Early Modern Pronunciation in practice: Hamlet


Sources (conflicting!)


Kökeritz, H. Shakespeare’s pronunciation. New Haven, Conn: YaleUniversity Press, 1953.

Lass, Roger. “Phonology and morphology.” The Cambridge History ofthe English Language, Vol. 3, 1476-1776. Ed. Roger Lass. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Lass, Roger. “Shakespeare’s sounds.” Reading Shakespeare’s Dramat Language: a guide. Ed. Sylvia Adamson et al. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001.


The Great Vowel Shift


The GVS was pretty well underway.


Lagging behind:

o      ME /a:/ and /ai/ (mate, day) maybe not yet up to /e/

o      say /sε:/

o      ME /ε:/ <ea> not yet up to /i/

§       sea  /sε:/ or more likely /se/

§       dream  /drε:m/ or more likely /drem/



§       ME mid and high vowels had done their thing

o     be /bi/, sleep /slip/, we /wi/

o     to /tu/,

o     nobler /nobl*r/

§       first element of diphthong a bit higher than in PDE, likely ‘schwa’

o     mind> /m*Ind/, die /d*I/, by /b*I/, life /l*If/

o     outrageous /*Ut-/, thousand /θ*Uzn(d)/, devoutly /dIv*UtlI>


More vowels


In some dialects the (Fr>) diphthong spelled <oi> also /*I/ (so bile and boil rhyme)

o      K. has coil  /k*Il/


ME /U/: has it centered and unrounded yet to /^/? or does cut still rhyme with put?

o      Lass says no, “the first solid evidence is from the 1640s”: so suffer is still /sUf*r/

o      Kökeritz says yes (or at least that Shakespeare would have substituted a trendy London /^/ for his Warwickshire /U/): suffer is /s^f*r/

o     lots of words affected by this: suffer, troubles, rub, come, shuffled, must, unworthy, grunt, under ...




<wh-> still /hw-/

§       whether /hwεð*r/

when, whips


Is <gh> silent yet?

o      Lass says optionally, Kökeritz says yes

o     might /mIçt/ (or /mIht/); or /m*It/


Assibilation/palatalization (e.g. /sj/ -> /š/)

o      /s, z/ earlier

o     variation in 16th century, nearly complete by mid 17th century

§       evidence includes <shon> spellings

o     exceptions:

§       /ksj-/ in complexion, connection

§       /sju:/ in consume, assuredly

o      /t, d/ later

o     variation in 16th century

o     but some C17th informants still have /tj/ and /dj/ in words like  christian and fraudulent


That is the question: /tj*n/ or /čņ/?

§       Lass: “old and new forms coexisting in the same speech community”

§       Kökeritz goes for the “new”

o     consummation /..mę:šņ/, patient /pęš*nt/

o     question /kwεstčņ/


But the /-j-/ was an ‘intruder’ in words like fortune and natural (cf critter from creature) (Millward 252)

§       So Kökeritz has fortune as /-tIn/ and and natural as /-tr*l/

§       unstressed vowels: not necessarily ‘schwa’