A    B    C    D   E   F   G    H    I    J    K    L    M    N    O    P    Q    R    S    T    U    V    W    X    Y    Z


case ending used by nounspronouns, adjectives and demonstratives, often marking the direct object and sometimes the object of a preposition.

bound morpheme that can be added to a base morpheme. Examples include the first syllable of dis-suadead-vantageanti-freezede-couple, and the last element of freez-esamen-ableimmer-sionbureau-crat. Some of these are inflectional, such as freez-es, which is either a personal verb ending ("it freezes") or the plural of the noun freeze; others are derivational, by which one word gives rise to another, as with anti-freeze.

In phonetics, the sound made with a stop followed by a fricative release, as in the first sound of cheese.

See concord.

A similarity of sound in the onset of a stressed syllableFor example chalk and cheese alliterate, as do hawk and handsaw. It is a primary prosodic feature of Old English poems such as Beowulf and continued well into Middle English verse in works like Piers Plowman.

Alternate realizations of a single morpheme. The third person singular ending of glideslifts, and misses are all allmorphs of one verb inflection; similarly the endings of coercionexertion, and immersion are variants of the same morpheme.

A variant pronunciation of a single phoneme. The [t] sounds of tick and stick illustrate a regular distinction between released and unreleased allophones, and they are said to be in complementary distribution. Allophones in free variation, by contrast, can assume different articulations depending on the the speaker or context, such as the two different ways of pronouncing the [t] of outcome: one where the [t] is released and the other unreleased.

Relating to the hard ridge just behind the front teeth. It is the part of the mouth touched by the tip of the tongue in the pronunciation of [d] and [t].

Relating to the hard ridge behind the front teeth (the alveolar ridge) and the hard palate at the roof of the mouth (palate); the front half of the tongue is raised to touch this position in making the first and last consonant sounds of judge and church.

A semantic change in which the social connotations of a word's meaning are improved. The word knight, for example, once meant "boy."

A term coined by John Witherspoon (1723-94) to refer to any word or expression that seems characteristic of the English language used in North America.

analytic language
One that relies heavily on word order and function words (like prepositions and auxiliaries) to supply information about the syntactic function of sentence elements. Modern English, which is lightly inflected, is more analytic than Old English. See synthetic language.

An Indo-European family of languages that includes Hittite, once spoken in Asia Minor.

The West Germanic subbranch that includes Frisian and English.

The dialect of French spoken by the Normans who settled in England after 1066.

Referring to the people and/or the culture of early England; it is sometimes used for the language otherwise known as Old English. But more usually, an Anglo-Saxon manuscript might be copied by an Anglo-Saxon monk writing the Old English language.

Not following a prescribed or regular pattern. The English verb of being, for example, is an anomalous verb.

The digraph letter form æ, Æ. The name, which is the Old English word for ash tree, was the way the Anglo-Saxons referred to the letter.

A speech sound accompanied by a puff of breath. For English speakers, the initial sounds of top and pot are aspirated, where stop and spot are not.

The phonetic process by which two adjacent sounds become more similar. The word assimilation itself illustrates the process; over time the pronunciation of the compound ad + similare modified the [d] in the direction of [s].


back formation
The formation of a new word by shortening an older form in the apparent assumption that the older word was derived from the shortened form. For example, to enthuse was created by back formation from enthusiasm, which came into the English language first.

back vowel
vowel made by lowering the tongue to the back of the mouth.

A major branch of the Indo-European languages that includes Slavic languages (like Russian) and Baltic (like Lithuanian).

base morpheme
morpheme to which an affix can be added; it may be either a free morpheme or a bound morpheme.

A sound made by using both lips, as with [m], [p] or [b].

A word made by combining two distinct words, like smog from smoke + fog and telemarketing. Also called portmanteau.

bound morpheme
morpheme that appears only as part of a word, never alone. Examples include the dental ending of weak verbs like danced and the suffix of horr-ify.


A literal translation of a word or (more often) a phrase that stays close to the idiomatic meaning in the source language. The word gospel, for example, comes from an Old English compound (roughly) good + spell, which is a direct translation of the elements of the Latin (ultimately Greek) ev-angel- "good message." Also called loan translation.

