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Lecture 7 – Old English phonetics

1. Old English alphabet and spelling. Word stress.

2. Vowel system in Old English period.

3. Consonant system in Old English period.

 

1. OE scribes used two kinds of letters: the runes and the letters of the Latin alphabet. The use of Latin letters in English differed in some points from their use in Latin, scribes made certain modification and additions in order to indicate OE sounds.

OE writing was based on a phonetic principle: every letter indicated a separate sound. But some OE letters indicated two or more sounds. The letters could indicate short or long sounds.

The letters of the OE alphabet with transcription symbols:

 

a n [n],[η]
æ o
b p
c [k] or [k'] r
d s [s] or [z]
e t
f [f] or [v] P [θ] or [ð]
3 [g],[g'],[γ],[j] u
h [x],[x'],[h] w
i x
l y [y]
m  

 

The phonetics of the OE period was characterized by a system of dynamic stress. The fixed stress fell on the first root syllable.

2. The vowels had the following characteristic features:

- The quantity and the quality of the vowel depended upon its position in the word. Under stress any vowel could be found, but in unstressed position there were no diphthongs or long monophthongs, but only short vowels [a], [e], [i], [o], [u].

- The length of the stressed vowels was phonemic, which means that there could be two words differing only in the length of the vowel.

e.g. (OE) is (is) – īs (ice); col (coal) –cōl (cool); god (god) – gōd (good), etc.

- There was an exact parallelism of long and short vowels

 

  Monophthongs + Diphthongs
Short ĭ ĕ ă ǽ ŏ ŭ ŷ ĕŏ ĕă ĭě
Long ī ē ā æ ō ū ēō ēā īē

 

During OE period there were some changes in vowel phonemes:

- Breaking

- Palatal mutation

- Lengthening of vowels

Breaking. The process of breaking took place in the 6th c. it affected two vowels – [æ] and [e] when they followed by the consonants [r], [l], [h] generally followed by another consonant.

The resulting vowel was a diphthong [ea], so the process can be summed up as a diphthongization of short vowels [æ] and [e] before certain clusters.

Examples:

 

Palatal mutation. The qualitative change of OE vowels that experts call palatal mutation, or i-mutation, occurred during 6-7th centuries. The process affected Germanic words where a vowel in a stressed syllable was immediately followed by the sound [i] or [j] in the next syllable.



 

As the result of palatal mutation new phonemes entered the vowel system in OE - the vowel phoneme [y] and the vowel phoneme [ỹ], the result of the mutation of [u] and [ū], respectively. And [i] and [j] disappeared in the following syllable sometimes leading to the doubling of a consonant in this syllable.

Examples:

 

 

 

Palatal mutation left some traces in OE grammar and word-stock.

Grammar - As a result of the process of palatal mutation there appeared vowel gradation in the system of declension of nouns. In the system of adjectives we have vowel gradation in the degrees of comparison, in the system of verbs it is found in OE irregular weak verbs.

Word-stock – Palatal mutation resulted in vowel interchange as a word building means.

Traces of i-mutation in Modern English:

1. irregular Plural of nouns (man – men; tooth – teeth);

2. irregular verbs and adjectives (told ←tell; sold ←sell; old – elder);

3. word-formation with sound interchange (long – length; blood – bleed).

Lengthening of vowels. Short vowels [u] and [i] were lengthened when followed by the sound clusters -ld, -nd, -mb.

findan > fīndan;

climban > clīmban;

bundan > būndan.

This change did not occur when the sound cluster ld, nd, or mb was followed by another consonant, like in the word cildru (Modern English children).

3. The Old English consonant system consisted of 14 consonant phonemes. The consonants were few. Some of modern sounds were non-existent, such as


The quality of the consonant depended on its position in the word. The phonemes denoted by the letters are voiced or voiceless depending upon their phonetic position. They are voiced between vowels and voiceless otherwise.

Examples:

 

 


The phoneme denoted by the letter : variant [g] at the beginning of the word before vowels a,o,u or consonants and in the middle of the word after n, [y] in the middle of the word between a,o,u and [j] before and after i,e,æ.

 

Glossary:

Сluster – ['klʌstə] – группа

Quality – ['kwɔlətɪ] – качество

Quantity – ['kwɔntətɪ] – количество

To denote – [dɪ'nəut] – обозначать

Glossary of Terms:

Breaking of vowels – преломление (образование дифтонга из монофтонга)

Declension – [dɪ'klen(t)ʃ(ə)n] – склонение

Diphthong – ['dɪfθɔŋ] – дифтонг

Doubling – ['dʌblɪŋ] – удваивание

Lengthening of vowels – ['leŋ(k)θənɪŋ] удлинение гласных

Monophthong – ['mɔnəfθɔŋ] – монофтонг

Palatal mutation – палатальная перегласовка

Voiced – [vɔɪst] – звонкий

Voiceless – ['vɔɪsləs] – глухой

Vowel gradation — чередование гласных

Questions for discussion:

1. What letters did the scribes of Old English period use?

2. What principle was the Old English writing based on?

3. What were the characteristic features of the vowels in Old English period?

4. Name the changes that happened during the Old English period in vowel phonemes.

5. What is breaking?

6. What is palatal mutation?

7. Give the examples of traces of palatal mutation in modern English.

8. What were the characteristic features of system of consonants in Old English period?

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