Monday, October 17, 2016

What is vowel reduction in English speech?

English speech  in made up of 44 phonemes , of which 12 are pure vowels and 8 are diphthongs . In the word pin the letter i represents a pure vowel and in the word fine the same letter i represents a diphthong . What is a diphthong? It is a combination of two vowel sounds  In the word fine  i is a combination of two vowels - a+i . 
The most frequently heard vowel sound in English speech is the central vowel . You may hear this vowel sound as the initial sound in the word -a.bout . Why is it called the central vowel ? It occupies the central position in the vowel chart . It lies midway between back vowels and front vowels and between open vowels and close vowels . 

English is a stressed language . The various syllables in an English word receive  different degrees of stress . Foreigners who are not accustomed to stress will find it difficult to follow  English speech on account of the stress .There is no stress in French such as in English . Foreign learners of French often  find it difficult to follow French speech for other reasons . In French words seem to agglutinate . so to speak . and the learners  of French will experience considerable difficulty  in following french speech . What I mean to say is that each language presents its own difficultis  to the non- native learners . 

According to the principle of vowel reduction all vowels , whether they are pure vowels or diphthongs, are reduced to the central vowel if there is no stress  on the syllables  involving  .the vowel .

Vowel reduction is the most salient feature of English speech . and this causes a lot of difficulties to the foreign learners of English .Thus in the word tortoise  the second syllable - toise  carries the diphthong oi , but as there is no stress it is pronounced as the central vowel . 

Thanking you 


Sunday, October 9, 2016

how did the past tense of verb go become went ?

In English past tense of weak verbs is formed by adding -ed to the base -form of the verb and through a process called vowel-change in the case of strong verbs . Students of English are unable to understand  how the past tense of the verb go became went . .

The evolution of a language is influenced by the changing speech -rhythm of the native speakers of the language . A  language drops certain words and takes a fancy to other words in accordance with this  general trend . The Old English word wendan  (go) had the past tense form went and English preferred this word as the past tense of go . . This happened during the Middle English period and it has continued to our day! 

The old word  wendan continues as wend in present  -day English  in such expressions as to wend one's way . 

Thanking you 


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why is First Person Singular I always written with a Capital Letter in English ?

We may wonder   why first person singular is always written with a capital letter in English unlike  other important languages like French or German Some people believed that it showed the Englishman's  love of self-assertion and self glorification !   But  the  great savant Otto Jespersen strongly  disagrees with this view and he considers it as little short of calumny!  .  According to him this practice of using capital letter is simply an orthographic habit .

In Anglo-Saxon ic was the spelling of first person singular . During the 13 th century  c got dropped off and i was left alone. The scribes who copied manuscripts  used capital letter lest the small letter i should be easily missed by reader of the manuscripts . Thus the convention of using capital letter for I began in the 13th century which has continued to our day !

William Caxton introduced   printing in England in the 15th century and his use of capital letter for first person singular in his books  must have made the practice universal .

Thanking  you ,



Sunday, September 25, 2016

Does English have a Future Tense?

It has been said that English has no future tense. What on earth does it mean? It simply means that English does not have an inflected form  of the verb to indicate future tense. In modern languages like French we can see separate forms of verbs  to indicate future tense . In French parlerai indicates future tense of the verb parler used with first person singular.There is no such inflection in English for future tense .

The Anglo-Saxons in their wisdom did not think it necessary to evolve inflected forms to indicate future .After all , future is full of uncertainties and one can look at it in different ways . An inflected form to express such a thing as future seemed untenable to the Anglo-Saxons!Simple present forms of verbs with future time reference were  enough to express future .  This way of expressing future still continues in English when we express planned future. Example: The President goes to Britain next year .

It seems that all  Germanic people think alike  In Modern German,too, simple present is used with future time reference to indicate future tense in the informal style . Modern English has only  a made-up future  tense  will+base form of the main verb . In German ,too,future is expressed with the help of the auxiliary werden followed by the infinitive of the main verb . . Look at the following examples

I will  play tennis(English)
Ich werde  Tennis spielen (German)

This shows that English is basically a Germanic language , though it often seems to shine in borrowed French feathers!


Friday, September 23, 2016

Why were is used with singular subjects in subjunctive mood ?

Question Why do we use were with singular subjects in the subjunctive mood?

Answer The use of were with singularsubjects has puzzled  many a foreign learner of English.They may understand  the use of past tense was in subjunctive mood  because that is the way of the English language  !But why were?

There was a time when two words existed side by side in English - was and were .  They were derived from the root word wesan which means to be in Anglo-Saxon.The  word was became were due to the operation of Verner's Law.

In course of time were came to be associated with subjunctive mood and was with indicative mood . This  practice has survived to our days , at least in formal style!

In my next blogs I will try to answer some commonly asked questions about the English language.   thanking you

Prof V.P.Rajappan