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Early Middle English for today

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Sound changes before 1200

Development of sounds from Old English (West Saxon) to Early Middle English (East Midland)

taken from Phonology and East Midland dialect features in Nils-Lennart Johannesson's Orrmulum Project

Differences between OE West Saxon and OE Anglian dialects

OE WS ie
OE ie was confined to WS. In OE A, this sound appeared simply as e.
Examples: OE WS c`iest = OE A c`est > eME cest, OE WS forg`ietan = OE A forg`etan > eME fory`eten > ModE forget.
Note however that the modern reflexes of some of the words from this group, have i: OE WS c`iele, g`iefan, siex = OE A c`ele, g`efan, sex > eME cele, y`efen, sex > ModE chill, give, six.
OE WS g`ieldan, sc`ield have modern reflexes - yield, shield which appear to retain the ie, but the pronunciation follows the expected pattern - OE A g`eldan, sc`eld > eME y`e_lden, sce_ld (vowel lengthened before ld) > ModE /ji:ld/, /S`i:ld/.
OE i_e
OE i_e was confined to WS, where it had arisen as a result of i-mutation of e_a or i_o. In OE A, this sound appeared simply as e_, initially and medially.
Example: OE WS hi_eran 'hear' = OE A he_ran > eME he_ren.
However, final OE WS i_e as well as ig`e, had their eME reflex in i_ or iy` /i:/. For example OE WS hi_e, si_e, hlae_fdig`e > eME hi_, si_, lafdiy`; (PC2, Owl hi, Orm si, laffdiy`).
OE ea + l + consonant
Note that where OE WS had ea before l + consonant, OE A had a. In most cases the ME reflexes of the differing WS and A forms were identical (see ea below), but if the consonant preceding the ea in OE WS was palatalised - either c` /tS`/ or g` /j/, the corresponding sound in OE A was non-palatalised (velar) - either c /k/ or g /g/. As a rule, it was the Anglian form which passed into ME and later ModE. ModE is the most practical guide in these cases.
Examples: OE WS c`ealf = OE A calf > eME calf; OE WS g`ealga = OE A galga > eME galge > Ch galwe > ModE gallow; OE WS eall = OE A all > eME all; OE WS anfeald = OE A anfald > eME anfald.
Exception: ModE chalk < OE WS c`ealc

Short vowels

OE a, e, i, o, u
OE a e i o u in stressed position typically remained unchanged in eME.
Examples: OE A calf > eME calf, OE wasc`an > eME wascen; OE settan > eME setten, OE cwellan > eME cwellen; OE sittan > eME sitten, OE in > eME in; OE god > eME god, OE from > eME from; OE full > eME full, OE cuman > eME cumen.
OE a, e, i, o, u + ld, nd, ng, mb, rd
However, in late OE (after 900) short vowels were lengthened before the following combinations of two consonants: ld, nd, ng, mb, rd.
Our best evidence for vowel quantity in early ME is the spelling system devised by Orm and consistently applied throughout the Ormulum: in closed syllables, Orm uses a single post-vocalic consonant to indicate a long vowel, and a double post-vocalic consonant to indicate a short vowel.
Examples: cild > ci_ld (Orm child), hund > hu_nd (Orm hund), strang > stra_ng (Ch stroong); word > wo_rd (Orm word); climban > cli_mban (Orm climbenn); cf. ModE child /tS`aI`ld/, hound /haU`nd/, climb /klaI`m/.
Note: In words with ng (such as t`ing), the vowel was shortened before the onset of the Great Vowel Shift. Words with rd (such as word) had a short vowel by C16, as evidenced by contemporary descriptions.
Lengthening did not take place if the vowel was followed by three consonants: c`ildru pl. (Orm chilldre), hundred (Orm hunndredd); cf. ModE children /tS`I`ldr@`n/, hundred /hV`ndr@`d/.
Exceptions: There are several eME exceptions to the vowel-lengthening patterns outlined above: Orm shollde, wollde, wullderr, annd, stanndenn, sennd p ptc, wenndenn pt pl, winndeclut, wunnderr, unnderr, enngell, herrde, wurrdenn pt pl. In ModE there are several further cases of words of Anglo-Saxon origin with short vowels before ld, nd & mb: held, hand, land, sand, strand, wend, bend, rend, lamb. See aims & principles for further discussion.
OE ae
In most dialects, OE ae was lowered to a at the beginning of the ME period (evidence of the change first appears in Northumbrian and Mercian texts from the second half of the 10th century; throughout the 12th century, the change can be seen to spread over the East Midland area) (cf. OE ea).
Examples: OE waes, t`aet, aet > eME was, t`at, at.
OE y
In EM and N, OE y was unrounded to i about 1100.
Examples: OE hyll > eME hill, OE synn > eME sin.

Short diphthongs

OE eo
eo developed into a rounded front half-close monophthong, ö /2`/, at the end of the OE period. The ö was unrounded to e in the East Midland dialect in the 12th century. (Orm shows vacillation between eo and e, i.e. /2`/ and /e/.)
Examples: OE heorte > *hörte > eME herte; OE heofon > *höfen > eME hefen.
OE ea
OE ea /E`A`/ developed in late OE into a half-open front monophthong ae /ae/, which merged with OE ae and was further opened to a /a/ in late OE and early eME (cf. OE ae).
Examples: OE wearm > *waerm > eME warm; OE WS g`eaf > *g`aef > eME y`af; OE WS hleahtor > hlaehtor > eME lahter.
OE ea + h
in some cases OE ea + h developed into a closed monopthong e + h in lOE, and remained that way in eME.
Examples: OE eahta > PH3 ey`te, Ch eight
Ch and ModE are the guides here. Note - OE eahta hleahtor > Ch eighte ModE laughter.
(Smoothing - monopthongisation before /l r h/ in OE A, brought about this change in the East Midlands, somewhat earlier.)

