World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Trisyllabic laxing


Trisyllabic laxing

Trisyllabic laxing or trisyllabic shortening is any of three processes in English whereby tense vowels (which are long vowels or diphthongs) become lax (i.e. short monophthongs) in word formation when followed by two syllables, of which the first syllable is unstressed:

  1. The earliest occurrence of trisyllabic laxing occurred in late Old English, and caused stressed long vowels to become shortened before clusters of two consonants when two or more syllables followed.
  2. Later in Middle English this process was expanded, and applied to all vowels when two or more syllables followed.
  3. The Middle English sound change remained in the language and is still a mostly productive process in Modern English. This process is detailed in Chomsky & Halle's Sound Pattern of English.

The Middle English sound change occurred before the Great Vowel Shift and other changes to the nature of vowels. As a result of these changes, the pairs of vowels related by trisyllabic laxing often bear little resemblance to each other in Modern English; however, originally they always bore a consistent relationship. For example, tense /aʊ/ was [uː] and lax /ʌ/ was [u] at the time of trisyllabic laxing.

In some cases, trisyllabic laxing appears to take place when it shouldn't, for example, in "south" vs. "southern". In such cases, the apparent anomaly is due to later sound changes; e.g. "southern" was pronounced [suːðernə] at the time that trisyllabic laxing applied.

In the modern language, there are systematic exceptions to the process, such as in words ending in -ness (e.g. "mindfulness, loneliness"). There are also occasional, non-systematic exceptions such as "obese, obesity" (/oʊˈbiːsɨti/, not */oʊˈbɛsɨti/).

Change in
Middle English
Example IPA
ɛ eː → e
ɛː → e
serene, serenity; impede, impediment /sɨˈrn, sɨˈrɛn.ɨ.ti/; /ɪmˈpd ɪmˈpɛd.ɨ.mənt/
æ aː → a profane, profanity; grateful, gratitude prɵˈfn prɵˈfæn.ɨ.ti/; /ˈɡrt.fəl ˈɡræt.ɨ.tjuːd/
ɪ iː → i divine, divinity; derive, derivative /dɨˈvn dɨˈvɪn.ɨ.ti/; /dɨˈrv dɨˈrɪv.ə.tɪv/
ʌ uː → u profound, profundity; pronounce, pronunciation /prɵˈfnd prɵˈfʌn.dɨ.ti/; /prɵˈnns prɵˌnʌˈeɪ.ʃən/
ɒ oː → o school, scholarly /ˈskl ˈskɒl.ə
ɒ ɔː → o provoke, provocative; sole, solitude /prɵˈvk prɵˈvɒk.ə.tɪv/; /ˈsl ˈsɒl.ɨ.tjuːd/


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.