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As a result of a /d/ → /ð/ shift, fæder became father, hider became hither and togædere became together, giving us our modern English forms.

However, I know that murder and burden have archaic forms- murther and burthen. This means a shift from /ð/ → /d/ also happened, doesn't it?

The High German Consonant Shift turned /ð/ →/d/, a change that affects modern German and Dutch. The English that and Icelandic það versus the German das highlight this change, but it also went the other way- German tot versus English dead.

My questions:

1.) When did this consonant shift happen in English? Etymonline mentions 12c.

2.) What are some more examples of the /ð/ → /d/ in English words?

3.) How is the shift mirrored in other Germanic languages?

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This shift is happening all the time, because to many Anglophones there's not much difference between d and th. Babies learning to speak, for example, are likely to come out with things like "Dat's mine!" even if they're not growing up in an environment where older speakers habitually use such forms (AAV, "rustic" British dialects, etc.). – FumbleFingers Dec 12 '13 at 14:22
The very first line in this question is a misunderstanding: there was never a /d/ -> /ð/ shift that turned fæder to ‘father’. Fæder already had an /ð/. German tot does not go the ‘other way’: /d/ -> /t/ is another part of the same chain of shifts in German. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '13 at 21:02

2 Answers 2

1. When did this consonant shift happen in English? Etymonline mentions 12c.

Everybody has their own set of pronunciation habits. /ð/ can be pronounced in various ways and still be distinguishable because its existence is easily predicted/"auto-interpreted" by the brain. /d/ or /dð/ are common variants. It would be very hard to say exactly when such a shift occurred in the English language given that these transitions happen over time, unless an obvious answer exists like "The High Shift", but that's pretty unique, that's why it has its own name :P

2. What are some more examples of the /ð/ → /d/ in English words?

I'm not sure what "in English words" specifies in your question. I assume you're asking for words where the English /d/ takes place of the German /th/, i.e., words that are the 'opposite way', since words that illustrate the 'High Shift' are easy to think of/find.

Assuming you were asking for examples of /ð/ → /d/ -- so words where the English /d/ replaces the German /th/:

  • dollar / thaler (see note below)

    For the rest of the list that follows, ignore the spelling of the German words, think of the pronunciation instead. Of course this will vary from person to person, but these are arguably at least semi-aspirated /th/ sounds as opposed to just a 't' sound. Invariably though, this all depends on how hard you enunciate the latter half of the sound. I'm not going to pedantically look up the pronunciation guides in a dictionary, I have several relatives who speak German. Some aspirate the /h/ part of /th/ quite heavily, and others barely at all. You decide whether they count or not.

  • devil / teuful
  • day / tag
  • door / tür
  • deaf / taub

The Dollar / thaler pair is a good specific example of cognates with this particular shift. A Thaler is an old unit of currency from which "dollar" also gets its name. I mention this specifically in response to your question:

This means a shift from /ð/ → /d/ also happened, doesn't it?

I can't cite a particular 'shift' occurring in that direction, but the shift is definitely not one-way, perhaps they are simply commutatively understood and thus interchangable? If one were looking for evidence or trying to convince his peers of a 'reverse shift' having occurred, this is a pretty good lead-in that supports that theory.

You obviously know about the opposite way (high Germanic shift, English /th/ replaces the German /d/) but since I wasn't positive which shift you were asking for more examples of, I'll include some of this kind too:

  • thank / danken
  • leather / leder
  • three / drei
  • earth / erde
  • bath / bad
  • forward / vorwärts
  • word / wort

[Again, for some of's pronunciation, not spelling of course :)]

3. How is the shift mirrored in other Germanic languages?

Firstly the easiest thing to explain: Olde English ignored the shift completely. No effect there.

The fourth phase of the High German Shift, þ/ð→d occurred around the 9th/10th century, based on historical Old High German-Language books containing the old/unshifted version from around that time period. There was a lot more to the High German Shift than this particular mutation...although it was the most impactful & important. The first three phases of the High German Shift affected voiceless plosives, leading therefore to mostly isolated changes (High German only. Lower German was mostly unaffected.)

The fourth phase shifted the dental fricatives to /d/. This is distinctive in that it also affects Low German and Dutch. In early Old High German, as in Old Dutch and Old Saxon, the voiceless and voiced dental fricatives þ and ð stood in allophonic relationship (as did f/v and s/z), with þ in final position and ð used initially and medially. The sound ð then became /d/, while þ became /t/. This shift occurred late enough that unshifted forms are to be found in the earliest Old High German texts, and thus it can be dated to the 9th or 10th century. It took several centuries to spread north, appearing in Dutch only during the 12th century, and in Frisian not for another century or two after that.

(Can't post more than 2 links with a low post count apparently. So you'll have to 'manually fill in' what's obviously missing)
(Thanks Ruakh for fixing my links <3.)

Things to read:

Hope that helps.

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There are a few misconceptions in this question, and some speculated sound changes that never took place.

/d/ -> /ð/ in English

The first change you mention, changing /d/ into /ð/ in English, is not a shift that has ever taken place in English.

The First Germanic Sound Shift (also known as either Grimm’s Law or Rask’s Rule after the two linguists who independently discovered it around the same time) is responsible for the change of inherited Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *t to Proto-Germanic *þ, except if the stress was on the immediately following syllable, in which case, it went to *ð (as in *faðḗr, from *patḗr).

In the earlier stages of English, this /ð/ was often represented by ‹d›, just because spelling in earlier stages of literature was not particularly phonemic or precise.

But the sound shift itself took place at a time before there was anything that could be called ‘English’. By the time of English, the sound was already /ð/.

/ð/ -> /d/ in English

While it is true that there is great variation in how people pronounce /ð/, it is nonetheless a phoneme in English, and one that has largely been kept distinct from /d/.

Naturally, in some circumstances, an original /ð/ can be expected to turn more or less reliably to /d/. /nð/, for example, is quite likely to turn to /nd/. But in ‘regular’ circumstances, /d/ and /ð/ have remained distinct and separate in English.

The two words you cite, murder and burden, did indeed start out with an /ð/, but the reason they now have /d/ is most likely due to influence from Anglo-Norman, which did not have /ð/ at all. There is some evidence that consistently conflating /d/ and /ð/ was a trait of some dialects a few centuries later, but that is not necessarily related at all—and it was seemingly consistent, which is exactly what sound changes are. There may have been a stage or a dialect when/where /rð/ went to /rd/, and this may have been a contributing factor to why we now don’t say murther and burthen (except poetically and something to do with ships); but it was not a sound shift that affected English as a whole.

In Old German, /ð/ did indeed go to /d/, but it did so throughout the language. This clearly did not happen in English.


So in short:

  1. It didn’t; not really.
  2. Apart from old dialectal forms, I can’t think of any. I’m sure there are some here and there, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of one.
  3. It isn’t, since it’s not a real shift.
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