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
Given the above, your first assignment in connection with the word
stress project is threefold.
- Please read Information on
word stress, particularly the sections on the Germanic and French
- 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.
- 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.
- Is it possible to find all words in the OED that were in the
language before 1100?
- Is it possible to find all the words that were borrowed from
(all dialects of) French? Be sure to read the section on
"Searching for abbreviated words."
- Is it possible to distinguish words that were borrowed
from French from Germanic words with French cognates?
- Is it possible to find all the French borrowings that are
illustrated by Chaucer and/or Shakespeare citations?
- What kind of wildcards are available in searches?
- Is it possible to automatically filter certain parts of speech?
(We will want to exclude verbs since stress is more highly constrained
for verbs than for other parts of speech.)
- Is it possible to automatically filter monosyllabic words?
(Obviously, these are of no interest to us since there is no
room for the stress to shift.)