Apheresis (linguistics)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

In phonetics and phonology, apheresis (/əˈfɛrɪsɪs, əˈfɪərɪsɪs/; 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 ἀφαίρεσις aphairesis, "taking away" from ἀφαιρέω aphaireo from ἀπό apo, "away" and αἱρέω haireo, "to take".[1] Aphetism (/ˈæfɪtɪzəm/) comes from Greek ἄφεσις aphesis, "letting go" from ἀφίημι aphiemi from ἀπό apo, "away" and ἵημι híemi, "send forth".

Historical sound change[edit]

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 (/ˈæfɪsɪs/; from Greek ἄφεσις).

Loss of unstressed vowel[edit]

  • 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[edit]

Poetic device[edit]

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

Informal speech[edit]

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[edit]



  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.