Long vowels

OE e_, o_, i_, u_
OE e_, o_, i_, u_ remained unchanged in eME
Examples: OE li_f > eME li_f, OE ri_dan > eME ri_den, OE mu_s > eME mu_s, OE cu_ > eME cu_, OE ce_pan > eME ke_pen, OE fe_t > eME fe_t, OE bo_c > eME bo_k, OE go_d > eME go_d.
OE a_, e_, o_, i_, u_ + ht, pt, st et al.
Long vowels were shortened before consonant clusters other than ld, nd, ng, mb, rd; (see lengthening of short vowels).
Examples: t`o_ht > t`oht (Orm t`ohht), du_st > dust (Orm dusst), ce_pte > kepte (Orm keppte).
OE y_
OE y_ was unrounded to i_ in EM and N about 1100 (usually written y in later eME).
Examples: OE my_s > eME mi_s, OE fy_r > eME fi_r.
OE ae_
OE ae_ remained as eME ae_, a front half-open monophthong /E`:/ (also written ea in AW, e in Owl & SO).
Note however that OE WS ae_ appeared as e_ in OE A under certain circumstances (where the ancestral vowel was WGmc or Lat a_). Many of these forms passed to the EM dialect of ME and ultimately to ModE. ModE is the most practical guide here.
Examples: OE sae_ 'sea' > eME sae_, OE lae_dan 'lead' > eME lae_den; but OE WS dae_d, strae_t, slae_pan = OE A de_d, stre_t, sle_pan > eME de_d, stre_t, sle_pen > ModE deed, street, sleep.
OE a_
OE a_ /A`:/, an open back vowel, remained unchanged in the East Midland dialect until the early 13th century, when it was raised to o` /O`:/, a half-open back vowel. This change affected all dialects except N. It started in the south-east in the 12th century and seems to have spread fairly slowly towards the north and west. It is not represented in PC2 or Orm (s. Lincolnshire, c. 1160) and only marginally in the Ancrene Riwle group (Herefordshire, c. 1220).
Examples: OE sta_n 'stone' > eME sta_n > eME 1250 sto`n, OE ga_n 'go' > eME ga_n > eME 1250 go`n.

Long diphthongs

OE e_o
OE e_o developed in a fashion parallel to OE eo. It developed into a rounded front half-close monophthong, ö: /2`:/, at the end of the OE period. The ö: was unrounded to e_ in the East Midland dialect in the 12th century. (Orm shows vacillation between eo and e, i.e. /2`:/ and /e:/.)
Examples: OE de_ofol > *dö:fel > eME de_fel; OE le_of 'dear' > *lö:f > eME le_f.
OE e_a
OE e_a developed into a front half-open monophthong, /E`:/, and thus merged with the continuation of OE ae_.
Examples: OE de_ad 'dead' > eME dae_d; OE le_af 'leaf' > eME lae_f; OE gre_at > eME grae_t.
OE e_a + h
OE e_a + h developed into a closed monopthong e_ + h in lOE, and remained that way in eME.
Examples: OE ne_ah, he_ah, t`e_ah > eME ne_h, he_h, the_h

New eME diphthongs

OE ae + g`
Words which in OE had the combination ae + g` /j/ developed the diphthong ay` in eME.
Examples: OE daeg` > eME day`, OE faeg`er > eME fay`(e)r, OE maeg`den > eME may`den, OE saeg`de > eME say`de.
OE e + g`
OE e + g` developed into the diphthong ey`.
Examples: OE pleg`an 'play' > eME pley`en; OE leg`en p ptc 'lain' > eME ley`en; OE weg` > eME wey`.
OE ae_ + g`
OE ae_ + g` developed into the diphthong ey`.
Examples: OE ae_g`t`er 'either' > Orm ey`y`t`er; OE clae_g` 'clay' > eME cley`; OE cae_g` 'key' > eME key`.
And what about e_a + g`? This also appears in eME as ey`. There is only one example in PC2 of a reflex of this combination: OE racente_ag`es 'chains' > PC2 rachenteges = eME rakentey`es
OE e_ + g`
OE e_ + g` (and ON eyj) developed into the diphthong ey`.
Examples: OE wre_g`an > Orm wrey`enn /wreI`@`n/; OE be_g`en > PC2 beien (/beI`@`n/); ON deyja > eME deien.
OE o + g`
OE o + g` developed into the diphthong oy`.
Example: OE brog`den pp. > eME broy`den.

Consonants

OE h + consonant
In initial combinations of OE h + consonant, the h was usually lost. The h in hl-, hn-, hr- was lost in Early Middle English, but it usually remained in hw- /xw/.
Examples: OE hlae_fdig`e 'lady', hnesc`e 'soft', hreowsung 'repentance' > Orm laffdiy`, nesshe, rewwsunng. OE hwa_, hwaet > eME hwa_, hwat.

Changes post 1200 »