rate of language change

Theo Vennemann tvn at cis.uni-muenchen.de
Fri Jan 29 17:55:41 UTC 1999

> ...
>This new style has even reached the remote valleys of the Allegheny
>Mountains, where I come from.  In my home region, all the older
>generation, including me, have [hw-].  But, among the younger
>generation, that [h-] is completely gone.  All three of my younger
>siblings have only [w-], and never [hw-].  And my sister is only
>two-and-a-half years younger than me.

>Now *that* I call fast.  And losing an entire consonant from
>word-initial position strikes me as far from trivial.  It's rather as
>though I had grown up surrounded by people pronouncing the /k/ in words
>like `knee' and `knot', and then suddenly the whole country had stopped
>pronouncing the /k/, except for me and a few other old-timers.

Dear Larry,

It may not be a useful part of your educational effort, but from a linguistic
point of view the loss of word-initial h is a slow process which began before
stronger consonants in Old English and worked its way down the consonantal
scale until it hit the position before w. Even though w is not quite finished
yet (there are still some old-timers--your term--saying hw- such as yourself),
the sound change is now working on the pre-vocalic position. By the time of
its completion the entire sound change will probably have taken a little more
than a thousand years. This sound change has been most carefully described
and explained in chapter 1 (et passim) of the following book:

Lutz, Angelika. 1991. Phonotaktisch gesteuerte Konsonantenveraenderungen
in der Geschichte des Englischen (= Linguistische Arbeiten, 272). Tuebingen:
Max Niemeyer.

See also, by the same author:

"Lautwandel und palaeographische Evidenz: Die Wiedergabe von /h/ (<
germ. /x/) in der Lindisfarne-Glosse", Anglia, 111 (1993), 285-309.

"On the historical phonotactics of English", in Luick Revisited: Papers read
at the Luick-Symposium at SchloƟ Liechtenstein, September 15-18, 1985,
ed. by Dieter Kastovsky and Gero Bauer (Tuebingen: Narr, 1988), 221-239.

Respectfully yours, as always,

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