The inflection of a nounpronoun, adjective, or demonstrative which signals its grammatical function in a phrase or clause. In Modern English the personal pronouns retain more distinctions in cases than other parts of speech, so that, for example, "she left the room" (not "her left the room") shows the appropriate case for the feminine pronoun used as the subject of the verbOld English has four cases -- nominativeaccusativedativegenitive -- and occasionally a fifth, the instrumentalIndo-European also had another three: the vocative, ablative, and locative.

One of the major branches of Indo-European, including such languages as Old Irish and Breton.

central vowel
vowel made with the tongue in a central position in the mouth.

centum, centum language
The Latin word for "hundred," which serves as a shorthand way of distinguishing a major division based on the pronunciation of a particular sound in Indo-European. The complementary group is known as "satem languages," where satem is the Avestan word for "hundred" The initial sound of centum and satem illustrate the way the original phoneme in question, the velar [k], developed in each of the two main groups. English, Greek, and Irish, for example, are centum languages, while Polish, Albanian, and Sanskrit are satem languages.

clipped form
A word formed by shortening another word or phrase. Flu for example, is a clipped form of influenza.

In phonetics, a sound made with the jaw and tongue in a higher position, that is, more closed.

closed syllable
A syllable ending with a consonant, e.g., fit. Contrasted with open syllable.

code switching
The change in the features of an individual's language (vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar) to adjust to social circumstances.

Words derived from a common source are said to be cognates, similar to cousins in human relations.

The form of an adjective or adverb that shows a relation predicated of the quality indicated: hot (positive), hotter (comparative), hottest (superlative). English shows comparison by adding a suffix, usually -er and -est, or by using the adverbs more and most in a phrase: more contentiousmost contentious.

complementary distribution
Speech sounds and word forms are said to be in complementary distribution when allophones and allomorphs form a consistent separation so that, for example, the [t] of stop is an allophone that is always unaspirated, while the [t] of top is always aspirated, and there is no overlap between the two.

Two base morphemes can combine to form a compound, as with rollerbladesteamboatwisdom.

The matching correspondence of grammatical forms, such as number, person and gender, often signalled by inflected endings. In Modern English, the sentence "The girl knows she is ready" shows concord in the singular forms of girlknowsshe, and is; there is also concord between the natural gender of girl and the feminine pronoun she. Also known as agreement.

The complete set of inflected endings for verbs, showing person, number, tense, and mood.

phoneme made when the speech organs create an obstruction against the flow of air from the lungs. The sound may be voiced or unvoiced.

consuetudinal be
The use of be (uninflected) to indicate a habitual state. It is usually associated with African-American varieties of English. 'He be quiet" means that he is consistently, habitually quiet. "He is quiet" is more localized: he is quiet right now.

A word made by combining the unstressed syllables of one word with another, such as don't from do + not and gonna from going + to.

A form of the verb to be connecting a noun or noun phrase with another word or phrase; also true in the negative. "John was not a student;" "to sleep is important."

language arising from the combination of other languages, one of which typically is a pidgin.

The alphabet used to transcribe Old Church Slavonic, Russian and certain other Slavic languages. Named after St. Cyril, reputed to have invented it for missionary purposes in the ninth century.


The northeast part of Anglo-Saxon England heavily settled by Scandinavians and governed by their law code. (Pyles & Algeo)

The case ending on nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and demonstratives indicating the indirect object; also used with many prepositions.

The system of inflections for nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and demonstratives which indicate case, number, and gender.

definite article
function word like the used with certain nouns that are definite.

deictic (deixis, n.)
function word that serves to specify, such as the demonstratives this and theseDeictics also include words indicating relative time, like now and then; place, like here and there; and personal pronouns.

pronoun like thisthesethat, and those which specifies a relation to the speaker.

dental suffix
In Germanic languages, a suffix containing a [d] or [t] to indicate the preterite of weak verbs.

The morphological process by which one word gives rise to another. It can involve the addition of affixes (objectobjectiveobjectivity) or compounding (web-basedspider-web).

Relating to changes over time: often equated with historical changes. Usually contrasted with synchronic.

diacritical mark
A mark or notation made in addition to the letter form to differentiate sounds in the spelling of a language; they can include accent marks, for example, or a tilde (~) or dieresis (ü, ö).

