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The word "wind" seems to be problematic (with almost all other English words that behave strangely). When it is used as a noun to mean the movement of air, it is pronounced to rhyme with "bit" (the vowel part) but its verb (meaning: move in or take a twisting or spiral course) rhymes with "find".

It appears that they originated from the same word? There are many other words in English that behave like this but I am only interested in this one.

Noun → /wɪnd/
Verb → /wnd/

Why is it this way?

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  • Why have you spelled "curious" as "qurious" ;-) because English has a good history.
    – user119042
    Jan 15, 2021 at 13:24
  • According to Oxford dictionaries, the 'weather' one is Old English, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch 'wind' and German 'Wind', from an Indo-European root shared by Latin 'ventus'. The verb is from Old English 'windan' ‘go rapidly’, ‘twine’, of Germanic origin; related to 'wander' and 'wend'. Incidentally, some old poetry does require 'wind' (weather) to rhyme with 'find'. Jan 15, 2021 at 13:36
  • 1
    Many if not most Anglophones today distinguish two fundamentally different pronunciations for These are the toys I have to play with, where enunciating the normal "soft" /v/ (HAV) in have conveys the sense of These toys are available to me to play with. But it can also be articulated with a "hard" /f/ (HAFF) to mean I must play with these toys. In that example, obviously it was originally the same verb to have - but for at least some of us, it's effectively diverged into two completely different sounds and meanings. Because English, as they say! :) Jan 15, 2021 at 13:37
  • 1
    There’s more than one noun and one verb “wind”. Compare: “He got winded” (verb of the noun wind you noted, both pronounced the same) and “Let’s give the clock another wind” (noun of the verb wind that you noted, both pronounced the same).
    – Laurel
    Jan 15, 2021 at 14:11
  • Based on Kate Bunting's comment, I would say that you have two words with a single spelling, not one word with two pronunciations. But that does not make your question any less interesting. Jan 16, 2021 at 1:18

2 Answers 2

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𝑇𝐿;𝐷𝑅

'Wind' (n) and 'wind' (v) had the same vowel in Old English. Both had a short vowel /i/ which was lengthened in Late OE due to a sound change triggered by consonant clusters such as /nd, ld, mb, rd/ etc. The vowel in 'wind' (n) got shortened in the seventeenth century for some reasons. The short and long vowels in 'child' and 'children' can also be attributed to the same sound change.

𝐻𝑜𝑚𝑜𝑟𝑔𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑐 𝐿𝑒𝑛𝑔𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔

By about the tenth century (Late Old English), there was a sound change called Homorganic Lengthening (HL) through which original short vowels were lengthened in certain words in the environment of a following voiced homorganic cluster. To be precise, before a cluster of Sonorant (Nasal or Liquid) + voiced homorganic obstruent.

Homorganic means having the same place of articulation, so vowels before clusters like /nd/, /ld/, /mb/, /rd/, /rn/, /ŋɡ/ etc., were lengthened in certain words. The change also applied to some clusters with /r/ as their first element such as /rd/, /rn/, /rl/, /rð/ (Donka Minkova) so the vowel in words like board, hoard, yearn, earl, earth etc., were also lengthened due to HL.

Examples

  • A striking example of HL is the word 'climb': Old English climban and would've been pronounced with a short vowel before HL: /ˈklim.bɑn/, it became: /ˈklm.bɑn/1
  • 'Ground' was OE grund, pronounced /ɡrund/, it became /ɡrnd/2
  • 'Blind' was OE blind, pronounced /blind/, it became /blnd/
  • 'Field' was OE feld, pronounced /feld/, it became /fld/3

Influence of a third consonant

However, the lengthening didn't take place when the homorganic cluster in question was followed by a third consonant. It means HC+C ('HC' being the homorganic cluster and 'C' another consonant) cluster was impervious to HL. This can be illustrated by the following example:

  • 'Hound' was OE hund and pronounced /xund/, it became /xnd/. 'Hundred', on the other hand, was hundred, pronounced /ˈxundred/, it didn't change because the homorganic cluster /nd/ was followed by a third consonant /r/.

