Article published in:Historical Linguistics 2007: Selected papers from the 18th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Montreal, 6–11 August 2007
Edited by Monique Dufresne, Fernande Dupuis and Etleva Vocaj
[Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 308] 2009
► pp. 9–18
Middle English vowel length in French loanwords
Previous analyses of vowel length in French loanwords have relied on the Middle English processes of Open Syllable Lengthening and Closed Syllable Shortening, but have left many exceptions unaccounted for. Recently, Vennemann (2000) and Murray (2000) have provided compelling evidence that Middle English was a syllable cut language, whereby the cut of a syllable determined vowel length. Expanding on this model, I argue that vowel length in French loanwords was determined primarily by the reanalysis of syllables within the syllable cut system of Middle English. Syllables reanalyzed as smoothly cut were assigned long vowels when stressed and short vowels when unstressed, while syllables reanalyzed as abruptly cut were always assigned short vowels. A second factor in the reanalysis of loanwords was the existence of long vowels in French, which induced smooth cuts. Consequently, the assignment of vowel length in French loanwords can be seen to have followed regular patterns.
Published online: 30 November 2009