The main changes in the phonetic system of Old English.
Dates Events Population Languages
Old English Period
7th c. B.C. Celtic Invasion Celts Celtic Dialects
7th c. B.C. – 410 A.D. Roman Invasion Celts, Romans Celtic Dialects, Latin
mid.5th c. – late 6th c. Anglo-Saxon Invasion Celts, Anglo-Saxons Celtic Dialects, Old English Dialects!
597 Introduction of Christianity Celts, Anglo-Saxons Celtic Dialects, Old English Dialects, Latin
after 8th c. Scandinavian Invasion Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians (Danes) Celtic Dialects, Old English Dialects, Latin, Scandinavian Dialects
Unstressed vowels were weakened and dropped.
Stressed vowels underwent some changes:
splitting – 1 phoneme split into several allophones which later become separate phonemes
e.g. a a ã
æmerging – separate phonemes become allophones of one phoneme and then disappear and are not distinguished any more as separate phonemes
Rise of Diphthongs
In PG there were no diphthongs. There was just a sequence of two separate vowels. Diphthongs appeared in OE: some (usually long diphthongs) – as a result of merging of two vowels:
Sounds Diphth. Gothic OE
a + u ea: ausoeare (ear)
e + u eo: þeudansþēoden (king)
(i + u) (io:) (dialectal variant) diupsdīop (deep)
others (usually short diphthongs) – as a result of the influence of the succeeding and preceding consonants (breaking of [æ, e]):
Monoph. Diphth. Influence Gothic OE
æ Eabefore l allseall (all)
æ Eabefore h ahtaueahta (eight)
e Eobefore r herzaheorte (heart)
æ Eaafter sk’/k’ skadussceadu (shade)
æ: ea: after j jârζēar (year)
Mutation – a change of one vowel to another one under the influence of a vowel in the following syllable.
Palatal mutation (or i-Umlaut) happened in the 6th -7th c. and was shared by all Old Germanic Languages, except Gothic (that’s why later it will be used for comparison).
Palatal mutation – fronting and raising of vowels under the influence of [i] and [j] in the following syllable (to approach the articulation of these two sounds). As a result of palatal mutation:
[i] and [j] disappeared in the following syllable sometimes leading to the doubling of a consonant in this syllable;
new vowels appeared in OE ([ie, y]) as a result of merging and splitting:
before palatal mutation after palatal mutation Gothic OE
æ e badibedd (bed)
a: æ: dailsdælan (deal)
ŏ/ō ĕ/ē mōtjanmētan (meet)
ŭ/ū ŷ/ỹ (labialised) (new!) fulljanfyllan (fill)
ĕŏ/ēō ĭě/īē (new!) eald (early OE) ieldra (late OE)
Traces of i-Umlaut in Modern English:
irregular Plural of nouns (man – men; tooth – teeth);
irregular verbs and adjectives (told ←tell; sold ←sell; old – elder);
word-formation with sound interchange (long – length; blood – bleed).
OE Vowel System (symmetrical, i.e each short vowel had its long variant)
Monophthongs + Diphthongs
Short Ĭ ĕ ă ǽ Ŏ ŭ ŷ ĕŏĕăĭěLong Ī ē ā æ Ō ū ỹ ēōēāīēThe length of vowels was phonologically relevant (i.e. served to distinguish words):
e.g. (OE) is (is) – īs (ice); col (coal) –cōl (cool); god (god) – gōd (good), etc.
OE consonants underwent the following changes:
Hardening (the process when a soft consonant becomes harder)– usually initially and after nasals ([m, n])
[ð] [d] rauðr (Icelandic) rēad (OE) (red)
[v] [b] - -
[γ] [g] guma (Gothic) ζuma (OE) (man)
Voicing (the process when a voiceless consonant becomes voiced in certain positions) – intervocally and between a vowel and a voiced consonant or sonorant
[f, , h, s] [v, ð, g, z] e.g. wulfos (Gothic) – wulf[v]as (OE) (wolves)
Rhotacism (a process when [z] turns into [r])
e.g. maiza (Gothic) – māra (OE) (more)
Gemination (a process of doubling a consonant) – after a short vowel, usually happened as a result of palatal mutation (e.g. fullan (OE) (fill), settan (OE) (set), etc.).
Palatalisation of Consonants (a process when hard vowels become soft) – before a front vowel and sometimes also after a front vowel
[g, γ, k, h] [g’, γ’, k’, h’] e.g. c[k’]ild (OE) (child); ecζ[gg’] (OE) (edge), etc.
Loss of Consonants:
sonorants before fricatives (e.g. fimf (Gothic) – fīf (OE) (five));
fricatives between vowels and some plosives (e.g. sæζde (early OE) – sæde (late OE) (said));
loss of [j] – as a result of palatal mutation (see examples above);
loss of [w] (e.g. case-forms of nouns: sæ (Nominative) – sæwe (Dative) (OE) (sea).