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Language Myths and the History of English$
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Richard J. Watts

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195327601

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327601.001.0001

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The myth of “greatness”

The myth of “greatness”

(p.139) Chapter 6 The myth of “greatness”
Language Myths and the History of English

Richard J. Watts (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

The Great Vowel Shift refers to a series of phonological changes affecting the long vowel system of Middle English and Early Modern English. There is considerable dispute about how long the GVS took to reach its conclusion, about what caused the shift in the first place and whether it was a unitary development. The argument here is that traditional a periodisation of English giving us Chaucer on one side of the line and Shakespeare on the other. In the face of substantial evidence of smaller shifts beginning in the twelfth century and current shifts effecting the short vowel system, the canonical interpretation of the GVS is thus suspiciously ideological and has all the trappings of a language myth, the myth of greatness. The overall argument is thus that deconstructing the general agenda lying at the base of the term GVS reveals the myths that drive that ideology.

Keywords:   Great Vowel Shift, greatness myth, periodisation of English, phonological change, ideology

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