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Chart Showing the Actual Great Vowel Shift

(phonetic aspects supplemented by graphemes)

While the phonetic changes merrily take place between 1400-1450, the graphemes or letters do not change. Ever wonder why some words in Modern English that have the same sound are spelled with ridiculous differences? Why Modern English has words like threat, great, and meat all have different sounds even though they are spelled identically? It's because these words underwent phonetic changes, but the graphemes (written letters) either did not change or later writers tried to standardize the spelling after the words no longer sounded alike anymore. Bead and bed, and read and red follow such a pattern, but deed and dead don't, for instance. It's so confusing that anonymous poets have written complete poems about the difficulties! Other factors, such as French loan words, Orm's Law, and other historical tinkerings shaped the language as well, but the Great Vowel Shift is the event that caused the most chaos.

The chart below is nearly identical to the earlier map showing the movement. The major difference is this chart shows in red letters some of the most common Middle English graphemes (written spellings) for the indicated sounds. If you have trouble seeing the chart below, you can click here to download and print out a pdf file of this material. Otherwise, when you are done looking, click here to move on

Click here to download a PDF file of all this material.
Click here for an IPA consonant chart or an IPA vowel chart not limited to Middle English pronunciation.
Click here for a PDF file comparing the phonetic symbols used here with those in A. C. Baugh's History of the English Language and other common variants.
Click here to move on.

This webpage is adapted from materials Professor James Boren designed for his Chaucer students at the University of Oregon. Any errors in this webpage are the result of my own scribal corruptions rather than a product of the original work. --Kip Wheeler


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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2018. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated April 24, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.