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Standard English pronunciation. Tendencies of Modern English pronunciation
In the late-fifteenth century printers began printing books written in the form of London English which had already become a kind of standard in manuscript documents. By the sixteenth century English spelling was becoming increasingly out of step with pronunciation owing mainly to the fact that printing was fixing it in its late Middle English form just when various sound changes were having a far-reaching effect on pronunciation.
Chief among these was the so-called ‘Great Vowel Shift’, which can be illustrated (with much simplification) from the three vowel sounds in mite, meet, and mate. In Middle English these were three long vowels with values similar to their Latin or continental counterparts [i:], [e:], and [a:] (roughly the vowel sounds of thief, fete, and palm); A parallel change affected the back vowels of mouth and moot. Hence the mismatch of the long vowel sounds of English with their counterparts in other European languages.
Additionally, during the period a number of sets of vowel sounds that had formerly been distinct became identical, while their spelling distinction was largely maintained, resulting in a further mismatch of spelling and pronunciation.
Changes in the pronunciation of consonant sounds during the early modern English period contributed significantly to the incongruity between spelling and pronunciation. Accordingly consonant sounds ceased to be pronounced in many contexts.
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