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On Wed, 2010-09-08 at 14:05 -0400, Nathan Unanymous wrote:
> How did English <u> get to be pronounced both /U/ and /V/? I have a conlang 
> with a similar vowel system, in which /U/ and /V/ are allophonic with rules so 
> complex an entire book was written on it by my conworld's linguist.

The sequence of changes in Southern England was
cut: kʊt > kɤt > kʌt > kət (USA), kat (UK)
foot: fuːt > fʊt

This is a good example of the falsity of the Neogrammarian theory. If
English were an ancient, imperfectly attested language, we would explain
the contrast of "butcher" [bʊt] and "butter" [bat] as dialect mixture.
But we cannot have a rule that /ʊ/ remains after a labial, making
"butter" a loan, because there is no English dialect from which it could
be borrowed (having [pat] for "put"). And we cannot explain all cases
of /ʊ/ after a labial as loanwords from the north, because there are no
exceptions in odd corners of Cornwall or Sussex; it's ridiculous to
expect that every village in Southern England would have borrowed
northern forms for common words like "butcher, pull, full", even where
they maintained local forms like /viːld/ "field".