vowel shiftHoly cow! It's coming! No, wait—it's here. By my reckoning, we're present at the start of the next GREAT VOWEL SHIFT.

Okay, so maybe not "great," but it feels like a vowel shift, nonetheless.

So what's the Great Vowel Shift? From approximately 1400 to 1700, vowel sounds in England underwent a gradual but profound change. But MORE on that LATER.

Right now, I'm referring to our own pronunciation of the letters A and E—not the long forms as in mate or meet, but the short forms, mat or met.

Have you noticed the pronunciation for the following words—ANY… MANY… CAN… MEN… BEEN… WHEN… GET? There are more, but these are enough for argument's sake.

In fact, say the words to yourself OUT LOUD. Do you hear a short-i creeping in? Not the long vowel as in iPhone but the short—as in Fitbit.

They sound like this: "Do you have INNY donuts?" "How MINNY would you like?" "Stop WHIN you GIT to 100." Or this "Now is the time for all great MIN to come to the aid of their country."

Ah, it's just a Southern regionalism, you say. NOPE. You can hear it on national TV, radio, podcasts, and film—and from people in all parts of the country.

So what's happening?

What's happening is PHONETICS. It's easier to say "min" rather than "men" … or "inny" rather than "any"—because the mouth doesn't have to open as wide and the tongue can rest comfortably in the middle. Phonetically, it's NOT AS MUCH WORK.

But now… back to the Great Vowel Shift. No one knows precisely when or where in England it started, or why (theories abound), but the end result was a NOTICEABLE CHANGE in vowel pronunciation.

Mostly it affected the long vowels. BITE once sounded like beet, MATE like maht, BOOT like boat—only three examples, but you get the idea.

Today, some 300 years later—during our own not-so-GREAT VOWEL SHIFT—I wonder if we'll end up losing the short A and E vowels, particularly if they're followed by the consonant N. I, too, am guilty of these HOMICIDAL tendencies.

Try saying the following words—ones in which I find myself replacing the en sound with in. Here they are: INCOUNTER … INDEAR … INGRAVE … INJOY  … INLIVEN … INSURE … INTANGLE … INVELOP  (the verb form) … INVIRONMENT. (Don't worry, the spelling won't actually change, just pronunciation.)

Languages are like living organisms, evolving over time. Usually we think it means the addition of new words to the dictionary, but it also refers to pronunciation. Language is living history, and it SOUNDS like we're in the midst of it.

william shakes pear

To shake or not to shake. That is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous surnames…
or just shake the damn pear.

snacks not snakes4

A Tweet, and not from you-know-who. But it's so funny that we felt it was worth sharing.

The Pflugerville Library, btw, is real … as is the town. But you won't find it in Minnesota, or anywhere near Lake Wobegone. Pflugerville is actually in Texas, about 15 miles north of Austin. Go figure.

Gotta love librarians!

grammar policeThey're off their game … unless maybe they've already thrown in the towel — because sometimes it feels like nobody's out there doing the dirty work, pulling in the perps. I'm talking about the Grammar Police.

Celebrities, politicians, pundits, authors, even the vaulted New York Times — all of them — are getting away with grammatical homicide.

This one came in today. It's subtle all right, but indicative of a downward slide into lawlessness. I count 2 "lock-em-ups" right off the bat. So let's read it and unpack it.

There's people that have been trying to line up for the opportunity.

 

1. THERE'S people
Oops: "people" is plural, so we say, "There are people" or "There're people." We don't say, "There is people" or "There's people."

  1. There're books in the library. — There's a book on the table.
  2. There're mice in the field. — There's a mouse in the house.
  3. There're lots of people. — There's a lot of people.


2. There's people THAT
Oops again: "people" are, well … people, and we use who when referring to homo sapiens. "That" or "which" refers to things.

  1. The person who gave me the book is my aunt.
  2. The aunt who gave me the book is my favorite.
  3. The people who read the book loved it.
  4. The ones who loved the book are my friends.

 



Both of these are common crimes. Pay attention and you'll start noticing how often you hear "there's" instead of "there're" … and "that" instead of "who."

Okay, then. Let's have another go at the sentence:

There're people who have been trying to line up for the opportunity.


Even better is this (try to avoid starting a sentence with "there"):

People have been trying to line up for the opportunity.


Let's face it, though: does any of it really matter? For me, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard, but in the larger scope of things … I'm not sure it does matter.

*Oops! Here's another one just in: "There’s help-wanted ads everywhere." —1/11/2018



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