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The Great Vowel Shift

The Middle English pronunciation will change radically beginning now. The average English-speaker of 1400 will be practically incomprehensible to the English-speaker of 1450. The long vowels are changing as people pronounce their vowels more up the throat. No one knows what precipitated the sudden change but modern vocalization begins at this time. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
When I was reading the novel, "Timeline" by Michael Crichton, the author made the point that no matter how well studied a scholar might be in the languages of the Middle Ages such as Middle English and Occitan, he could never be sure he was pronouncing the words correctly. The reason is because of this radical change in the pronunciation of vowels. It will act as a barrier to Modern English speakers. There is a sense that one is coughing up phlegm. Personally, I can hear the difference between English-speakers who pronounce Hebrew words and Hebrew-speaking people who speak their Hebrew down the throat... and the Yemenite Hebrew speakers are just insane when it comes to speaking from deep down the throat. The lesson learned here is... don't get into a time machine and expect to be understood much before 1450. That world no longer exists in sound. [3] [4]

An Historian Warns about History

A greater hazard, built into the very nature of recorded history, is overload of the negative [...] History is made by the documents that survive, and these lean heavily on crisis and calamity, crime and misbehavior [...] No Pope ever issued a Bull to approve of something.
-- from "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century" by Barbara Tuchman. [5]

History from the Middle Ages is also biased toward the aristocracy because the aristocracy are literate. That results in the peasants becoming the "villains" in any story told by the aristocracy. In fact, the modern word "villain" is a product of this bias. A villain is a man from the village. In other words... a peasant. It has turned into a negative word as the villagers have interacted more and more with the aristocracy.

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Keep in mind that this History Segment is biased simply by what events Alex Shrugged selects to write about and by which topic is actually selected (by Jack) for the podcast. The only way to be unbiased is to give the audience FULL CONTEXT for every history segment. That would take about two hours per segment and about a month to prepare for each segment. It's not going to happen. History podcasts are already doing history in full context. Seek them out.

FYI: Alex Shrugged recommends Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. His podcasts are almost full audiobooks. You can find them on iTunes. Alex Shrugged is not associated with Dan Carlin except as a fan.

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1401, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Boren, James. (A professor teaching Chaucer at the University of Oregon) Great Vowel Shift Chart without Graphemes, 2014 [last update]. Note: This web page is Professor Boren's work adapted by Dr. L. Kip Wheeler.
  2. Wheeler, L. Kip. (A professor at Carson-Newman University) History of the English Language, 2014 [last update]
  3. Crichton, Michael. Timeline. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1999. bibliography. (NOVEL)
  4. Occitan language - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  5. Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. (Barbara Tuchman, bio). A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Ballantine, 1979. p. xviii. "Forward" (BOOK)

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