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Nothing's been the same since the Great Vowel Shift

Dear Matt:

Why is the English language so jacked up? Why do sometimes we pronounce "i" as "i" and other times as "e"? I'm thinking of starting a language where no "i" can be pronounced "e." It's just disrespect.

The Kid, the net

It's taken centuries for English to get this messy. Lots of hard work on the part of many, many people. But here's a shorthand answer. Very early English (Anglo-Saxon) had more spoken sounds than it did letters to represent those sounds. Behind the eight ball already. We started combining letters to represent a single sound. The Normans took over Britain and start spelling many English words the French way. Confusion reigns. The printing press was the kiss of death. Spelling was now fixed on a page, even if the pronunciation changed.

It all gets really out of hand in the 1500s and 1600s, when linguists believe English vowel pronunciation changed radically. The Great Vowel Shift, it's called. (And they don't even laugh when they call it that.) A linguistic phenomenon, not a digestive disease. People were less tied to the traditional Latin-linked pronunciations of vowels. "E"s were "ah"s, "i"s were "ee"s, "u"s became "oo"s, we stopped pronouncing the "k" in "kn" words but never changed the spelling. Language in an uproar, I'll say. The modern contribution is text messaging, which will do away with vowels completely. Soon English will be just consonants, abbreviations, and emoticons.

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Dear Matt:

Why is the English language so jacked up? Why do sometimes we pronounce "i" as "i" and other times as "e"? I'm thinking of starting a language where no "i" can be pronounced "e." It's just disrespect.

The Kid, the net

It's taken centuries for English to get this messy. Lots of hard work on the part of many, many people. But here's a shorthand answer. Very early English (Anglo-Saxon) had more spoken sounds than it did letters to represent those sounds. Behind the eight ball already. We started combining letters to represent a single sound. The Normans took over Britain and start spelling many English words the French way. Confusion reigns. The printing press was the kiss of death. Spelling was now fixed on a page, even if the pronunciation changed.

It all gets really out of hand in the 1500s and 1600s, when linguists believe English vowel pronunciation changed radically. The Great Vowel Shift, it's called. (And they don't even laugh when they call it that.) A linguistic phenomenon, not a digestive disease. People were less tied to the traditional Latin-linked pronunciations of vowels. "E"s were "ah"s, "i"s were "ee"s, "u"s became "oo"s, we stopped pronouncing the "k" in "kn" words but never changed the spelling. Language in an uproar, I'll say. The modern contribution is text messaging, which will do away with vowels completely. Soon English will be just consonants, abbreviations, and emoticons.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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