A combination of letters like thchsch, and ou in youth, which indicates a single sound.

A monosyllabic vowel sound made by gliding from one vowel to another. The four significant diphthongs in Modern English are illustrated in the words howhighahoy, and huge.

The process by which two adjacent sounds become less alike, such as the the pronunciation of chimney as chimbley or chimley.

double negative (or multiple negative)
The use of more than one negative for emphasis, now ususually considered grammatically incorrect but current in some dialects of English. Before about 1700 it was a common construction. "I can't get no satisfaction" is a double negative worth singing. Because there can be more than two, it is sometimes called "multiple negative."

A large family of non-Indo-European languages spoken in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent.

A grammatical number, like singular and plural, found in some Indo-European languages. It indicates exactly two of something.


early Modern English (eMnE)
The period from about 1500 to 1750.

East Germanic
A branch of the Germanic languages that includes Gothic (now extinct)..

echoic word
A word the sound of which mimics its referent: quackboingsplash. Sometimes also called onomatopoeia, as with Tennyson's "murmuring of innumerable bees." See also sound symbolism and phonaestheme.

A word-like utterance, though without grammatical function, expressing an emotional (usually social) state of mind, such as tsk-tskouchphooeyoh-ohugh.

From a Greek word meaning to fall short, the omission of a phrase, word, or sound where it is otherwise expected. When words are omitted in writing, their absence is indicated by three dots (. . .). An unstressed syllable from the beginning of a word may be omitted, as with 'bout for about and possum for opossum. Sometimes a middle syllable may be omitted as with some dialectial pronunciations of necessary and medieval.

Phrasing that incorporates a grammatically distinct, unstressed word onto the end of a preceding word. Modern English examples might include gotcha and gonna.

The insertion of a sound in the middle of a word to make it easier to pronounce, such as the [d] in thunder (OE thunor) and the medial schwa often heard in the pronunciation of realtor and athlete. When a vowel is involved it is often called svarabhakti.

A letter form used in Old English, Old Saxon and Icelandic (where it is called edh) which represents an interdental fricative. In Old English it is equivalent to a thorn.

etymological respelling
The modification of a word's spelling to reflect the spelling in the language from which it is derived; examples include adventure (ME aventure) and indict (ME indite), the latter of which has not had its pronunciation affected. Not yet.

The historical source of a word, and the study of its historical origin.

eye dialect
A literary representation of a non-standard dialect, but one which does not reflect pronunciation in a consistent way.


The inflected form of a verb showing agreement with the person and number of the subject and showing tense and mood. The infinitive, for example, does not specify any of these. A finite verb usually serves as the predicate of a clause.


folk etymology
A popular modification of a word's spelling and/or pronunciation to make it resemble familiar morphemes and phonemes. In most cases the modified word is borrowed from another language; examples: chaise lounge and woodchuck.

free morpheme
One that can be used alone as a word; neither a bound morpheme nor an affix.

free variation
When used of allophones, it indicates pronunciations that can change depending on the speaker and the circumstances of articulation. Examples would include instances where precise articulation is important, as when speaking with deliberate care to a non-native speaker or over a poor telephone line. In such cases American speakers, for example, might pronounce the middle consonants of ladder and latter differently, though they would not do so in ordinary speech. Free variation contrasts with complementary distribution.

A speech sound made by constricting the breath channel to produce a roughening; examples include [f], [v], [s], and [z].

front vowel
A voiced sound made with the front part of the tongue in a raised position, such as the vowels of beet and bet.

function word
A semantically light part of speech used to create the syntactic structure of a phrase or clause; the category includes auxiliary verbs, prepositions, the definite article, and conjunctions. The number of such words is limited, unlike other parts of the lexicon, which can increase indefinitely.

The name of the runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons and other early Germanic people. Its name comes from the first six letters of the alphabet.


A large subcategory of nouns (and adjectives, pronouns, and demonstratives) which in Indo-European languages is vaguely associated with biological sex: masculine, feminine, and neuter. In other language families gender is based on other arbitrary groupings. In Old English gender has little to do with the biological associations of nouns, and is thus called grammatical gender. In Modern English, grammatical gender has increasingly given way to natural gender, although the parts of speech (with the notable exception of pronouns) no longer distinguish gender by morphology.

