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I notice that in Alexander Pope's poem, An Essay on Criticism (1711), lines 669-70, there is the following couplet:

In grave Quintilian’s copious works we find
The justest rules and clearest method join’d

So, I take it that to Pope, the words "find" and "join'd" rhymed. Of course, today these words do not rhyme. Find rhymes with "kind" and "rind" and "bind", whereas, "join" rhymes with "coin" and "loin", and the sound of "OI" is the same as in "toy" and is definitely different than the long I in "find".

What is the explanation for this? It seems strange that the diphthong OI would have the same sound as I in find, even in a historical period. Was that indeed the case?


(Note: before suggesting the idea that Alexandrian poetry has non-rhyming couplets, consider this research. ALL of Pope's couplets are meant to rhyme. Pope's couplets are known in theory as heroic couplets, and it is a feature of this type of poetry that the couplets are composed of perfect rhymes. See "The Heroic Couplet" by William Bowman Piper (1969). If you have questions about a perfect rhyme, or some doubt that heroic couplets are composed of perfect rhymes, that is the book.)

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    The do rhyme in 21st century in some British accents – either way round, or should I say rind? Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 12:14
  • If what you say in your note is true, it is incontrovertible that the two words rhymed: no sane person can dispute it and there seems little point in the question. english.stackexchange.com/questions/597902/… may be of interest.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 21:09
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    More to the point, was there anything like "received pronunciation" at the time? Because one can be reasonably sure that in some English dialects they rhymed, and in others they didn't. Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 0:11
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    @WeatherVane As schoolchildren in Yorkshire we discovered that even Shakespeare rhymes if read in a Northern accent.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 8:54
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    Worth noting that "join" is spelled "jine" a couple of times in Treasure Island, suggesting that this was a dialectical pronunciation. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 6:29

3 Answers 3

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It's entirely possible that Pope rhymed find with joined. Pope attended Twyford School in Hampshire before his family moved to Berkshire.

There are still dialects of English where /ɔɪ/ is used where Standard English would use /aɪ/, making a word like light sound loit. Famous East Anglia example: Have you got a light, boy, although this would sound similar in a Sussex accent, and the phenomenon is even more noticeable further west.

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    Accent? Or just dropped the e from joined to fit the meter and rhyme? I can see it. That's a weak syllable anyway; easy to drop.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 4:48
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    @Joshua Yes, accent as in dialectal manner of pronunciation not accent as in a stressed syllable.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 11:05
  • Excellent answer in general, but the kind of East Anglia accent heard in the linked song doesn’t really illustrate it — their light is shifted closer to a standard English loit, but their loit is also shifted further onward, so these two diphthongs remain distinct, not merged. In the song, for instance, their boy and by are clearly different, as heard in “When she sees me passing by”, from around 1:00.
    – PLL
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 13:06
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They either rhymed or were very close near-rhymes.

The Great Vowel Shift, which changed the quality of English long vowels, happened between 1400 and 1800. The vowel of find, time, and price, started in 1400 as [iː] (the vowel in bead today. According to the chart in the Wikipedia article, between 1600 and 1800 it first turned to /əi/, and then to /ʌi/, before reaching its modern value of /aɪ/ in the 19th century. Meanwhile, the vowel of join stayed roughly the same, /ɔɪ/.

The diphthongs /ʌi/ and /ɔɪ/ sound quite similar, and they are certainly close enough to be used as rhymes in poetry. Furthermore, while not everybody in England could have pronounced them the same (if they had, these vowels would presumably have stayed the same forever), it's certainly possible that some people did.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who lived around the same time as Pope (1688–1744) and wrote a large number of hymns and other poems, rhymed these two diphthongs as well:

Lord, I am thine; but thou wilt prove
My faith, my patience, and my love;
When men of spite against me join,
They are the sword, the hand is thine.

Watts did use a lot of near-rhymes, so you can't tell from his poems whether they were exact rhymes or merely very good near-rhymes for him.

One comment: Watts seems to rhyme these two vowels mainly when they come before /n/, so in early 18th century pronunciation, the sequences /ɔɪn/ and /aɪn/ were presumably better near-rhymes than, say, noise and rise.

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  • I've seen this 'rhyme' in other 18th century verse too. Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 14:44
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    [oi] and [ai] are very close together. Both are diphthongs with high front offglide, and their starting positions are very close, down in the angle of the throat. It would be easy to rhyme them, just like it is to rhyme German wissen with schüssen in "Die Gedanken Sind Frei". Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 16:04
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    @JohnLawler Noice. Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 17:42
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The most common explanation of this is that join had an unrounded diphthong at this time, /əi/ or /ʌi/.

This can be explained as a regular development from an earlier diphthong /ui/ (or /ʊi/); the first part of the diphthong unrounded (just as the short monophthong /u/ unrounded to /ʌ/ in words like sun, nut, drunk), causing it to merge with the vowel in words like find, which is assumed to have at some point gone through the steps /əi/ > /ʌi/ > /ai/.

The modern pronunciation of join with /ɔɪ/ would be either an alternative phonological development of /ui/, or a spelling pronunciation based on both original /ui/ and original /ɔɪ/ being spelled with the digraph oi/oy.

I'm not entirely sure how to tell whether a word spelled with oi/oy originally had /ui/ or /ɔɪ/, but some historical sources give lists, and I think it's related to the word's etymology in French.

For more details, see the links in my answer to Does English have (or has it had) the diphthongs /uɪ, ʌɪ/?

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