We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is Sound Change?

By Suzanne S. Wiley
Updated Feb 12, 2024
Our promise to you
LanguageHumanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At LanguageHumanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Sound change is literally a change in a sound in a language. It does not necessarily happen in every dialect in the language, nor does it affect the word’s meaning or use. The term “sound change” applies to the historical evolution of the sounds of a language and is an umbrella term covering all types of sound changes. Each type of change has its own name, and the term “sound change” is too broad to give enough detail to identify what exactly happened.

Every language undergoes sound change, but not every type of sound change occurs in all languages. Different words can have multiple sound changes over time, changing later versions of a language so drastically that the old and modern versions are no longer mutually intelligible. In some cases, the two may seem like completely different languages.

Many of the changes involve a modification of one or more of the features of the sound. Each sound has different qualities that describe what goes into making the sound and what differentiates it from other sounds. The articulators, or parts of the mouth and throat used to produce the sound; the movement of the vocal folds; and the movement of air through the mouth or nose are three types of these features.

For example, the sound "f" is a voiceless labiodental fricative. This means the sound is produced with one lip and the upper teeth, the vocal folds are apart and making the sound voiceless, and air is able to pass out of the mouth with some friction. Changing one of those features transforms the "f" into another sound. For example, changing just the position of the vocal folds, from open to vibrating, changes the "f" to "v".

Sound change may involve either adding or subtracting sounds, combining sounds, strengthening or weakening them, switching them around or nasalizing them. It’s not unusual to see changes that mirror each other. Assimilation, for example, occurs when one sound changes to match an adjacent sound in some aspect, such as an "n" becoming voiced, or an "m", before a voiced consonant like "b".

The writing system of a language can suffer rather badly at the hands of a sound change because the spelling system doesn’t necessarily change along with the sound. Much of English spelling, particularly the vowels, doesn’t match up with the sounds because the vowel system has undergone huge shifts over time. One giant shift, known as the Great English Vowel Shift, occurred in the 15th to 17th centuries, changing vowels like the “ee” in “sheep.” That “ee” used to be a long “eh,” but the shift moved the articulatory position in the mouth up, so it now has the familiar “ee” sound.

Sounds do not reach one final point and stay that way. They might seem like they do that because a sound change is very gradual, but each sound can continue to change. As more dialects and languages come in contact with each other, as people start pronouncing sounds at slightly different places in the mouth and as children pick up on and adopt these modifications, society will see more sound changes occurring.

LanguageHumanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

LanguageHumanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

LanguageHumanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.