A semantic change in which a word with a specific meaning has become more general.

When used of language families, it designates an organization much like a family tree, with historically earlier languages giving rise to later ones, such as Old English from proto-Germanic.

An Indo-European case that shows possession (the dog's tail), although it has other uses as well.

A branch of Indo-European that includes English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Frisian and other languages that arose in northwestern Europe.

Associated with the speech organ in the back of the oral cavity, the glottis. A glottal stop can be heard in the separation of syllables in a phrase like uh-oh.

glottal stop
A closing of sound produced by stopping the flow of air through the throat using the glottis. Most Americans produce a glottal stop in the middle of uh-oh.

Great Vowel Shift
A systematic change in the long vowels in late Middle English that resulted in a new array of vowels, which includes diphthongs and tense vowels but which no longer generates a systematic distinction for length. Also called the Tudor Vowel Shift.

Grimm's Law
Named after Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), a formulation that describes a systematic change in the stop consonants of Indo-European within the Germanic languages. Grimm built on the earlier discoveries of Rasmus Rask (1787-1832).

group genitive
genitive ending attached to the end of a phrase: the Queen of England's hat; the man who mistook his wife for a hat's medical treatment.


The Indo-European family of languages which includes ancient and modern Greek.

high vowel
A voiced sound made with the jaw almost closed and the tongue raised, as with the sounds [i] and [u].

his genitive
The use of his after a noun as a mistakenly expanded form of the usual genitive ending in Modern English: e.g. Ben Jonson His Book.

The same spelling for two different words: lead (vb.) and lead (n.).

A word pronounced the same as another, like eight and ate.

hypercorrect pronunciation, hypercorrection
A nonhistorical pronunciation or construction based on the mistaken assumption that an error is being avoided; examples might include "between you and I" and the [t] articulated in often.


A variety of language peculiar to an individual. Spenser's deliberately antiquated language in The Fairy Queen is a famous literary example.

A figurative use of language that cannot be understood from the literal meaning of its constituents: raining cats and dogsthe cat's got his tongue.

The verb mood employed in commands and some requests.

Impersonal verbs have no subjects stated or understood. Old English had a few, one of which survives in the fossilized form methinks ("it seems to me").The equivalent to the impersonal in Modern English has it as a dummy subject: it was raining.

A sound change caused by assimilation to a high front vowel (or the semivowel [j]) which draws the articulation of adjacent back vowels to a forward position. It lies behind the plurals feetmicemen, some derived verbs (drankdrench), and some abstract nouns (foulfilth). Also called i-umlaut.

The "default" verb mood, used for reporting factual information or used in any construction that is unmarked for another mood.

The extensive family of languages that can be traced back to a source in eastern Europe, somewhere near the Black Sea. Until the centuries of European colonial expansion, the geographical spread of the languages extended from western edge of Europe, eastward to the edge of what is now China, and south to the Indian subcontinent. English is part of the West-Germanic branch of Germanic languages. Other major branches include Slavic" class="glossedpage">Balto-SlavicCelticItalic, Albanian, Hellenic, Armenian, AnatolianIndo-IranianTocharian.

A major branch of Indo-European including the Persian (Farsi, Pashto) and Indic (Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu) sub-branches.

The morphological process signalling grammatical features (tense, number, mood, person, gendercase) which correspond to the word's function within a phrase or clause.

inorganic e
A final -e added to words where historically it doesn't belong, such as wifemouse.

An Indo-European case, already rare in Old English, that indicates the means by which some action is performed. It survives fossilized in a few Modern English phrases, such as the in "the more the merrier."

intensifier, intensive
A word, usually an adverb like very or absolutely that adds force or emphasis to the meaning of a word or clause.

In phonology, interdental indicates sounds made by placing the tip of the tongue between the front teeth.

An interrogative pronoun is used to introduce questions: who is itwhat are you doing?

intrusive r
The articulation of an [r] in a place where it historically does not belong, such as idear. It's a feature of some English dialects.

