English English Grammar

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Syntactic change is a type of natural language variation that refers to changes in the grammar of a language. This change can be caused or facilitated both by socio-cultural factors and by language-internal factors. A particular feature of Ancient Greek is its continuity in the field of grammar throughout the centuries, as compared with most European languages. Two types of syntactic change are…

Definition and Examples of Sound Change in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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"All living languages have undergone change," says Jeremy Smith in Sound Change and the History of English (2007). Pictured here is the Exeter Book, a 10th-century anthology of Old English poetry. (RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)

Richard Nordquist
Updated on March 19, 2018
In historical linguistics and phonology, sound change has been traditionally defined as "any appearance of a new phenomenon in the phonetic/phonological structure of a language" (Roger Lass in Phonology: An Introduction to Basic Concepts, 1984). More simply, sound change might be described as any particular change in the sound system of a language over a period of time.
"The drama of linguistic change," said English lexicographer and philologist Henry C. Wyld, "is enacted not in manuscripts or in inscriptions, but in the mouths and minds of men" (A Short History of English, 1927). 
There are many types of sound change, including the following:

  • Aphesis and Apocope

  • Assimilation 

  • Dissimilation and Haplology

  • Lexical Diffusion

  • Metanalysis

  • Metathesis

  • Principle of Least Effort

  • Prothesis

  • Syncope

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

  • The Great Vowel Shift

  • Grimm's Law

  • Isogloss

  • Language Change

  • Mutation

  • Phonology

  • Pronunciation

  • Word Boundaries

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