Linguistics Glossary

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Linguistics Glossary

Glossary: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.


Repetition of initial sound or sound cluster. Old English poetry was (like old Germanic poetry) alliterative, with metricality determined by the number of alliterative words in stressed positions. See also:

A specialized way of speaking or writing "often characterized by a unique vocabulary, used by a particular class, profession, or social group." [After The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer.]

articulatory phonetics
A linguistic tool.



"A bit-by-bit, or morpheme by morpheme, translation of one word in one language to another word in another language, often used to avoid bringing new or loan words into the translating language." [The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer.]

Caxton, William (about 1421-1491)
England's first printer, beginning in 1470. First to publish works of Chaucer. Located in Westminster, Caxton gained royal and aristocratic patrons. Often chose to use Chancery English. Made observations on language change and variations.

Located in Westminster. The official writing center of the royal administration, from the end of the 14th century onward. After 1417, royal clerks used English for official writing.

Chancery English
Form of the English language that developed in the 15th century in Chancery. The form of writing was standard irrespective of the writer's speech or dialect. The official language. "The language of literature now derived from the language of politics." [The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer.]

Chaucer, Geoffrey (1345-about 1400)
He wrote his main work, The Canterbury Tales, in Middle English, particularly as used the East Midlands:
  1. Uses new words from the Latin and the French lexicons.
  2. Relies also on Old English resources.
  3. Partly uses the inflection of Old English and partly uses the uninflection of Middle English.

Chomsky, Noam (1928-?)
Published Syntactic Structures(1957); invented the approach to linguistics of transformational generative grammar.

Words from different related languages that share a common root.

comparative philology
A linguistic tool.

A language that develops from sustained contact between two groups of speakers; perceived as a natural language by its speaker. Can develop from a pidgin.


deep structure
The genetically encoded internal pattern of language communication. Common to all people. Each speaker transforms this to the spoken surface structure. See also the transformational generative grammar of Noam Chomsky and followers.


Increase of the grammatical functions of a given word.

Increase of the range of meanings of a given word, often through increase of figurative use.

Spelling of words in nonstandard ways to imply the flavor of a language (rather than to record true distinctions).



A system of "establishing verbal relationships in a given language". Not necessarily educated speech.

Great Vowel Shift
In the mid-15th century to the mid-16th century in England, the pronunciation of stressed long vowels occurred and was permanent. Marks the shift from Middle English to Modern English.

  1. Systematic shift in a system of pronunciation (as opposed to individual vowels).
  2. Affected the six vowels that are long, stressed monophthongs (having a pure single-vowel sound).
    • Front vowels were raised and fronted.
    • Back vowels were raised and retraced.
    • High vowels were made into diphthongs.
    which may have happened in a sequence like this [see The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer for details]:
  3. Was still in progress in Alexander Pope's writing of the 18th century.
  4. A version of English with an incomplete Great Vowel Shift is alive and well in Pirate English.

Grimm's Laws (published 1822)
Jacob Grimm's Laws

Some changes between older and newer languages include the conversion from the posited original Indo-European (IE) and early languages like Latin to the modern Germanic:



"The related languages of Europe, India, and Iran, which are believed to have descended from a common tongue spoken roughly in the third millennium B.C. by an agricultural peoples originating in Southeastern Europe." [The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer.]



A metaphorical construction in OE literature. Links two normally independent nouns to make one. Example: hronrad for 'whale road' or sea.


lexis [Greek lexis = way of speaking]
The vocabulary of a language.

linguistic tools
  1. articulatory phonetics.
  2. sociolinguistics.
  3. comparative philology.


Inversion of the order of sounds in a word. e.g. In moving from Old English to Middle English, aks became ask.

Middle English

  1. Historically from the Normal Conquest in 1066 until the end of the fifteenth century, ending with The Great Vowel Shift.
Major changes from Old English in:
  1. noun case endings, which were simplified and dropped.
  2. adjective endings, which were dropped.
  3. verb endings, which were simplified. Also the dual pronoun (for two people, we two) was dropped.
  4. grammatical gender, which was dropped.

The Peterborough Chronicle, a prose history kept through the century of transition, is a treasure hoard for documenting such changes.

Other changes from Old English:

  1. Old English began to lose some characteristic consonant clusters.
  2. Some Old English words were changed by metathesis. e.g. aks became ask; brid became bird.
  3. Some strong verbs became weak.

Five main dialects (in literature, dialect was often a shorthand for social commentary):

  1. Northern dialect (north of River Humber). Retained Scandinavian vocabulary and sounds.
  2. East Midland. Basis of the major literary English toward the end of the Middle Ages.
  3. West Midland. Spoken from the north-south Roman road to the Celtic-speaking parts of Wales.
  4. Southern dialect (southwestern England).
  5. Kentish (southeastern England).

