Why vin in vine sounds similar to vice, but vin in vineyard is similar to that in the name Vincent?

I would expect since both vine and vineyard are related to grape in some way, they probably should share the root. As a result their pronunciation should be similar. What is the history behind the difference?

  • 3
    In Latin vitis means grape, vinea means vine and vineyard, and vinum means wine. All of a family, with family resemblances; they've been together a long long time. As for the vowels, well, vowels are not stable. The fact that /vɪnyərd/ is spelled vineyard while /vayn/ is spelled vine is just one more predictable result of using a system designed (and well-suited) for Middle English to spell Modern English. How well would your computer work if it were limited to technology from 1575? – John Lawler Jul 30 '14 at 2:58
  • It sounds like a great answer. Do you mind to put your comment in an answer so I can upvote you? – Anthony Kong Jul 30 '14 at 6:00
  • There are thousands of illogical sounds/spellings in English and you can become exhausted even reading the reasons why. I am sorry that English sounds are so illogical and it amazes me that English became the international language. I am sorry to say that, until there is a language revolution, as George Bernard Shaw would have liked, you just have to learn each one, as you would learn each Chinese pictogram. – Paul Bennett Jul 30 '14 at 7:06
  • @JohnLawler - but apart from spelling, there is a reasonable question about pronunciation. I don't think it is far-fetched to assume vineyard being a compound of vine and yard, a yard with vines. The shortening of the i is not an obvious phenomenon. Might it be related to similar shortening in, for instance, place names ending in -ton (shortened from -town)? – oerkelens Jul 30 '14 at 7:10
  • All the Latin words has a short /i/ in the first syllable. Some got lengthened during their French lives, or after their borrowing into English. Then the Great Vowel Shift moved all the long vowels up, while leaving the short vowels where they were -- and incidentally erasing phonemic vowel length in English. – John Lawler Jul 30 '14 at 14:09

Etymonline has this to say:

vineyard (n.) c.1300, replacing Old English wingeard, from vine + yard (n.1). Compare German weingarten.

If it is a compound of vine and yard there would be little reason to shorten the i of vine. However, I can see two reasons why it would have shortened.

The first would be that the "replacement" was really just a spelling change, and teh word never was seen as really different from wingeard, which I can imagine to be pronounced in a similar way as teh modern pronunciation of vineyard (at the very least with a short [i]).

A second one, but this is mere speculation, is that longer vowels tend to get shortened in compounds over time. Many place names that where formed as town became ton.

I would assume it is pronounced in a similar way to wingeard, since that is the actual word, even though someone decided to change the spelling to make it look like a compound that it may never actually have been. If you wonder how this could be possible, look up the history of the word colonel!

  • I like your answer except for your explanation that place names ending in 'ton' were shortened from names ending in 'town'. If you look up the etymology of town you will see that it derives from the Old English 'tun' meaning an enclosed space. Almost all English place names ending in 'ton' such as Boston and Darlington are older than the word 'town' which, according to etymology on line, wasn't used until the 12th century. – BoldBen Oct 4 '20 at 7:54
  • "wingeard" was most likely pronounced with a long ī sound in Old English. Old English wrote long and short i the same way; it did not have the modern English convention of marking long i with "silent e". – herisson Oct 4 '20 at 8:38

The vowel is originally long. It is long in the Latin word vīnum, which was borrowed into Germanic, yielding the Old English wīn "wine". And also in the Latin word vīnea, a derivative of vīnum, which developed in French to vigne, the source of the English word vine. (The lines above the vowels are not part of the Latin or Old English spelling systems, but represent our current knowledge of the length of the vowels in these words. A short "i" in Latin would not have remained "i" in French; compare Latin minus, with short i, which turned into French moins.)

The short i in the modern pronunciation is an example of sporadic, irregular vowel shortening. Vowel shortening has occurred in a few English words with the form of compounds, but there are no definite rules I known of to predict which words show it. Other examples are breakfast vs. break and sheep vs. shepherd. Most compounds retain the length of the vowel in the base word.

"English Syllable Structure and Vowel Shortening," by Balogné Bérces Katalin, categorizes vine/vineyard as a case of a "synchronically unmotivated" vowel length alternation (§6.6, p. 40).

  • According to A historical phonology by Donka Minkova, the vowels in vine - vinegar are different because of Trisyllabic Shortening, but doesn't explain vine - vineyard. /// She's explained sheep - shepherd, moon - Monday, house - husband under Pre-consonantal Shortening section (I haven't read it yet). – Decapitated Soul Oct 4 '20 at 10:14

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