- Historical labial-velar changes in Germanic: A study of the counter-directional sound changes in English and Netherlandic By Veronica Bonebrake (review)
- Linguistic Society of America
- Volume 62, Number 3, September 1986
- pp. 711-712
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK NOTICES 711 Historical labial-velar changes in Germanic : A study of the counterdirectional sound changes in English and Netherlandic. By Veronica Bonebrake. (Umeâ studies in the humanities, 29.) Umeâ, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Umensis, 1979. Pp. x, 222. B's study is laudable in so many other ways that one must lament the fact that its cover and spine bear only the first part of its full title; this may lead potential readers to expect an investigation of the behavior of PGmc. labiovelars like /w kw gw/, rather than B's unusually detailed consideration of the frequent change of IxJ > IiI in English and West Flemish, and ofIiI > Ix/ in Dutch. Her most important contribution is her use of a mass of painstakingly gathered historical /documentary and dialectal evidence to establish conclusively that the two directions of change had quite different conditioning, and so presumably occurred via rather different mechanisms of phonological diachrony. This is significant because it incontrovertibly disproves the earlier claim of numerous scholars (including this reviewer) that the Eng. and Du. developments in some sense constitute mirror-image substitutions and are therefore strong evidence thatbidirectionalphonologicalchangeispossible. In most ways methodologically exemplary, B's book establishes with great philological care the nature of several long-past sound changes: it also invokes modern phonetics (even instrumental studies)—plus modern theories of morphology , semantics, and sociolinguistics—in an attempt to explain those changes within the framework ofan over-all model ofphonological and even general-linguistic diachrony. In addressing the why of the developments in question , B is not so completely successful as in her dealings with the what. Nevertheless, one wishes that her meticulous attention to a variety of theories, methods, and sources of evidence might be emulated by other synchronic and diachronic linguists. B's brief Ch. I, 'Introduction', concerns "The significance of the labial-velar problem in studies oflanguage change'. A somewhat longer Ch. II, 'Method', surveys her various sources ofevidence —primarily spellings (especially inversions ), rhymes, dialectal variants (including Scots), and considerations of phonetic plausibility . Ch. Ill, 'The velar-to-labial change in English ', is the most solid and conclusive part of the book. When all the evidence is considered, it emerges that the shift ofIxJ to IiI in words like cough regularly occurred only in the environment ofa precedingrounded vowel and afollowing word boundary. This change (dated between 1400and 1700) tookplace when speaker/listeners both reinterpreted the secondary, assimilatory labialization of final IxI after rounded vowels as a primary articulation and eliminated the velar component of the sound in question. That is, roughly, (V'x# >) \wx# > V*V# (... >) V"y# (> V/#). Exceptional forms like slough 'bog' resulted from a desire to avoid homophony —here with slough 'to desquamate'; exceptions like laughter arose because of the analogical connection perceived with related words like laugh. Although B acknowledges the role of both acoustic/auditory and articulatory factors in the change just mentioned, and recognizes that it has abrupt as well as gradual aspects, she regrettably does not really resolve the issue of whether the velar component of [xw] was lost gradually (via an intermediate stage like [x^if]) or abruptly (by a direct change to [f])—hence the parenthesized ellipsis above. Ch. Ill would also have been more cogent if B had systematized and made more comprehensive her presentation of the set of environments where IxI occurred in OE and ME, in addition to discussing how the conditioning vowels first became rounded and then were altered in the Great Vowel Shift. (Thus she does not mention how OE hleahanlhliehhan 'to laugh' came to have a rounded vowel in ME and an unrounded vowel again in NE—hence the parenthesized first and last steps above.) In general, B's meticulous discussions of the data, especially the pages devoted to individual lexical items, tend to overwhelm the passages which present summaries and conclusions. However, the forest is still visible among the trees, and a coherent picture of the Eng. velar-to-labial change does indeed emerge, in terms of both description and explanation . (Later, B briefly treats an almost identical change which occurred ca. 1700 in West Flemish dialects of Netherlandic.) Ch. IV, "The labial-velar changes in Netherlandic ', is again descriptively...