English Phonetics.... || Fonética Inglesa

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ZombiekE
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English Phonetics.... || Fonética Inglesa

Postby ZombiekE » 2003-03-02, 12:30

Hello, I've always wondered why English has a so strange system ,specially for vowels. I read somewhere that English was a mixture of German + French.... I've studied both languages, and all their sounds are the same everywhere, in german, ei sounds always /ai/ or ie is a long i or something like that, so, what happened to English to make differences between for example, lead (sounds /lid/ ) and weapon (where ea doesn't sound i )?

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Hola, Siempre me he preguntado por qué el Inglés tiene un sistema de fonéticas tan extraño, especialmente para las vocales. Leí en algún lugar que el inglés era una mezcla de alemán + francés.... He estudiado ambos idiomas y todos sus sonidos son los mismos en cualquier parte, en alemán, ei suena como /ai/ o ie corresponde con una i larga o algo así, entonces, qué le ocurrió al inglés para hacer diferencias entre, por ejemplo, lead (suena /lid/) y weapon (donde ea no suena i)?

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Postby Saaropean » 2003-03-02, 14:28

First of all, let me emphasize that English is not really a mixture of German and French (not even Luxembourgish is). It's a West Germanic language, thus related to Frisian, Dutch, Luxembourgish and German (in this order), with heavy (old) French influence.

What about the following explanation: The pronunciation of a language can change considerably over the centuries, but once a common spelling is accepted, it is rather difficult to change it.
Spelling is always a trade-off between etymology and phonology. Some orthographies concentrate more on etymology, others less. Compare, for example, French "physique" and Spanish "física". The first syllable is pronounced /fi/ in both languages, but in French, you can still see how it was written in Ancient Greek.
This is just hypothetic, but maybe English adapted common spelling rules much earlier than Spanish, and maybe the English pronunciation (especially the vowels) changed more radically in the meantime.
Besides, there are regional variations such as the A pronounced /a:/ in Britain and /æ/ in North America. It would be difficult to create a phonetic spelling for both dialects. Besides, people have been arguing about making English spelling (more) phonetic for more than a century to abolish things like the fish spelled ghoti.........

By the way: German IE is pronounced as a long i, not "something like that". 8)
Last edited by Saaropean on 2003-03-02, 17:29, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Zoroa » 2003-03-02, 16:28

I do not agree as for the etymology. French is much closer to Ancient Greek : indeed the Greek phi is a P plus a breathing (hence the modification when conjugating verbs) and was of course pronounced like an F. My Greek teacher told us to always remember the letter phi as a P rather than a F, the ksi as K+S rather than x and so on...

French is thus closer to ancient Greek than Spanish.

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Postby Saaropean » 2003-03-02, 17:27

Zoroa wrote:I do not agree as for the etymology. French is much closer to Ancient Greek : indeed the Greek phi is a P plus a breathing (hence the modification when conjugating verbs) and was of course pronounced like an F. My Greek teacher told us to always remember the letter phi as a P rather than a F, the ksi as K+S rather than x and so on...

French is thus closer to ancient Greek than Spanish.

Sorry, but I don't understand what you're trying to tell me. The French word "physique" is pronounced /fizik/ and Spanish "física" is pronounced /fisika/, so the modern pronunciation resembles the Modern Greek pronunciation /fisiki/, not the Ancient Greek one with an aspirated P and a different vowel.
The difference between the first syllable in "physique" and "física" is the spelling. French spelling rules use TH for a Greek theta, RH for a rho, Y for an ypsilon, PH for a phi and CH for a chi, while those letters are written as they are spoken in Spanish: T, R, I, F, C.
The origin for this spelling difference is very simple: Spanish grammarians decided to write words the way they are pronounced, while French grammarians decided it would look better to use an etymological spelling that shows where the word comes from.
So French is not closer to Ancient Greek, but its spelling is more etymological than Spanish spelling.
In English you write "physics" and say /fiziks/, in German you write "Physik" and say /fyzik/. Is there a language that pronounces this word with an (aspirated) P at the beginning?


PS: I've just discovered a little typo in my post. Of course the sentence with /fi/ should say but in French, you can still, not in Spanish. Would be quite illogical otherwise, eh?

