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Academic Paper


Title: Phonemically contrastive fricatives in Old English?
Author: Donka Minkova
Institution: University of California, Los Angeles
Linguistic Field: Historical Linguistics
Subject Language: English, Old
Abstract: The article addresses two recent hypotheses regarding the history of the English fricatives /f/???/v/, /s/???/z/, /??/???/??/: the hypothesis that phonemicization of the voicing contrast occurred in Old English, and the related claim that the reanalysis of the contrast was due to Celtic substratum influence. A re-examination of the arguments for early phonemicization leads to alternative interpretations of the observed voicing ???irregularities??? in Old English. The empirical core of the article presents the patterns of alliteration in Old and Middle English; this kind of evidence has not been previously considered in evaluating the progress of the change. The analytical core of the article is dedicated to the dynamics of categorization based on edge vs domain-internal contrasts, the relative strength of the voicing environments, and the distinction among fricatives depending on place of articulation. A comprehensive LAEME and MED database of all relevant forms reaffirms the traditional position regarding French influence for the phonemicization of voicing for the labial fricatives. The categorization of the contrast for the interdental fricatives is a language-internal prosodic process, and the history of the sibilants requires reference to both external and internal factors. The shift from a predominantly complementary to a predominantly contrastive distribution of the voiced???voiceless fricative pairs has been occurring at different rates for a whole millennium. The claim that phonemicization is attributable to Celtic influence in Old English is empirically and theoretically unsubstantiated.

CUP at LINGUIST

This article appears in English Language and Linguistics Vol. 15, Issue 1, which you can read on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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