A branch of Indo-European which includes languages that developed on the Italian peninsula, such as Latin.


In phonology, a sound made using the lips, such as [p] and [b].

In phonology, a sound made by touching the lower lip to the upper teeth, as with [f] and [v].

The system of conventional, arbitrary speech sounds (at times reduced to writing) which allows humans to communicate.

In phonology, a speech sound made by using the larynx. Laryngeals have been postulated for proto-Indo-European and are attested in Anatolian.

In phonology, a sound made with the air flowing around both sides of the tongue, as with [l].

lax vowel
A voiced sound made with the muscles at the base of the tongue relaxed.

In phonology, it indicates the duration of time a vowel is pronounced. Length made phonemic distinctions in English until the Great Vowel Shift in early Modern English.

The change of a short vowel to a long vowel; it took place systematically during Middle English.

The loss of distinctions in inflected endings, especially in early Middle English.

lexicon, lexis
The meaningful units of language, which includes morphemes (anti-), words (cloud), and idiomatic phrases (wheel of fortune).

In phonology, a voiced consonant made without obstruction through the oral cavity which can be pronounced continuously, like [r] and [l].

loan translation
See calque.

An Indo-European case used to indicate place.

long syllable
A syllable either with a long vowel or with a short vowel followed by more than one consonant. Contrasted with a short syllable.

low vowel
vowel made with the jaw in an open position and the tongue lowered.


diacritical mark consisting of a straight short line over a vowel which indicates that the vowel is long.

A sound change transposing adjacent sounds, such as aks (ax)/ask and worked/wrought.

Middle English
English from 1100-1500 C.E.

mid vowel, middle vowel
Neither high nor low; the schwa is a good example.

Modern English
English from 1500 to the present day.

A simple, single vowel. Contrasted with diphthong.

A form or set of forms of a verb in an inflected language, serving to indicate whether the verb expresses fact, command, wish, conditionality, etc. (OED). The system of moods in middle and modern English is relatively impoverished compared to that of Old English and some other Indo-European languages.

The smallest meaningful unit of a language. It can be a single word like horse or an affix like -ly.

multiple negative
See double negative.


In phonology, a sound made with the passage of air through the nose.

natural gender
The association of nouns with the biological sex or sexual connotations of the concept signified; contrasted with grammatical gender.

case used for the subject of a clause or a word linked to the subject by a copula.

verb form, such as the infinitive, not inflected for person, number, tense, or mood.

Norman French
The dialect of medieval French spoken in Normandy, brought to England by large numbers of people after the accession of William the Conqueror.

North Germanic
One of three sub-branches of Germanic, which includes Norse, Danish, Swedish, and Old Icelandic.

A part of speech used to name a person, place, thing, quality, or action, and which can be used as the subject of a verb.


Any case for nounspronouns, and adjectives other than the nominative.

In a falling diphthong, the transitional sound to the second and less prominent constituent vowel.

Old English
The earliest period of English approx. 500-1100 C.E.

In a rising diphthong, the transitional sound to the second and more prominent constituent vowel, as in the word view.

See echoic word.

Used to describe the position of the jaw, slightly open, when making certain vowel sounds.

open syllable
A syllable that ends with a vowel.

Etymologically "correct writing," the conventional writing system for representing the words in a language.


In phonology, a sound made by moving the tongue to the hard palate.

In phonology, a sound involving either the velum (soft palate) or hard palate.

The systematic display of the inflected forms of a part of speech using an illustrative example.

A syntactic/stylistic construction that juxtaposes clauses without subordinating conjunctions.

A semantic change making the connotations of a word more negative over time; for example, silly once meant "happy," and churl meant a free peasant.

personal ending
The ending of a verb that denotes a relation with the speaker: first person speaking, second person spoken to, third person spoken about. The distinctions correspond to the three categories of personal pronouns.

A smallest distinctive unit of speech sound in a language. Variations of phonetically similar sounds may be perceived as allophones within a single phoneme.

A written representation, using a conventionalized writing system, of the spoken sounds of a language.

A simplified language invented for the purposes of contact between speakers who have no common tongue. It has a limited vocabulary and a reduced grammar.

An affix placed at the beginning of a word.

