Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
linguistic provinces is unfortunate. There are likely to be fundamental relations between them and their respective histories that we do not yet fully grasp. After all, if speech sounds exist merely because they are the symbolic carriers of significant concepts and groupings of concepts, why may not a strong drift or a permanent feature in the conceptual sphere exercise a furthering or retarding influence on the phonetic drift? I believe that such influences may be demonstrated and that they deserve far more careful study than they have received.
This brings us back to our unanswered question: How is it that both English and German developed the curious alternation of unmodified vowel in the singular (foot, Fuss) and modified vowel in the plural (feet, Füsse)? Was the pre-Anglo-Saxon alternation of fot and föti an absolutely mechanical matter, without other than incidental morphological interest? It is always so represented, and, indeed, all the external facts support such a view. The change from o to ö, later e, is by no means peculiar to the plural. It is found also in the dative singular (fet), for it too goes back to an older foti. Moreover, fet of the plural applies only to the nominative and accusative; the genitive has fota, the dative fotum. Only centuries later was the alternation of o and e reinterpreted as a means of distinguishing number; o was generalized for the singular, e for the plural. Only when this reassortment of forms took place16 was the modern symbolic value of the foot: feet alternation clearly established. Again, we must not forget that o was modified to ö (e) in all manner of other grammatical and derivative formations. Thus, a pre-Anglo-Saxon hohan (later hon) to hang corresponded
Note 16. A type of adjustment generally referred to as analogical leveling. [back]