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An explanation for the early phonemicisation of a voice contrast in English fricatives1



Most handbooks and grammars contend that in Old English the voiced fricatives [v, ð, z] were merely allophones of /f, θ, s/ in sonorous environments. How these voiced fricatives became phonemes is debated among scholars. In this article, all previous accounts are critically reviewed. A new proposal is then presented, which explains the facts in a more direct way than previous theses. I argue that phonemicisation of a previous allophonic voice alternation in fricatives had already taken place in many areas of Anglo-Saxon England through language contact with Brittonic. Voiceless as well as voiced fricative phonemes existed in Brittonic at the time of contact, and language shift would have led directly to the phonemicisation of the previous allophonic variation found in early Old English.



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