Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
instance, we have seen that all the old long ü-vowels, after they had become unrounded, were indistinguishable from the mass of long i-vowels. This meant that the long i-vowel became a more heavily weighted point of the phonetic pattern than before. It is curious to observe how often languages have striven to drive originally distinct sounds into certain favorite positions, regardless of resulting confusions.15 In Modern Greek, for instance, the vowel i is the historical resultant of no less than ten etymologically distinct vowels (long and short) and diphthongs of the classical speech of Athens. There is, then, good evidence to show that there are general phonetic drifts toward particular sounds.
More often the phonetic drift is of a more general character. It is not so much a movement toward a particular set of sounds as toward particular types of articulation. The vowels tend to become higher or lower, the diphthongs tend to coalesce into monophthongs, the voiceless consonants tend to become voiced, stops tend to become spirants. As a matter of fact, practically all the phonetic laws enumerated in the two tables are but specific instances of such far-reaching phonetic drifts. The raising of English long o to u and of long e to i, for instance, was part of a general tendency to raise the position of the long vowels, just as the change of t to ss in Old High German was part of a general tendency to make voiceless spirants of the old voiceless stopped consonants. A single sound change, even if there is no phonetic leveling, generally threatens to upset the old phonetic pattern because it brings about a disharmony in the grouping of sounds. To reëstablish the old pattern
Note 15. These confusions are more theoretical than real, however. A language has countless methods of avoiding practical ambiguities. [back]