The Great Vowel Shift & The Speech Chain

Long vowels changed between Chaucer and Shakespeare. The vowel quadrilateral is where standard Southern English is currently. Below the quadrilateral is a hyperlink to a Youtube video on the cardinal vowels if want to identify close vs open and front vs back .

To reconstruct pronunciation at the time of Chaucer, locate a vowel on the top row on the graph below, and read downward to see what it changed from. Read the opening lines of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales below with their value in 1400.

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WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

The Speech Chain

The diagram below shows the idea of a particular song is represented by two English words, encoded by the speech articulators as hisses, tones and stops in the air. In the listener’s inner ear the sound is decoded into nerve impulses. The Phonemic Processor submits about seven candidate phonemes to Working Memory. Working Memory outputs candidate words. Competing candidate words are submitted to the Morphosyntactic Processor for processing as competing candidate utterances. “Garden paths” are rejected and the most likely meaningful utterance is submitted to conscious thought.

The smartphone analogy

Speech recognition devices (Siri, Cortana, Bixby) use a Finite State Machine to assemble candidate phonemes into candidate words. The number of possible transitions at 16 nodes between 44 phonemes is surprisingly small. The alternative hypothesis is that whole utterances are compared with a library, in the way submarines are detected.

Pitch variation

Pitch variation is used in English to express an attitude to the apparent meaning of an utterance, most frequently to change it to a question, and then for irony. Some combination of pitch, duration and loudness gives a sense of stress. English syllables are treated as stressed or unstressed, with the trochee being the most common arrangement for a two-syllable word. Prosody is utterance-level stress which conveys speaker attitude: rising final pitch coveys a question, or sometimes irony. Some languages are tonal, which means pitch changes within a vowel are contrastive for phonemes. Mandarin Chinese has four tones, plus neutral.