Phonological history of English vowels: Wikis


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In the history of English phonology, there were many diachronic sound changes affecting vowels, especially involving phonemic splits and mergers.


Tense–lax neutralization

Tense–lax neutralization refers to a neutralization, in a particular phonological context in a particular language, of the normal distinction between tense and lax vowels.

In most varieties of English, this occurs in particular before /ŋ/ and (in rhotic dialects) before coda /r/ (that is, /r/ followed by a consonant or at the end of a word); it also occurs, to a lesser extent, before tautosyllabic /ʃ/ and /ɡ/. Some examples of neutralization of /ɛ/ to /eɪ/ before /ɡ/ are beg, egg, Greg, keg, leg and peg's coming to rhyme with Craig, Hague, plague and vague.

Some varieties (including most American English dialects) have significant vocalic neutralization before intervocalic /r/, as well. See English-language vowel changes before historic r.



Low front vowels

Low back vowels

High back vowels

High front vowels


English-language vowel changes before historic r

Mergers before intervocalic r

Mergers before intervocalic r are quite widespread in North American English.

Mergers before historic coda r

Various mergers before historic coda r are very common in English dialects.

English-language vowel changes before historic l


  1. ^ John C Wells, Accents of English, Cambridge, 1982, page 402

See also


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