The Great Vowel Shift (GVS) and other big changes from Early Modern English to Contemporary English:

The Great Vowel Shift was a major change in the pronunciation of the English language. It was presumably the most significant sound change in the history of the English language. It started approximately in the 14th century and persisted into the 16th century. During that period most of the English vowels shifted their pronunciation.

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In the Early Middle English period, before the Great Vowel Shift, the vowel in the word "moon" was pronounced [o]; it sounded like our modern word "moan." Today, the vowel in "moon" is pronounced [u]. The word "moon" shifted its pronunciation from [mon] to [mun]. If we visualize this shift in terms of the phonetics chart for vowels, we could say that the English vowels shifted up the chart. The high vowels boost the chart and became diphthongs. The Great Vowel Shift did not involve a front and back vowel change.

It affects long vowels through the loss of vowel length and diphthongization. But there were further changes in this time:

  • Short vowels were influenced in writing as well as in pronunciation.

  • Therefore, Prosody, which means specific stresses on words and graphics, commas, capitalization and apostrophes, had changed.

Further Details about the changes at that time:

  • Consonants:
    • significant changes in speech sound, for example:
      • addition of phonemic velar nasal [] as in []
      • addition of voiced alveopalatal fricative [] as in '[].
      • The disappearance of allophones, for example:
        • [] after vowel;
        • [] before []: (sight, caught, straight)
      • loss of [] after low back vowel and before labial or velar consonant: (half, palm, talk)
      • loss of [] in consonant clusters with []: (castle, hasten).
      • [] got lost in initial position before []: (gnaw, gnome, know, knight).
      • [] got lost in initial position before [] : (wrong, wrinkle, wrist).

  • Long Vowels:
    • The loss of vowel length
    • Long vowels came to be pronounced in higher positions of which the highest were diphthongized.

  • Short vowels:
    • The further loss of final unstressed “–e”.
    • Significant changes in speech sound.
      • [] became [].
      • [] before [] became [] (all, fall, walk, want, wash, reward).
    • lax [] and [] stable are attested by alternate spellings: (rever/river, derect/direct, niver/never).
      • [] followed by nasal became []: (wenge>wing, sengle>single).
    • [] tended to lower: (fer>far, sterre>star, derk>dark).

  • Diphthongs

    • Diphthongs had the tendency to smooth into simple vowels.
    • New diphthongs came into being, for example:
      • [] became [] like pure, mute, hew, cute.
      • after non labials [] became [] like new, glue or rude.
      • [] was diphthongized to [] and became [] in Modern English.
      • [] was diphthongized to [] and became [] in Modern English.

  • Prosody
    • Rising pitch in questions and falling pitch in statements.
    • Tendency to stress the first syllable
    • Variant pronunciations were common.
    • The extensive use of contractions. Contractions like “'tis” were preferred in Early Modern English.

  • Graphics
    • the Elizabethan Alphabets had just 24 letters.
    • “v” was used at beginning of words, “u” in the middle of words. “v” and “u” had the same meaning.
    • ”i” and “j” are used interchangeably.
    • By the end of the 17 century spelling was fixed in printed words.
    • Common nouns were often capitalized.
    • Comma replaced the virgule.
    • Apostrophes are used in contractions.