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Month: April 2021

The history of “-y” in English

When I first learned that English was a Germanic language, I didn’t really know what that meant. English and German seemed nothing alike to me. I wanted to know what it meant to be a Germanic language. English’s history is quite colourful with many of characters and lots of plot developments.

The reason Modern English is so different to Modern German is because languages change over time. People learn a language from those around them. If people can move around they bring their language with them and their speech patterns can affect the speech patterns of people elsewhere. English and German share a common ancestor, but since there is a sea between England and Germany any changes that happened in English or German over time were much less likely to affect the other.

Velarisation and assimilation in Irish (Gaeilge)

I started learning Irish and I wanted to understand velarisation in Irish.

Palatilisation and velarisation often assimilate sounds next to them to produce new sounds

“edge” comes from Proto Germanic agjō. Over time the /g/ got palatilised and the /jo/ was lost. Palatilisation produces /egʲ/ (and /a/ becomes /e/, seen in “angle-land” becoming “england”)

/dʒ/ is easier to say so /gʲ/ became /dʒ/

The same happened in Irish. Back vowels pulled the tongue backwards so /fa/ became /fˠa/

But sounds don’t like to stick around so they assimilate which means the sounds in the word change to make the pronunciation more smooth so /fˠa/ became /fɰa/. /ɰ/ is a /w/ without rounding your lips. /g/ and /w/ are both velar sounds. /g/ is a velar stop where the throat closes and then opens to release air. /ɰ/ is basically a un-stopped /g/

Later on the /a/ sound shifted to an /i/ so we have /fˠi/. We know it must have been a back vowel before because otherwise the f wouldn’t be velarised. So “faoi” is written like that to indicate velarisation, and its IPA transcription is /fˠiː/ which has long since just become assimilated to /fɰi/ which sounds a bit like /fwi/

I like looking in depth at parts of language so that I can get to grips with what is actually happening and it allows me to notice things that I haven’t noticed before.