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The question is on the words with a word-final "ght", such as in "fight" and "wight", which are quite mysterious, I hope to know the connections among these "ght" words.

The question comes from the fact that I just don't understand the "t" in the PGmc origin "nakht-", "fekhtanan" and "wekhtiz" stand for, because I can not find the descriptions about the function or meaning of the PGmc or PIE morpheme "t".

So the ultimate question is: What is the historical function about the "t" mentioned in the words(with these old language words) above?

night

O.E. niht (W.Saxon neaht, Anglian næht, neht) "night, darkness;" the vowel indicating that the modern word derives from oblique cases (gen. nihte, dat. niht), from P.Gmc. *nakht- (cf. O.S., O.H.G. naht, O.Fris., Du., nacht, Ger. Nacht, O.N. natt, Goth. nahts), from PIE *nekwt- "night" (cf. Gk. nuks "a night," L. nox, O.Ir. nochd, Skt. naktam "at night," Lith. naktis "night," O.C.S. nosti, Rus. noch', Welsh henoid "tonight"), according to Watkins, probably from a verbal root *neg- "to be dark, be night." For spelling with -gh- see fight.

fight

O.E. feohtan "to fight" (class III strong verb; past tense feaht, pp. fohten), from P.Gmc. *fekhtanan (cf. O.H.G. fehtan, Ger. fechten, M.Du., Du. vechten, O.Fris. fiuhta "to fight"), from PIE *pek- "to pluck out" (wool or hair), apparently with a notion of "pulling roughly" (cf. Gk. pekein "to comb, shear," pekos "fleece, wool;" Pers. pashm "wool, down," L. pectere "to comb," Skt. paksman- "eyebrows, hair").

Spelling substitution of -gh- for a "hard H" sound was a Middle English scribal habit, especially before -t-. In some late Old English examples, the middle consonant was represented by a yogh. To fight back "resist" is recorded from 1890.

wight

O.E. wiht "living being, creature," from P.Gmc. *wekhtiz (cf. O.S. wiht "thing, demon," Du. wicht "a little child," O.H.G. wiht "thing, creature, demon," Ger. Wicht "creature, infant," O.N. vettr "thing, creature," Swed. vätte "spirit of the earth, gnome," Goth. waihts "something").

The only apparent cognate outside Gmc. is O.C.S. vešti "a thing." Not related to the Isle of Wight, which is from L. Vectis (c.150), originally Celtic, possibly meaning "place of the division."

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4  
I think you should split those into two questions, they don't seem related at all. –  Alenanno Oct 27 '12 at 16:30
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I agree this should be two questions. Also, it would be helpful if you could indicate what kind of research you may have already done to find answers. –  Mark Beadles Oct 27 '12 at 19:06
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Hi~@MarkBeadles, I will adjust my question soon. –  archenoo Oct 28 '12 at 10:09
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I still don't understand what the question is about. There are the etymologies; what more is there? –  jlawler Oct 28 '12 at 16:04
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I think you are assuming that -t- is historically a morpheme, and the same morpheme morpheme in these three words. If that is what you meant, then I think you are mistaken. –  Colin Fine Oct 31 '12 at 16:07
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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

One thing to remember about English spelling is that for the most part it is "frozen", and reflects the Middle English pronunciation. Another thing to remember is that there has never been a standardized spelling for English, and individual judgment, errors, and a variety of dialects have played a large role in how words are spelled. So every question about English spelling has to be considered in light of these two major issues.

Night, fight, and wight are all pronounced with a final /-aɪt/ in Modern English. Their < -ght > spelling reflects the Middle English pronunciations, which had a final /-ixt/. (The digraph < gh > in MidEng represented the sounds /x/ or /ç/, which were also variously spelled < h >, < ch >, < ȝ >.)

The reason the three words are spelled similarly in Modern English is that they rhymed in Middle English. The reason they rhymed in Middle English despite differing etymologies is that they underwent regular predictable phonological mergers:

  • In Proto-Germanic these words were:

    • nɑxt-s 'night n.' < PIE *nokʷts
    • wiht-iz 'creature, person, thing n.' < PIE *wekti-
    • fex-t ɑn 'to comb wool, to struggle v.' < PIE *pek-. The /t/ came from the personal suffix on the verb.
  • In Old English the three rhymes were not yet homophones. The /a/ in the night etymon had raised to /i/ under palatal umlaut, causing it to rhyme with wight:

    • niht /niht/ [niçt] 'night'
    • wiht /wiht/ [wiçt] 'wight'
    • but feoht /feoht/ [feoxt] 'fight n.'
  • By Middle English the rhymes were all homophonous in /-iːht/. This was due to the effects of raising on the sequence /eoh/ to /ih/ in a series of steps: /eoh/ -> /øːh/ -> /eːh/ -> /iːh/; thus:

    • niht -> night /niːht/
    • wiht -> wight /wiːht/
    • and feoht -> fight /fiːht/
  • In the English Great Vowel Shift, Middle English /iː/ diphthongized to [ɪi], then became [əɪ], and finally Modern English [aɪ]. Non-initial /h/ was lost. This led to:

    • night /naɪt/
    • wight /waɪt/
    • fight /faɪt/

QED

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Your answer is very detailed and really helpful. Thank you!! –  archenoo Nov 9 '12 at 15:35
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At least, in night the "t" came from the original PIE word for night, noqu̯ts.

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Nice to see your answer! I can't help wondering the meaning or function of the letter in PIE etymon, because there are so many PIE roots sharing the same shape, while among them roots with the same semantic value can only be distincted by one letter, for example, PIE *(s)teu-k-, *(s)teu-g-, and *(s)teu-d- all mean to push, hit, thrust, but with different enlargements. –  archenoo Feb 21 '13 at 13:48
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