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The development of low vowels in the history of English is one which shows continuous movement, usually upwards along earlier back and later front trajectories. In addition, low vowels have been subject to lengthening processes which have compensated for the loss of earlier instances of long low vowels. Shifts along a horizontal axis, from low front to low back, can also be discerned throughout the history of English. The present study begins by examining the situation in late eighteenth-century English, using the Eighteenth-Century English Phonology Database and the works of various prescriptivist writers, to determine the outset for later developments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It also scrutinises realisations of low vowels in these varieties in order to offer a possible chronology for the overall development of low vowels in the past two centuries.
The spread of English during the colonial period (ca. 1600–1900) led to the rise of different overseas varieties. The shape of these varieties was determined by a series of factors, such as the number of settlers, the relationship of regional dialects with this group, contact with other populations, the possible existence of pidgins, and later the rise of creoles at overseas locations. In the postcolonial period, the situation changed radically with former colonies continuing on a path toward indigenous varieties with profiles of their own and with an increasing effect of transnational factors and a reorientation away from Britain-based models of English toward an America-based one.
English is a presence which cannot be denied in so many countries of today’s world (Schneider 2017, 2020) and hence it is not a matter of whether it has an influence on non-English speaking countries but what the scale and nature of this influence is (Hilgendorf 2007). In the German-speaking world there is an asymmetrical relationship between English and German despite the undisputed status of German as a major European language. With many languages there is often a resistance in society to the overwhelming influence of English, and in Germany there have been, and still are, ideological debates surrounding the many borrowings from English into German (see Mair, this volume, for instance). The extent of the influence exercised by English varies across different social domains, it being particularly strong in areas such as advertising, technology and science, though for different reasons. While in advertising the use of English is supposed to index sophistication and urbanity, for technology and science (Ammon 2004) its use derives from source research and innovation which is already embedded in an English-language context. In wider social areas, in the domestic and familiar domains, the occurrence of English is less obvious as it is confined to lexical items transferred to German. However, it is these larger domains which determine whether English material used in a German context will actually become established as permanent borrowings. Here language attitudes and comprehension issues in the initial appearance of English lexis shape the reality of language use.
In this chapter a range of features will be discussed which are persistent in the pronunciation of second-language German speakers of English. The majority of these features can be traced to structural influence from German, and hence it is worthwhile asking the question whether, in their cumulative effect, the features constitute a second-language variety in its own right which could be labelled ‘German English’. The use of this two-word label would imply that this form of English was comparable with native-language varieties like New Zealand English or Canadian English. After a detailed presentation of the various features this issue will be re-addressed and further discussed below.