A function word that shows a syntactic relation between the noun phrase it precedes and other parts of the sentence. Prepositions can also be used with verbs: let's get it over with.

A grammar that presumes the authority to adjudicate and fix correct usage.

present tense
One of two verb tenses for English and other Germanic languages.

One of two verb tenses for English and other Germanic languages, sometimes also called past tense because it denotes action that has taken place in the past.

primary stress
The most prominent stress on a syllable in a word or a phrase.

function word that can replace a noun or noun phrase.

proto-Germanic, pre-Germanic
The dialect of Indo-European as it developed into the earliest common Germanic language. It is nowhere attested in written form and must be reconstructed.


Received Pronunciation, RP
A spoken variety of British English historically (or at least until very recently) associated with upper class institutions like Oxbridge and the BBC.

A hypothetical form of a word for which no written record exists. It is customarily preceded by an asterisk, e.g. Indo-European *tu (gives English thou).

A variety of language reserved for a particular purpose or occasion. See code-switching.

relative pronoun
function word (in Mn. Eng. thatwhich, or who) that joins a dependent clause to an independent clause.

In phonology, the curved position of the tongue in the pronunciation of the general American [r].

The group of languages that derive from Latin, such as Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, and Romanian.

In phonology, a sound made with the lips protruding in an oval, such as [o].

A letter from the writing system of Germanic languages developed before the introduction of the Latin alphabet.


Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
A theory postulating that language shapes and limits one's perception of the world. Named for Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf.

satem language
One of the most basic divisions in Indo-European languages, named after the Avestan word for hundred. The group includes many of the languages to the south and east in the geographic spread of IE. See centum language for information on the complimentary group and the meaning of the distinction.

lax central vowel heard in most unstressed syllables in English.

secondary stress
A less prominent stress often heard in the second elements of compounds and in other polysyllabic words (like the last syllable of attitude).

The study of meaning in the lexical elements of a language.

A family of languages including Arabic and Hebrew (Pyles & Algeo).

In phonology, a voiced consonant articulated with little obstruction to the flow of air, thus much like a vowel, such as [y] and [w].

Any usage that distinguishes one variety of language from another, though ususally with deleterious social connotations. For example, saying "irregardless" instead of "regardless" would, in the opinion of Professor Donoghue, mark the speaker as intolerably ignorant.

In Judges 12:4-6, where the term originates, shibboleth is used as a password. The Israelites could pronounce it, but a mispronunciation would reveal the speaker as an enemy.

short syllable
A syllable with a short vowel that ends with no more than one consonant. Contrasted with long syllable.

In phonology, the process by which a long vowel becomes short.

In phonology, a hissing sound made with the air flowing down the center of the tongue, such as [s].

A casual, often irreverent and socially substandard form of speech.

A branch of Indo-European that includes Russian, Polish, and Czech, often grouped together with the Baltic Languages to make up Balto-Slavic.

sound symbolism
The association of certain phonemic sounds with a set of related thoughts or feelings, such as the [sl] in slimeslurpslipslug, which carries over to Lewis Carroll's slithy toves. Such sounds are sometimes called phonaesthemes.

spelling pronunciation
Pronunciation changed because of a word's spelling, even if it is unhistorical. An early example is author, in which the <h> is scribal, but over time it was perceived as part of a <th> sequence and pronunciation changed accordingly.

standard English
A prestigious form of the language taught in schools, supported by grammars and dictionaries, and used in established institutions.

The main part of a word to which prefixes and suffixes are added.

In phonology, a consonant made by temporarily blocking the flow of air, then releasing it. Examples include [t], [g].

The emphasis marked by pitch, loudness, and/or length for a syllable in a word or phrase.

strong declension
Germanic noun or adjecive declension in which the stem originally ended in a vowel (Pyles & Algeo). One of the two main categories of nouns and adjectives in English and other Germanic languages; contrasted with weak declension.

strong verb
verb that forms its preterite and past participle by a change in the root vowel. Modern English has about seventy such verbs, like swimswamswumgivegavegivenseesawseenOld English had about 300.

verb mood used when the proposition concerns something other than a factual statement, such as belief, hope, hypothesis, desire: he insisted that she drive home (not drives). The subjunctive is used sparingly in modern English. In Old English it was more common and was also used in certain syntactic constructions, especially clauses beginning with subordinating conjunctions.

