The Sunday Magazine

Sunday School: The Great Vowel Shift

If you have ever wondered why there seems to be no semblance of logic to the way English words are spelled or pronounced, you might like to know that there is an explanation. It's called The Great Vowel Shift — those few centuries in the Middle Ages in Britain when the pronunciation of every vowel changed. The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright spoke to Jack Chambers, a professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto to learn more.
Between the years 1400 and 1700, the pronunciation of every vowel in the English language changed. (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
Jack Chambers is a linguistics professor at the University of Toronto. (CBC)

This story originally aired on February 3, 2013.

If you have ever wondered why there seems to be no semblance of order to the way English words are spelled or pronounced, there is a logical explanation.

It's called the Great Vowel Shift.

"Between the years 1400 and 1700, certain English vowels moved up and then the highest ones moved down," explained Jack Chambers.

"And as it's a shame because the spelling system had just been stabilized before that happened."

Chambers is a professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto. He spoke with Michael Enright of The Sunday Edition about how The Great Vowel Shift changed the English language.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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