Modern English

  1. Historically from the end of the fifteenth century, starting with The Great Vowel Shift.


An area of language change.

myths of language: Lerer's statement of four myths
  1. the myth of universality.
  2. the myth of simplicity.
  3. the myth of teleology.
  4. the myth of gradualism.

myth of universality
There is "no form of utterance that can be understandable to every human being ... we cannot at present posit a universal form of language" [The History of the English Language: Part 1].
One of Lerer's four myths of language.

myth of simplicity
"No language is harder or simpler for its own speakers to learn as a first language. All children learn to speak at the same rate, and all children, regardless of nation, speak their own languages comparably well. As a corollary, no historical form of a language is simpler or more complicated than any other. ... No language decays or gets corrupted from an older form." [The History of the English Language: Part 1].
One of Lerer's four myths of language.

myth of teleology
"Languages do not move in a particular direction with a goal. ... Languages do not evolve from lower forms into higher ones." [The History of the English Language: Part 1].
One of Lerer's four myths of language.

myth of gradualism
"Languages do not change evenly over time. Languages change at different rates and in ... Languages change in different areas (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar) at different rates and at different times." [The History of the English Language: Part 1].
One of Lerer's four myths of language.



Old English

  1. Genetically "descends from a group of Lowland [and West] Germanic languages". Dutch and Fresian are its closest relatives. Modern German is slightly more distant, descending from Highland Germanic languages.
  2. Geographically "as a language spoken by the Germanic settlers in the British Isles".
  3. Historically from " settlement in the fifth century until the Normal Conquest in 1066".
  4. Typologically "as a language with a particular sound system phonology, grammatical endings morphology, word order patterns syntax, and vocabulary lexis.

Features include:

  1. Many strong verbs, that have often become weak verbs in modern English.
  2. Noun declensions.
  3. Grammatical gender.
  4. Some nouns added -s for the plural, but many changed the root vowel.
  5. Made words by combining nouns, adding prefixes, and combining adjective with noun.
  6. Absorbed loan words by making changes. Borrowed words from Latin, often by minting new words from them.

Dialects include:

  1. West-Saxon (southwestern England). Most important dialect of Old English, centered on King Alfred (d. 899), Winchester, government and the church. Most extant Old English documents are in the West-Saxon dialect.
  2. Northumbrian (north of the River Humber). Standard for 8th and 9th century religious and literary cultures, including Bede and Caedmon. The earliest Old English documents are in the Northumbrian dialect.
  3. Mercia (south of the Humber and north of the Thames).
  4. Kentish (southeastern corner of England).

"From the Greek meaning 'right writing', a term referring to the accepted principles of spelling at a particular time." [The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer.]


Independent sequence of clauses without connectives (conjunctions, etc.] to indicate which are subordinate to which.

"An individual sound that, in contrast with other sounds, contributes to the set of meaningful sounds in a given language. A phoneme is not simply a sound but rather a sound that is meaningful ... [in a given language in determining] different meaningful words." [The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer.]

"The study of the pronunciation of sounds of a given language by speakers of that language. Unlike phonology, phonetics is the study of how sounds are actually produced and understood by living speakers." [The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer.]
Contrast with phonology.

A study of the system of phonemes (sounds) of a language. A particular sound system.
Contrast with phonetics.

A language that develops for communication between two groups of speakers who cannot communicate otherwise. The pidgin is perceived as artificial by both groups. Develops rapidly. In time, may produce a creole.

Acquisition of multiple meanings of a single word.

An area of language change.




Sapir, Edward
Argued that the "real world" is made of the language habits of groups of speakers.
Different language groups live in different worlds ("not merely the same world with different labels attached").

semantic change
Change of meaning.
An area of language change.

A linguistic tool.

surface structure
External forms of a language, generated by a speaker of a language from their deep structures. See also the transformational generative grammar of Noam Chomsky and followers.

Word order patterns in a language.
"The way in which language arranges its words to make well-formed or grammatical utterances." [The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer.]


transformational generative grammar
A theory of language that proposes that each human being has an innate ability to speak a language and that deep structures provide basic patterns of communication that are transformed (generated) into surface structures by a set of rules unique to each language. Developed by Noam Chomsky and followers.

A set of rules, unique to each language, that turn deep structures into well-formed surface structures.




Whorf, Benjamin Lee
Languages shape thought: "Experience, expression, and even consciousness itself are features of the language used by a group or society".
Worked on Hopi in America.
Language is made up of "pattern systems".