Edward Sapir > Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech > Subject Index > Page 186
Edward Sapir (1884–1939).  Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.  1921.

Page 186
what is probably the most central problem in linguistic history, gradual phonetic change. “Phonetic laws” make up a large and fundamental share of the subject-matter of linguistics. Their influence reaches far beyond the proper sphere of phonetics and invades that of morphology, as we shall see. A drift that begins as a slight phonetic readjustment or unsettlement may in the course of millennia bring about the most profound structural changes. The mere fact, for instance, that there is a growing tendency to throw the stress automatically on the first syllable of a word may eventually change the fundamental type of the language, reducing its final syllables to zero and driving it to the use of more and more analytical or symbolic 5 methods. The English phonetic laws involved in the rise of the words foot, feet, mouse and mice from their early West-Germanic prototypes fot, foti, mus, musi 6 may be briefly summarized as follows:
  1. In foti “feet” the long o was colored by the following i to long ö, that is, o kept its lip-rounded quality and its middle height of tongue position but anticipated the front tongue position of the i; ö is the resulting compromise. This assimilatory change was regular, i.e., every accented long o followed by an i in the following syllable automatically developed to long ö; hence tothi “teeth” became töthi, fodian “to feed” became födian. At first there is no doubt the alternation between o and ö was not felt as intrinsically significant. It could only have been an unconscious mechanical adjustment such as may be observed in the speech of many to-day who modify the “oo” sound of words like you and few in the
Note 5.  See page 133. [back]
Note 6.  Primitive Germanic fot(s),fotiz, mus,musiz; Indo-European pods,podes, mus,muses. The vowels of the first syllables are all long. [back]


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