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Modern English

Modern English is the term used for the contemporary use of the English language. In terms of historical linguistics, it covers the English language after the Middle English period; that is, roughly, after the Great Vowel Shift. Despite some differences in vocabulary, material from the early 16th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, is considered to be in Modern English, or more specifically, they are referred to as Early Modern English[?], and most people who are fluent in the English of the early 21st century can read these books with little difficulty.

Outline of changes in Modern English


  • instability of (SAMPA) /E:/ with varying, semi-random results, causing meat, bread, and steak no longer to rhyme.

  • (Southern England, after 1700): /æ/ (/{/) -> /a/ before /f, s, th, z, v/ alone or preceded by /n/: bath -> bawth &c.

  • (Southern England, after 1800): intervocalic /t/ -> glottal stop; /bo`@l/ for bottle

  • (Southern England, after 1850): loss of /o:/, replaced by /@u/; cf. southern English v. North American pronunciation of boat.

  • varying degree of prestige of Southern English changes in North America; some are imitated in North America, but most changes fail to penetrate past East Coast.

  • (North America, after 1750): loss of distinction between /a/ and /O/; father and bother rhyme;

  • (North America, after 1800): intervocalic /t/ -> /d/; ladder and latter sound very similar or identical, distinguished perhaps by degree of aspiration of consonant.

  • (Scotland, parts of North America, date uncertain): /ai, au/ -> /@i, @u/ before voiced consonants; house (unvoiced) has a different diphthong from houses (voiced).


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