The vowel in 'grind' is long due to HL and that of 'grindstone' (ModE: /ˈɡraɪn(d)stəʊn/) should've been short because the /nd/ is followed by a third consonant, but it isn't. Otto Jespersen says that 'grindstone' was formerly always /ˈgrinstən/ and the long vowel in ModE is by analogy with 'grind'.

This point also accounts for the long and short vowels in 'child' and 'children'.

Child vs children

  • 'child' was OE ċild, pronounced /t͡ʃild/, it became /t͡ʃld/
  • 'children' was OE ċildru, pronounced /t͡ʃildru/, it didn't undergo the sound change because the cluster /ldr/ was impervious to HL.

Don't let the w[ɪ]nd w[aɪ]nd you up

There are different assumptions as to why the vowels in 'wind' (v) and 'wind' (n) are different:

  • Donka Minkova says 'the pair wind - wind is a special case, probably best explained on the grounds of homophony avoidance'.
  • Jeremy Smith says that this is a sporadic instance of HL where it failed. He goes on to say '[t]his distinction may be the result of a disambiguating choice between variant pronunciations to avoid confusion between two meanings'
  • Otto Jespersen says that the noun wind used to have /iː/, but it got shortened by analogy with frequent compounds such as windmill (also OED), window which had short vowels.
  • OED and A History of Modern English sounds and morphology by Eilert Ekwall say that the short vowel is due to analogy with windy.

This was a sporadic sound change and only affected certain words. There are many, many words that have a 'voiced homorganic cluster' at the end, yet they have short vowels: band, hand, land, dumb, lamb, sand, send, held, bend, blend, end, rend, send, spend, wend etc. (Minkova)


Notes

  1. The nasal endings (/ɑn/) were later on lost. The reason 'climb' has /aɪ/ (instead of /iː/) in ModE is because of the GVS.
  2. /uː/ to /aʊ/ shift is also because of the GVS.
  3. /eː/ to /iː/ shift can also be ascribed to the GVS.

Abbreviations

  • HL: Homorganic Lengthening
  • OE: Old English
  • ME: Middle English
  • ModE: Modern English
  • OED: Oxford English Dictionary
  • GVS: Great Vowel Shift

References

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  • Curious why you're using serif unicode characters for the "TL;DR" while the site uses sans-serif :)
    – Andrew T.
    Jan 16, 2021 at 0:14
  • "will further explain later" there's more?? Jan 16, 2021 at 0:14
  • @AzorAhai-him-: Yeah. This is only a brief summary :)
    – Void
    Jan 16, 2021 at 2:06
  • @AndrewT.: Because serif unicode looks better than the (dumb) sans serif :D
    – Void
    Jan 16, 2021 at 7:37
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    An excellent answer. Nicely written, Void. Jan 18, 2021 at 9:38
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They didn't both come from the same word. Their entries at Etymonline show two different sources.

The change in the pronunciation of the noun from long (like 'find') to short (like 'pinned') is comparatively recent. According to Etymonline:

[wind] shifted to a short vowel 18c., probably from influence of windy, where the short vowel is natural. A sad loss for poets, who now must rhyme it only with sinned and a handful of weak words.

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    Indeed. Shakespeare has Blow, blow, thou winter wind/Thou art not so unkind/As man's ingratitude, and the carol 'God rest you merry, gentlemen' has The Shepherds at those tidings/Rejoiced much in mind,/And left their flocks a feeding/In tempest, storm and wind. Jan 15, 2021 at 13:58
  • @Void: A hinder? Where'd you get that? Jan 15, 2021 at 14:07
  • @OldBrixtonian: It was meant to be a joke
    – Void
    Jan 15, 2021 at 14:08
  • @Void: Oh. Jokes. No. It's 2021: we don't get those any more. Not round Brixton. Kate quoted As You Like It, which is full of hinds and hind-rhymes (like Touchstone mocking Orlando's inept love-poem with his own sexually suggestive one) and I thought you were referencing Shakespeare. It's a cruel disappointment but I'll rise above it. Jan 15, 2021 at 18:33

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