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The Sounds of Old English. How Do Linguists Know About Ancient Pronunciation?. Looking at the alphabet—letter values do not change at random, should be somewhat similar as today, especially consonants. Vowels are a little tricky—they tend to change more.

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How do linguists know about ancient pronunciation
How Do Linguists Know About Ancient Pronunciation?

  • Looking at the alphabet—letter values do not change at random, should be somewhat similar as today, especially consonants. Vowels are a little tricky—they tend to change more.


The sounds of old english

  • Usually no strict rules in past Old English for spelling, so scribes probably wrote as they spoke—with evidence from language variation.

  • Comparative reconstruction—working back from present known forms.

  • Known sound changes, e.g., hit becoming it can easily happen as initial h dropped also in Modern English (I saw ’im)

  • Poetic evidence—how poets use rhyme of alliteration.


Old english texts
Old English Texts scribes probably wrote as they spoke—with evidence from language variation.

  • No early manuscripts right after Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain; only a few inscriptions in the Runic alphabet


The sounds of old english


The sounds of old english


What did old english writing look like
What did Old English Writing Look Like? manuscripts for religious purposes


The sound system
The Sound System manuscripts for religious purposes

  • Vowels very different from in Modern English

  • Set of seven long and short vowels

  • Two diphthongs with long and short varieties

  • Many consonants much the same, some showed differences

  • Much variation; sometimes scribes made mistakes


The vowels
The Vowels manuscripts for religious purposes

Long and Short Vowels Contrasted


Diphthongs
Diphthongs manuscripts for religious purposes


Consonants the differences
Consonants—The Differences manuscripts for religious purposes


The sounds of old english

r manuscripts for religious purposes was probably trilled

Other consonants much like expected

Contrast of short and long consonants


Prayer our father king james version
Prayer Our Father manuscripts for religious purposesKing James Version

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed by Thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thine will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil.


Reading of our father
Reading of manuscripts for religious purposesOur Father


Vowel mutations
Vowel Mutations manuscripts for religious purposes

  • Happened also in ancient times, e.g., goose/geese; mouse/mice; old/elder; man/men; blood/bleed

  • In early Old English another vowel mutation, i-mutation (umlaut), probably in 7th century but not too much later


The sounds of old english

  • When followed by a syllable with the high front vowel manuscripts for religious purposesi, the vowel in a stressed syllable became front, e.g., *fotiz became fet, Modern English feet.

  • Also provides evidence for when certain Latin words were borrowed into OE, e.g., Latin caseus in in OE cyse, so we know this word was already in OE in the 7th century.