Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/60

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to go into the details of this process of the transformation of an individual phonetic peculiarity into a social one, we will doubtless not be far wrong in assuming that uniformity is at first brought about by a process of unconscious imitation, mutual to some extent, among the younger speakers of a restricted locality, later, perhaps, by the half-conscious adoption of the new speech peculiarity by speakers of neighboring localities, until, finally, it has spread either over the entire area in which the language is spoken or over some definite portion of it. In the former case the historic continuity of the language as a unit is preserved, in the latter a dialectic peculiarity has asserted itself. In the course of time other phonetic peculiarities spread that serve to accentuate the dialectic division. However, the ranges of operation of the different phonetic laws need not be coterminous, so that a network of dialectic groupings may develop. At least some of the dialects will diverge phonetically more and more, until in the end forms of speech will have developed that deserve to be called distinct languages. It can not be denied that, particularly after a considerable degree of divergence has been attained, other than purely phonetic characteristics develop to accentuate a difference of dialect, but every linguistic student is aware of the fact that the most easily formulated and, on the whole, the most characteristic differences between dialects and between languages of the same genetic group are phonetic in character.

True, some one will say, changes of a purely phonetic character can be shown to be of importance in the history of language, but what of changes of a grammatical sort? Are they not of equal or even greater importance? Strange as it may seem at first blush, it can be demonstrated that many, perhaps most, changes in grammatical form are at last analysis due to the operation of phonetic laws. Inasmuch as these phonetic laws affect the phonetic form of grammatical elements as well as of other linguistic material, it follows that such elements may get to have a new bearing, as it were, brought about by their change in actual phonetic content; in certain cases, what was originally a single grammatical element may in this way come to have two distinct forms, in other cases two originally distinct grammatical elements may come to have the same phonetic appearance, so that if circumstances are favorable, the way is paved for confusion and readjustment. Briefly stated, phonetic change may and often does necessitate a readjustment of morphologic groupings. It will be well to give an example or two from the history of the English language. In another connection we have had occasion to briefly review the history of the words foot and feet. We saw that there was a time when these words had respectively the form fōt and fōti. The final i-vowel of the second word colored, by a process of assimilation which is generally referred to as "umlaut," the ō of the first syllable and made it ö, later unrounded to ē; the final