Alliteration and Sound Change in Early English

This study uses evidence from early English verse to reconstruct the course of some central phonological changes in the history of the language. It builds on the premise that alliteration reflects faithfully the acoustic identity and similarity of stressed syllable onsets. Individual chapters cover the history of the velars, the structure and history of vowel-initial syllable onsets, the behaviour of onset clusters, and the chronology and motivation of cluster reduction (gn-, kn-, hr-, hl-, hn-, hw-, wr-, wl-). Examination of the patterns of group alliteration in Old and Middle English reveals a hierarchy of cluster-internal cohesiveness which leads to new conclusions regarding the causes for the special treatment of sp-, st-, sk- in alliteration. The analysis draws on phonetically based Optimality-Theoretic models. The book presents valuable information about the medieval poetic canon and elucidates the relationship between orality and literacy in the evolution of English verse.

• Minkova is a leading phonologist, whose work integrates more recent theory (optimality theory) with in-depth empirical scholarship in historical linguistics • She shows how the study of metrics can illuminate crucial issues in the history of English • This book helps to explain the emergence and eventual domination of the Chaucerian tradition of metrics in English verse


List of figures; List of tables; List of abbreviations; Preface; 1. Social and linguistic setting of alliterative verse in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England; 2. Linguistic structures in English alliterative verse; 3. Segmental histories: velar palatalization; 4. Syllable structure; 5. ONSET and cluster alliteration in Old English: the case of sp-, st-, sk-; 6. ONSET and cluster alliteration in Middle English; 7. Verse evidence for cluster simplification in Middle English; References; Index of names; Subject index.


\' … the book may be seen by some as a tour de force through historical English phonotactics, and in view of the complexity of solutions offered the reaction of many a reader may be occasional frustration - about how difficult it is to answer questions that many of us have long thought to be settled.\' Anglia