The Great Vowel Shift: See and Hear the GVS, What Is the Great Vowel Shift?, Dialogue: Conservative and Advanced Speakers.

This dialogue does two things. First, it gives the listener four slices of time and shows how vowels would be pronounced in each of these periods. You can click on a time link and get text, sound, and phonetic transcription for the dialogue as it would have taken place in that time. You may also click on a word within the text and get pronunciations of that word (or a similar one) across time.

Second, the dialogue illustrates an important concept: the difference between conservative speakers and advanced speakers. In any community in the midst of a sound change, some speakers will have the new pronunciations while others will maintain older ones. Age may be the most important factor in determining which form a person will use–older people have older pronunciations, younger people have newer ones–but gender, education, geography, and other factors also affect individual speech. In our dialogue, Cole is the conservative speaker; Alice is the advanced speaker. Differences between their pronunciations can be seen most clearly in the word “name”: in 1450-1550, Alice has [æ] in “name,” while Cole has the older [a]; in 1550-1650, Alice has [e], while Cole has [æ]; and so on.
Important Note: This dialogue is not real. That is, we created it, and we did not worry about whether people would actually say these things in 1400 or 1650 or whenever. We tried not to include any egregious anachronisms, but we spent very little time checking to see if the morphology or syntax is representative of ME or MnE. This dialogue is designed for studying the changes in the long vowels and should not otherwise be taken as representative of the speech of any of the four time periods.

Via wood s lot.

Update (August 2018). The links are broken, but the material is available here. Thanks, JC!


  1. Interesting the way they almost use the IPA for the examples, but switch to Croatian orthography for “č” and “š.” (Or is that an old-school IPA thing I’m not aware of?)

  2. Carlos VIllavicencio says

    I first heard about the GVS when i was abuot 6 or 7 now i am 36. Even then I laughed when an expert with many years of study was reading a paragraph written in todays english but pronounced in the olde english… to me he was reading english words using the spanish vowels pronunciations. So why did English change and not spanish. Even today certain as we call it AUstralian or British accents still use the old pronunciation.
    Would you attribute this phenomenom to the Tower of Bable..maybe humanity was trying to reach for GOD and this happend a second time…. what next

  3. The above links have rotted, but the audio is now in the Internet Archive, and a landing page for it is now on my site.

  4. David Marjanović says

    Or is that an old-school IPA thing I’m not aware of?

    No; I suspect Americanist phonetic notation.

  5. I added an update; thanks!

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