃ] has preserved [j]; in the American variant ['isju:] no assimilative changes have taken place. Among variants of British pronunciation there are such pairs as NE associate [ə'ʃouʃieit] and [ə'sousieit], NE verdure ['və:dʒə] and ['və:djə]; they may be due to Early NE dialectal differences or else to the fact that the assimila­tion has not been completed and is still going on in Mod E.)[45]

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