The English word "wish" is akin to the German word "wünschen", the reconstructed Proto-Germanic word being "wunskijanan" (according to Wiktionary). What happened to the letter n in the middle of the word? I see that the Old Norse word also didn't have it: "œskja", but for some reason the Faroese, Swedish and Danish ones do. Isn't Faroese a direct descendant of Old Norse?

Have there been analogous en losses in English? Does the process have a name? Or was it a random event?

  • Many German verbs end in -en where their English equivalent does not (there's grüßen/greet and wollen/will as well as wünschen) so it would appear unlikely to be random. – Andrew Leach Nov 4 '12 at 13:04
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    @AndrewLeach Oh, sorry. My question is unclear. I don't mean the -en at the end of the word. I mean the letter n (en) in the middle of it. – user18036 Nov 4 '12 at 13:07
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    I'll add that I'm not sure if there's a cognate present that would result in analogous n-dropping, but n-loss before a fricative (in this case, I think it's a lingua-palatal fricative) is one of those natural phonological changes that takes place independently in many languages. – Zairja Nov 4 '12 at 14:39
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    This is a good question, but can I urge you in thinking about this sort of question to consider sounds and not letters. It is an entirely different kind of question from "Why has debt got a 'b' in it?", which is a question about letters and not sounds. – Colin Fine Nov 4 '12 at 16:30
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    @ymar We rarely get beyond the phoneme/phone contrast in this neck of the woods. I suggest putting phonemes (or anything of that general order) in slashes, thus:**/n/**, and phones in square brackets, thus:**[ɛ]**, and don't call them anything unless you have to. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 4 '12 at 22:27

Not my field, but I'm going to guess that this is an instance of the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law, under which an /n/ before a fricative is dropped in Old English, Old Frisian and Old Saxon.

The article linked names several other English words which exhibit this change, including

  • mouth, compare Ger Mund
  • us, compare Ger uns
  • tooth, compare Ger Zahn
  • other, compare Ger ander
  • goose, compare Ger Gans (and note that gander, where no fricative is in play, retains the /n/)
  • five, compare Ger fűnf
  • soft, compare Ger sanft

The article also explains why some words, such as month, tenth, and answer appear to evade this law but in fact do not.

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    +1 Nooooo. You beat me by a minute. I'm no expert either, but this is the answer I was going to provide. This table of vowel developments shows similar changes from the Proto-German to Old English: PG *tunskaz > OE tūsc > "tusk"; PG *wunskijanaN > OE wȳsċan > "wish"; PG *kunþiþō > OE cȳþþ(u) > "kith" – Zairja Nov 4 '12 at 14:46
  • @Zairja I hope you at least have the consolation of working in other circles where you may earn Reputation by casually dropping the phrase Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law. You may still address the question of developments in Faroese and ON. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 4 '12 at 14:51

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