An affix at the end of a base or a stem. It can either be derivational (giving rise to a new word) or inflectional.

The process of using an unrelated word to fill out a paradigm. The preterite of go is went, which comes from a different verb, but went is still the preterite inflection of go. The various forms of the verb of being (e.g.wasareisbeen) are from four originally distinct verbs, collapsed together into one paradigm as the various inflections of a single verb.

The introduction of an extra vowel where historically it does not belong, as with some pronunciations of real(a)tor. Would it apply to that Shakespeherean rag? See epenthesis.

A slice of time, rather than chronological sweep. In linguistics, it is an idealization invoked to give a sense of a language's structure at a given time. Contrasted with diachronic.

A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or a species for the genus: all hands on deck involves two part-for-whole substitutions, hand for sailor and deck for every part of the ship associated with the deck. Metonymy and synecdoche are often used interchangeably.

semantic change transferring the attributes associated with one sense to another, such as loud colorsbright sound.

The part of language study concerned with the order of words in phrases and clauses and with the rules governing the use of inflected forms (such as when to use a subjunctive).

synthetic language
language that uses morphemes such as inflectional endings to supply grammatical information about the syntactic function of sentence elements in the clause. Indo-European examples include Latin and Greek; examples from other language groups include Arabic and Turkish. Contrasted with analytic languages.


tense vowel
One made with the muscles at the base of the tongue tensed, such as [i]. Contrasted with lax vowels.

A letter from the Germanic runic alphabet added to the Latin alphabet in Anglo-Saxon England to transcribe dental fricatives. It was used through the Middle English period and was gradually replaced by the sequence [th].

The name for a diacritical mark used, for example, in Spanish spellings of words like señora.

A branch of Indo-European, long extinct, once spoken in central Asia.

Tudor Vowel Shift
See Great Vowel Shift.

typological classification
The grouping of languages based on similarities in structure.


uninflected plural
A plural form for a noun that shows no difference from the singular, such as deersalmon.

In phonology, an allophone of a stop made by moving the tongue or lips to begin the stop, but without following through. For many speakers, the [k] of blacktop is unreleased although the tongue rises to the velum.

A syllable or word, in the case of monosyllables, with less acoustic prominence than its neighbors.


VO language
Languages with a basic word order in which the object follows the verb. English has always been a VO language, even though the order is reversed in some constructions: him I can't stand.

In phonology, a sound made using the soft palate or velum.

A part of speech indicating action or existence; it can take endings indicating person, number, tense, and mood.

Verner's Law
A descriptive sound law that accounts for a class of exceptions to Grimm's Law; named after Karl Verner, who formulated it in 1875.

The change from a consonant to a vowel.

A morphological category applied to verbs, which in Indo-European languages like Greek varies between active, passive, and middle. It indicates a relation between the verb's subject and its action. Modern English has no true passive but produces the equivalent by means of a verb phrase (he was flattered).

In phonology, the sound produced by the vibration of the vocal chords. All vowels are voiced by definition; consonants may be voiced or unvoiced/voiceless.

A speech sound made with the vocal chords vibrating and with no constriction or blocking of the vocal organs.

vulgar Latin
The Latin spoken as an everyday language in the Roman Empire; it formed the basis of the various Romance languages.


weak declension
Germanic noun or adjective in which the consonant [n] was prominent; the declension of n-stems (Pyles & Algeo). Contrasted with strong declension.

weak verb
In Germanic languages, a verb that forms its preterite (past) by adding a dental stop to the root: flipflipped.

West Germanic
A subbranch of Germanic which includes English, Frisian, Dutch, Yiddish, and German.

West Saxon
The Old English dialect spoken in the south and west of England.

word order
The sequence of words in a phrase or clause. In English it is essential to syntax.

A letter form adapted from the Germanic futhorc to indicate the sound [w] in the writing of Old English. It was used up to the Middle English period.


A letter form used in Middle English and derived from the earlier insular letter form for [g]. In Middle English it was used for one of several consonant sounds.