Vowel change in English and German: a comparative analysis
Calvo Fernández, Miriam
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English and German descend from the same parent language: West-Germanic, from which other languages, such as Dutch, Afrikaans, Flemish, or Frisian come as well. These would, therefore, be called “sister” languages, since they share a number of features in syntax, morphology or phonology, among others. The history of English and German as sister languages dates back to the Late antiquity, when they were dialects of a Proto-West-Germanic language. After their split, more than 1,400 years ago, they developed their own language systems, which were almost identical at their earlier stages. However, this is not the case anymore, as can be seen in their current vowel systems: the German vowel system is composed of 23 monophthongs and 8 diphthongs, while that of English has only 12 monophthongs and 8 diphthongs. The present paper analyses how the English and German vowels have gradually changed over time in an attempt to understand the differences and similarities found in their current vowel systems. In order to do so, I explain in detail the previous stages through which both English and German went, giving special attention to the vowel changes from a phonological perspective. Not only do I describe such processes, but I also contrast the paths both languages took, which is key to understand all the differences and similarities present in modern English and German. The analysis shows that one of the main reasons for the differences between modern German and English is to be found in all the languages English has come into contact with in the course of its history, which have exerted a significant influence on its vowel system, making it simpler than that of German.