Linguistics 300, F08, Assignment 8

M 10/27 (in class; see below for detals)


For the second half of this class, we will investigate another historical topic, but this time one in phonology. Since English is historically a Germanic language, English word stress originally followed the
Germanic stress rule, according to which word stress falls on the stem-initial syllable. Following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, French became the language of government and administration for more than two centuries, and many French words entered the English language. According to the French stress rule, word stress falls on the final stressable syllable of the word (= any syllable except schwa). Since the French stress rule differs radically from the Germanic one, we would expect adult native speakers of English pronouncing French loanwords to do so imperfectly, occasionally (or even often) substituting their native stress rule for the foreign one. Given the occurrence of such errors, we might further expect word stress in French borrowings to shift over time from word-final to stem-initial. For instance, a.'zure would become 'a.zure). In the second half of the class, we will investigate whether such a shift in word stress occurred in the history of English and (if it did) what time course it followed.

In order to study the development of French borrowings, we will first need to know which words are French borrowings. For this, we will rely on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), without a doubt the world's leading lexicographic achievement. In addition to listing the pronunciation (including word stress) and meaning of words, the OED contains etymological information and instances of the word in use throughout the history of the language.

We will also need to know how French borrowings were stressed. Here, the OED cannot help us, since it generally only records the synchronic pronunciation. In the absence of audiorecordings, we will rely on verse texts. Scanning verse will allow us to determine (at least in most cases) which syllable of a particular word received stress. In particular, we will investigate the verse texts of Chaucer and Shakespeare, since they are plentiful and good online concordances for them exist.

The assignment

Given the above, your first assignment in connection with the word stress project is threefold.

  1. Please read Information on word stress, particularly the sections on the Germanic and French stress rules.

  2. Locate the best online concordance for Chaucer and for Shakespeare. A good concordance should allow you to easily sort entries and to cut and paste them into other documents. I'd like to discuss your results on Monday, October 27, in class.

  3. Finally, log on to Van Pelt's electronic copy of the OED and become familiar with its features. This last part of the assignment is more ongoing; you don't need to have it done by Monday, October 27. Here are some questions to get you going.