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Postby Emandir » 2003-03-02, 21:35

Ah, french spelling!
Thought it won't help ZombiekE about english pronunciation, Saaropean and Zoroa's previous posts reminded me of the french word for time : temps which was written tens, tans and such things matching the pronunciation (depends on Regions, in fact) during the Middle-Age, but that Renaissance's Grammarians decided we should write like we do nowadays T.E.M.P.S to remind the Latin tempus (very useful in everyday's life!)...

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Jehan-Luc ?

Oops, I forgot:
Like Zombie, I really wonder why English pronunciation is so weird, where does it come that it is now so different from any other Germanic language?
Could it be because Great Brittain is an island? (Well, two islands, indeed!)
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Postby NulNuk » 2003-03-02, 21:59

NulNuk think English ppl all are dislectics and they dont know how
to spell right ,they should learn from NulNuk :0P
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Postby ekalin » 2003-03-03, 1:24

The fact is that English pronunciation was not always like it is now. In the time of Chaucer, for example, the vowels had a pronunciation closer to what one would expect, and with less variations. But with time they changed, but spelling was kept. All languages have sound changes (though generally not as much as English had), but generally spelling reforms are made to adequate the written language to the spoken language. Just get a text some 100 or 200 years older in your favourite language, and you will probably find some differences in spelling.

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Postby Car » 2003-03-03, 16:18

Could it have something to do with the number of loan words? Many languages adapt the pronunciation or spelling quite well, why I think English doesn't do that as well (although the languages does adapt the pronunciation...). Having many words from many different languages which weren't adapted very well, the result can only be a mess.

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Postby Saaropean » 2003-03-03, 17:06

Car wrote:Could it have something to do with the number of loan words? Many languages adapt the pronunciation or spelling quite well, why I think English doesn't do that as well (although the languages does adapt the pronunciation...). Having many words from many different languages which weren't adapted very well, the result can only be a mess.

That's okay for the hundreds of French words in English, but many words with a "weird" pronunciation are Germanic...

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Postby Car » 2003-03-03, 19:17

Saaropean wrote:That's okay for the hundreds of French words in English, but many words with a "weird" pronunciation are Germanic...


But they didn't get into English together, i.e. in different times and the other Germanic languages plus English had sound changes, too.

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Postby Pittsboy » 2003-03-12, 23:49

English spelling is so not regular due to the long History of invasions that Britain has suffered along times. English has suffered the influence of people from Scandinavia, from the Roman Empire and their spelling and borrowing of words, then invasions by French, who decided to change completely how words were spelt and borrowed many other words and so on. All this led to a confusion of spelling, aggravated even more byt Vowel Shift and other sound changes... a good read on the subject is David Crystal's "Encyclopedia of The English Language" - Cambridge.

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Re: English Phonetics.... || Fonética Inglesa

Postby Kirk » 2005-05-27, 5:32

ZombiekE wrote:Hello, I've always wondered why English has a so strange system ,specially for vowels. I read somewhere that English was a mixture of German + French.... I've studied both languages, and all their sounds are the same everywhere, in german, ei sounds always /ai/ or ie is a long i or something like that, so, what happened to English to make differences between for example, lead (sounds /lid/ ) and weapon (where ea doesn't sound i )?


Well, obviously, this topic can be pretty complex, but the main reason for the fact that orthographical vowels often don't match up with their "expected" (read: Continental European) values, is that English had those expected vowels at one time, but major vowel shifts have occurred since. English, unlike Spanish, often has dialectal variations largely based on vowels (there are relatively few differences in consonants amongst English dialects, comparatively). This is fueled by the fact that English has a lot more vowels all vying for space in the mouth, leading to a more unstable and "nomadic" vowel system over the long run. Periodic vowel shifts are almost expected in English. The "Great Vowel Shift" completed in Southern UK English by the 1500-1600s is an excellent example of this. While printing presses played a role in solidifying English spelling with the older values, not long after English began experiencing a major shift in vowel qualities, yet the older spellings were kept. This doesn't necessarily pose a problem because they changes were pretty systematic. For example, in the Great Vowel Shift, the following changes very regularly occurred:

