Phonological history of English diphthongs

Phonological History Of English Diphthongs

Phonological history of English diphthongs

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Note: This article deals with sound changes involving English-language diphthongs. Each of the following sound changes involved at least one phoneme which historically was a diphthong. The sound changes discussed here may also have involved a phoneme which was historically or is now a monophthong. For sound changes involving English-language centering diphthongs see English-language vowel changes before historic r.

Vein-vain merger

The vein-vain merger is the merger of the Middle English diphthongs and that occurs in all dialects of present English. The merger was complete by perhaps the fourteenth century.

As a result of the merger, vein and vain are now homophones, but in early Middle English they were pronounced differently as and . Similarly day (from Old English dæġ) and way (from Old English weġ) did not rhyme before the merger.

The merged vowel was a diphthong, often transcribed . It later merged (in most dialects) with the of words like pane in the pane-pain merger.

Diphthongs of Late Middle English

The English of South-Eastern England in about 1400 had seven diphthongs:

With front endpoint:
  • as in nail, day, eight, whey
  • as in joy, noise, royal, coy
  • as in boil, destroy, coin, join


With back endpoint:
  • as in view, new, due, use, lute, suit, adieu
  • as in few, dew, ewe,...... ...
  • ...

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