English Vowel Shifts and ‘Optimal’ Diphthongs

Is there a logical link?
  • Donka Minkova
  • Robert Stockwell
Part of the Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory book series (SNLT, volume 56)


This paper is about four changes occurring on bimoraic peaks in English: nucleus-glide dissimilation, nucleus-glide assimilation, chain shift, and merger. Although in principle all bimoraic peaks are subject to the same perceptual and articulatory forces, the phonemicization of these forces as markedness constraints and their ranking with respect to each other and to faithfulness constraints, produces distinct results. Our account attempts to separate factors that are genuinely ‘functional’ in universal phonetic terms from what is attributable to conditions obtaining in the local system. We argue — and this we see as the main thrust of the paper — that these results can be independent of each other and should not be classified as the same unified historical phenomenon loosely referred to as shifts. The four changes are initiated by conflicting phonetic and phonological pressures that result in four distinct subtypes of phonological restructuring.


Assimilation bimoraic peak diphthongs ingliding outgliding dissimilation merger monophthong nucleus-glide differentiation offglide role of perception shifts (Australian Shift, chain shift, Great Vowel Shift, London Shift, New York City Shift, North Midlands Shift) 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donka Minkova
  • Robert Stockwell

There are no affiliations available

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