Apheresis (linguistics)
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Apheresis Linguistics

In phonetics and phonology, apheresis (; British English: aphaeresis) is the loss of a word-initial vowel producing a new form called aphetism (e.g. American > 'Merican). In a broader sense, it can refer to the loss of any initial sound (including consonants) from a word or, in a less technical sense, to the loss of one or more sounds from the beginning of a word.[1]


Apheresis comes from Greek aphairesis, "taking away" from ? aphaireo from apo, "away" and haireo, "to take".[1] Aphetism comes from Greek aphesis, "letting go" from aphiemi from apo, "away" and ? híemi, "send forth".

Historical sound change

In historical phonetics and phonology, the term "apheresis" is often limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel. The Oxford English Dictionary gives that particular kind of apheresis the name aphesis (; from Greek ).

Loss of unstressed vowel

  • Greek: epískopos > Vulgar Latin/British Latin: *(e)biscopus > Old English: bisceop 'bishop'
  • English: acute > cute
  • English: because -> informal 'cause
  • Middle English: Egipcien > gipcyan, gipsen 'Gypsy'[2]
  • English: alone > lone
  • English: amend > mend
  • Old French: e(s)vanisse > Middle English: vanisshen 'vanish'
  • Old French: estable > English: stable
  • Old French: estrange > English: strange
  • English: esquire > squire

Loss of any sound

Poetic device

  • English it is > poetic 'tis
  • English upon > 'pon
  • English eleven > 'leven

Informal speech

Synchronic apheresis is more likely to occur in informal speech than in careful speech: 'scuse me vs. excuse me, How 'bout that? and How about that? It typically supplies the input enabling acceptance of apheresized forms historically, such as especially > specially. The result may be doublets, such as especially and specially, or the pre-apheresis form may fail to survive (Old French eschars > English scarce). An intermediate status is common in which both forms continue to exist but lose their transparent semantic relationship: abate 'decrease, moderate', with bate now confined to the locution with bated breath 'with breath held back'.

See also



  1. ^ a b Campbell, Lyle (2007). Glossary of Historical Linguistics. Edinburgh University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-7486-3019-6.
  2. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary, Gypsy. Retrieved 2010-07-13.


  • Alexander, James D. 1988. Aphesis in English. Word 39.29-65
  • Crowley, Terry (1997). An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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