[ɑː] --> [e] as in "name"
[eː]--> [i] as in "sheep"
[iː]--> [aɪ] as in "ice"

[ɔ]--> [o] as in "boat"
[oː]--> [u] as in "moon"
[u:] --> [aʊ] as in "house"
[aʊ]--> [ɔ] as in "draw"

More recent examples of vowel shifts, at least in North American English, may be found in the Northern Cities Vowel Shift and the California Vowel Shift, where whole chain-shifts are occurring, basically where several vowels are playing musical chairs and taking their neighbors' former places. Again, this doesn't really pose a problem for spelling because the changes are systematic. Check out the wikipedia articles to see examples of those chain shifts:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_English

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_c ... owel_shift

(I actually wrote the California one, not to toot my own horn, but I do hope it helps) :)

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Postby greg-fr » 2005-06-15, 6:19

To some extent (Middle) English is (was) a mixture of (Old) French and (a form of Old Low) 'German'.

According to many sources based on a survey conducted the 70’s or so, here's the etymological distribution of the English lexicon :
French : 30 %
Latin : 30 %
Greek : 5 %.
Old Norse + Dutch + Old English + Middle English : 25 %
Rest : 10 %.
These figures result from an extrapolation assumed to be valid for the entire vocabulary (including recherché and scientific words, for instance), that is not limited to the basic vocabulary used everyday in the spoken language (70 % Germanic, in this case).

Most Romance words (as opposed to Latin ones) that are found in the English lexicon derive either from Old French, Middle French or Modern French.

As for the Old French period (ie : Early Middle English and Late Middle English, from 1100 to 1400 roughly), it would be interesting to split Old French proper and Ultramanican(1) Old French, (ancien français d’outre-Manche) because it’s the latter variant of OF that had been a living language of England for 300 years. UOF – or En <Anglo-French> = Fr <anglo-normand> – was by far the most significant written code used in England between 1250 and 1350, not Middle English. Also, most of the English-speaking élite of that time used UOF as a spoken vernacular in many occasions (code switch). The path taken by UOF – as opposed to OF proper – was retained in LME (Late Middle English) as LME finally replaced UOF as England’s sole written language : this may be the cause of the innumerable faux-amis linking and dividing Modern French and Modern English. Trilingualism was not uncommon among the members of the educated class living under Plantagenêt rule : UOF, Middle English and Latin. This is perhaps why Chaucer’s texts and LME literary production look clearly ‘Frenchified’ : UOF as a living language seem to have disappeared as it was ‘transferred’ into Middle English.

All this had obvious consequence on words and syntax and possibly on phonology and orthography. Although it must be noted that OF vowel-system was clearly distinct from that of Modern French (more diphthongs ‘as’ in today’s English) while the Great Vowel Shift was posterior to EME and LME (today’s French and ME ‘shared’ many vowels in common).

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Postby greg-fr » 2005-06-15, 8:13

(1)Ultramanican

A neologism indicating Old French spoken and written across the Channel : ‘ancien français d’outre-Manche’.

Francophones tend to use Fr <anglo-normand> to refer to England’s Old French although William’s troops were by no means exclusively Normans and post-conquest, non-Norman, Romantic influence on UOF is not negligible.

En <Anglo-French> would seem to be more accurate but <Anglo-> may too denote either a language or a country. It is the latter acceptation only that is valid as UOF was not a mix of Middle English and Old French : it was an Old French variant with few ME loanwords, at least as far as medieval scripta seem to hint (weren’t it, though, for sporadic lexical ‘borrowings’ by UOF-natives or lexical ‘transfers’ operated by UOF/ME bilinguals before ME replaced UOF as official written code). The closest language to a kind of mix of English and French was Late Middle English, not UOF.

‘British Old French’ may be considered a disambiguated near-equivalent of En <Anglo-French> as ‘British’ may suggest the British Isles – that is not a language. The problem, though, is that ‘British’ conveys, too, a political meaning in addition to the one related to geography : ‘British’ used to mean the postmedieval political union formed by Great-Britain and Ireland and now means that formed by Great-Britain and Northern Ireland.

<Ultramanican> avoids such anachronism, is strictly limited to geography and doesn’t refer to either Norman or English (‘Anglo‘).


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