OE phonology (cont.)


‘Long’ consonants phonemic

[ŋ] was not a phoneme

voiced fricatives [z], [v] and [ð] were not phonemic

In a front vowel environment Gmc velar stops /k/ and /g/ -> alveopalatal affricate /č/ and alveopalatal semivowel /j/

OE vowels (selection)

OE long vowels different from PDE

Modern transcription                  OE words

i,  y              u          <rídan><mýs>             <mús>

                                       <fýlð>                 <fúl>

e                  o                 <gés>                 <gós>

                                       <fédan>               <fód>

æ:                α:                <hæ:lan>             <hα:l>


Important sound change called Front mutation (=i/j mutation)

Irregularities are illustrated here first with PDE examples

§       explains irregularities WITHIN paradigms of the 'same' word

o     noun plurals: goose, geese

o    comparative adjective form: old, elder

o    past and present tense forms of a few irreg verbs: sought, seek

§       explains different root vowels of derived words

§         in all of these cases, the vowel in the second form has been either

·        ‘fronted’ (if back), e.g. from high back /u/ to high front /y/ or

·        ‘raised’ (if low)


One example of front mutation with */gósiz/, plural of */gós/

  1. *gósiz ->
  2. mid back vowel /o/ fronts to mid front vowel /e/ in *gésiz ->
  3. inflexion disappears to produce OE gés


Conditions for front mutation

Another example

1.    Input                               *mús           *mús-Iz

2.    Front mutation              *mús           *mýs-Iz

3.    I/j-deletion                     *mús           *mýs

4.    Output                          mús             mýs

It happened after palatalization of /k/ and /g/

1.    WGmc input                     *kinni ‘chin’          *kunnj- ‘kin’

2.    Palatalization of /k/->/č/          *činni                  *kunnj-

near front vowel

3.    Front mutation                        *činni                  *kynnj-

if possible

4.    I/j deletion                                   *činn                     *kynn

5.    OE spelling                          cinn                       cynn

Sound changes and loanwords

Front mutation also explains

§       how scholars date Latin loanwords as ‘continental’ (early): the Latin loans must have been in OE in time to undergo front mutation, since the Latin words have back vowels and the OE words have front vowels

§       NB we have to infer that in spoken Latin, the second syllable has an /i/ or /j/,

e.g. classical Latin puteus -> Vulgar Latin *putj-


Another early OE sound change: */sk/ -> /š/

*/skip/ -> /šip/ <scip>

If loanwords have /š/ then we know they had been borrowed in time to undergo this change

Any word in English pronounced /sk/ postdates this change. So,