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HISTORY
O F
T H E
E N G L I S H
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH AND AMERICAN STUDIES
L A N G U A G E
ST KLIMENT OHRIDSKI UNIVERSITY OF SOFIA
Old English letter-sound correspondences
1. Vowels
All OE vowels – monophthongs and diphthongs – can be short or long. Vowel length
is not usually marked in authentic texts, but is often marked with a macron (ˉ) in
adapted editions of OE texts. In transcription, vowel length is marked with a length
mark (ː) after a monophthong or the first element of a diphthong, or a macron (ˉ)
over a monophthong or the first element of a diphthong, e.g. [ɑː] = [ɑ̄]; [iːe] = [īe].
1.1 Monophthongs
LETTER
PHONETIC SYMBOL(S) AND VALUE
EXAMPLES
<A a>
[ɑ] and [ɑː] (low back unrounded)
OE faran ‘to go’; OE hām ‘home’
<Æ æ> ‘ash’
<E e>*
<I i>*
<O o>*
<U u>*
<Y y>*
[æ] and [æː] (low front unrounded)
[e] and [eː] (mid front unrounded)
[i] and [iː] (high front unrounded)
[o] and [oː] (mid back rounded)
[u] and [uː] (high back rounded)
[ü] and [üː] (high front rounded)
Sometimes transcribed [a, aː].
OE wæter ‘water’; OE sǣ ‘sea’
OE bedd ‘bed’; OE hēr ‘here’
OE mist ‘mist’; OE rīdan ‘to ride’
OE hors ‘horse’; OE gōd ‘good’
OE full ‘full’; OE mūs ‘mouse’
OE fyllan ‘to fill’; OE mȳs ‘mice’
Also transcribed [y, yː].
1.2 Diphthongs
DIGRAPH
PHONETIC SYMBOL(S) AND VALUE
EXAMPLES
<io>
[io] and [iːo]
(Anglian dialects)
Alternatively interpreted as [iə/ɪə] and [iːə], or as [i(ː)u].
OE (Angl.) hierde ‘shepherd’;
OE (Angl.) līoht ‘light’
<eo>
[eo] and [eːo]
OE heorte ‘heart’; OE dēop ‘deep’
<ea>
[eɑ] and [eːɑ]
<ie>
(West Saxon)
Alternatively interpreted as [eə/ɛə] and [eːə].
OE eald ‘old’; OE hēah ‘high’
Alternatively interpreted as [æ(ː)ə] or as [æ(ː)ɑ].
[ie] and [iːe]
Alternatively interpreted as [i(ː)ü].
OE (ws) hierde ‘shepherd’;
OE (ws) hīeran ‘to hear’
*
The traditional view of OE long and short vowels is that they differ in length alone. Some authors (including Brinton
& Arnovick 2006), however, treat the non-low short vowels as somewhat opener (lower) than their long counterparts
and transcribe them [ɪ, ʏ, ʊ, ɛ, ɔ], as opposed to [iː, yː, uː, eː, oː] respectively.
Old English letter-sound correspondences
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HISTORY
O F
T H E
E N G L I S H
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH AND AMERICAN STUDIES
L A N G U A G E
ST KLIMENT OHRIDSKI UNIVERSITY OF SOFIA
2. Consonants
The OE graphemes <b, d, l, m, n, p, r, t, x> are invariably pronounced [b, d, l, m, n, p,
r, t, ks]. The letter <ƿ>, a modified shape of the rune w ‘wynn’, was used in OE to
represent the semivowel [w]. Modern editions of OE texts replace it with <w>.
Most OE consonants can be geminate (=double), e.g. OE habban [ˈhɑbbɑn] ‘to have’,
OE siþþan [ˈsiθθɑn] ‘since’.
LETTER OR
DIGRAPH
<C c>
<F f>
<Ʒ ʒ>
‘yogh’
or
<G g>
PHONETIC SYMBOL(S) AND VALUE
ENVIRONMENT
EXAMPLES
[tʃ] (voiceless palato-alveolar
affricate)
in the environment of front
vowels†
OE cild ‘child’, OE ic ‘I’
in all other cases
between vowels or voiced
consonants
in all other cases
OE cū ‘cow’
in the environment of front
vowels
OE gēar ‘year’,
OE dæg ‘day’
V_VBACK; word-finally after a
back vowel; after [r]
word-initially before a back
vowel or a consonant; after [n]
word-initially, before any
vowel or consonant
after a front vowel
OE dragan ‘to draw’,
OE burg ‘city, borough’
in all other cases
between vowels or voiced
consonants
in all other cases
OE sohte ‘sought’
between vowels or voiced
consonants
in all other cases
OE eorþe ‘earth’
(in all environments)
OE fisc ‘fish’
(in all environments)
OE brycg ‘bridge’
Sometimes transcribed [č].
[k] (voiceless velar stop)
[v] (voiced labiodental
fricative)
[f] (voiceless labiodental
fricative)
[ j] (voiced palatal semivowel)
or [ ʝ], also transcribed [ɣ’]
(voiced palatal fricative)
[ɣ] (voiced velar fricative)
[ɡ] (voiced velar stop)
[h] (voiceless glottal fricative)
<H h>
[ç] (voiceless palatal fricative)
OE drīfan ‘to drive’
OE æfter ‘after’
OE gān ‘to go’,
OE bringan ‘to bring’
OE hē ‘he’,
OE hnutu ‘nut’
OE niht ‘night’
Also transcribed [x’].
[x] (voiceless velar fricative)
[z] (voiced dental/alveolar
fricative)
<S s>
[s] (voiceless dental/alveolar
fricative)
[ð] (voiced interdental
<Þ þ>
fricative)
‘thorn’
[θ] (voiceless interdental
or
<Ð ð> ‘eth’ fricative)
[ ʃ] (voiceless palato-alveolar
<sc>
fricative)
OE rīsan ‘to rise’
OE hūs ‘house’
OE þū ‘thou’
Sometimes transcribed [š].
<cʒ> or
<cg>
[dʒ] (voiced palato-alveolar
affricate)
Sometimes transcribed [ ǰ ].
†
(i) word-initially and medially, before front vowels except those that had resulted from I-Umlaut of back vowels;
(ii) word-finally, after front vowels, single or in the clusters [ntʃ, ltʃ, rtʃ ].
Old English letter-sound correspondences
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