I have read this information on the word perish:

"mid-13c., from periss- present participle stem of Old French perir"

And this comment is below a question of mine on English Language & Usage site:

"accomplish (from Old French acompliss-), abolish (from OF (aboliss-), banish (from OF banniss-), replenish (from OF repleniss-), nourish (from OF norriss-), and finish (from OF feniss-) underwent the same transformation, and there are probably more."

How do you explain this transformation (transition) from OF -iss into English -ish?


The OED has s.v. "-ish suffix 2":

A suffix of verbs, representing French -iss-, extended stem of verbs in -ir, e.g. périr to perish, periss-ant, ils periss-ent. The French -iss- originated in the Latin -isc- of inceptive verbs, which in Italian, Provençal, and French was extended to form a class of simple verbs, corresponding to Latin verbs in -īre and -ēre, and including others which were assimilated to these. At their first adoption, these verbs ended in English in -is, -ise, -iss(e, which before 1400 changed to -isshe. In Scottish the original -is, -isse, was retained longer, and appeared in 16th cent. as -eis(e: pereis, fleureis. Among the chief examples of this ending are abolish, accomplish, banish, blandish, blemish, brandish, burnish, cherish, demolish, embellish, establish, finish, flourish, furbish, furnish, garnish, impoverish, languish, nourish, perish, polish, punish, ravish, relinquish, replenish, tarnish, vanish, varnish. In some cases, other French endings have been levelled under this suffix in Anglo-Norman or English: such are admonish, astonish, diminish, distinguish, eternish, famish, lavish, minish, monish, publish, relish, etc., for the history of which see the individual words.In a few words the French -iss- is represented in English by -ise, or even -ize: e.g. avertir, -iss- advertise v., châstir, -iss- chastise v.; amortir, -iss- amortize v.; réjouir, rejouiss- has given rejoice n.

No mention of Picard.


It is due to palatalisation. The sound [ɪ], which is before [s] and has a place of articulation retracted in comparison to [s], triggered this sound change by forcing [s] to adopt the same place of articulation as [ɪ].

When this phenomenon appears, we call that assimilation, ie a sound will change in acquiring (a) feature(s) of another sound.

  • Maybe more correct to say that it is palatalisation, by we don't necessarily know why it happened here and not in app the other descendants of these words. – Adam Bittlingmayer Nov 1 '19 at 10:01
  • @Adam I don't understand your comment. – amegnunsen Nov 1 '19 at 10:51
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    s/app/all. Why did this happen in English but not in French, German or even (apparently) Scots? – Adam Bittlingmayer Nov 2 '19 at 3:23
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    @Adam See the fdb's answer for temporal explanations. In addition, each language has its phonological rules and evolves according to its own rules. – amegnunsen Nov 2 '19 at 7:47

The form -ish is due to Northern French dialect (Picard), where s(s) is regularly sh. For example poisson = pichon = fish. So it would be more correct to write: "accomplish (compare [not from] Old French acompliss-), abolish (compare [not from] OF (aboliss-), banish (compare [not from] OF banniss-), replenish (compare [not from] OF repleniss-), nourish (compare [not from] OF norriss-), and finish (compare [not from] OF feniss-). This has nothing to do with palatalisation. Picard sh < s happens with all vowels.

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    Picard /ʃ/ usually comes from Latin /VskV/ and /sj/ and from its outcome of the Romance palatalisation, it's not a generalised shift. It does fit in this case, since the -iss- augment comes from Latin -isc-, but English regularly has /ʃ/ in early Gallo-Romance loanwords with word final /s/ (pousser -> push, caisse -> cash; laisse -> leash), regardless of the modern form of the word in Picard and Normand (at least locally, I have /pusjy/ for pushy/poussif and /lesje/ for fr. laisser, but my dialect is transitional with Walloon, where the distribution of /s/ and /ʃ/ gets complicated) – Eau qui dort Nov 1 '19 at 21:55
  • Anyway, while the influence of Picard is possible in this case, the facts that 1. /ʃ/ for Romance /s/ appears in words that don't show a alveolo-palatal in North-Eastern varieties and 2. Romance /s/ is afaik never loaned as /ʃ/ in another position cast doubts on this explanation. Edit: I'm wondering about the timing of the changes too, but in this case, /VskV/ > /ʃ/ seems ancient – Eau qui dort Nov 1 '19 at 21:58

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