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Early Middle English for today

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Sounds and spelling

in Early Middle English (eME)

Comparing Early Middle English (eME) to Modern English (ModE), we note these key differences:

  1. ModE usually represents long vowels with a pair of letter, e.g. ee, oo, oa, whereas in eME, long vowels are indicated by a single letter with a short stroke (or diacritic) above it - e.g. e_, o_, a_;
  2. eME long vowels are long versions of the corresponding short vowels - in other words, e_ is essentially a doubled e; the same is not true of ModE however - ee does not sound like a drawn-out e;
  3. some eME sounds no longer exist in ModE1 - long o_ and e_, as well as g and h in the middle or at the end of a word (/o:/,/e:/,/G``/,/x/ respectively);
  4. some letters used in eME are no longer used in ModE - y`, t`, ae_;
  5. some letters used in ModE are rarely used in eME, and generally only in words borrowed from French, Latin or Greek - j, qu, v, and z.

Short Vowels

Long Vowels


In general, consonants are pronounced as in ModE. However note the following:

Transform ModE spelling to eME spelling

Here are some simple rules which allow us to transform modE spelling to eME spelling and pronunciation:

oa/o*e > a_
broad, oak, boat, stone, home > bra_d, a_c, ba_t, sta_n, ha_m;
ee > e_
greet, deer, sleep, been, feet > gre_ten, de_r, sle_pen, be_n, fe_t;
i*e/y > i_
wide, wife, while, bite, fire, mine, by > wi_d, wi_f, hwi_l, bi_ten, fi_r, mi_n, bi_;
oo > o_
good, book, doom, flood, foot, goose, blood, moon, stool, tooth > go_d, bo_k, do_m, flo_d, fo_t, go_s, blo_d, mo_n, sto_l, to_t`;
ou/ow > u_
mouth, louse, house, now, cow > mu_t`, lu_s, hu_s, nu_, cu_;
ea > ae_
deal, stream, read, beam, leap > dae_l, strae_m, rae_den, bae_m, lae_pen;
  1. this is true for most dialects of ModE, including southern England, North America and Australasia; however some of these sounds do still exist in the English of parts of Northern England, Scotland and Ireland;
  2. note - eME short o should be pronounced the 'British' (or Australasian) way - /O`/; North Americans should either round their lips and cut their o short or look at the directions for eME long o_ and produce a shorter, sharper version of that; also note - Roger Lass maintains that all eME short vowels were simply short versions of their long counterparts; in other words, that eME short e i o /e i o/ weren't identical to ModE short e i o /E` I` O`/;
  3. j and v were simply variant forms of i and u respectively; they weren't separate entities in eME; their usage wasn't fixed until late in the ME period;
  4. and in the middle of a word, after l and r;
  5. in theory, k would be used before ae_ as well, but there are no examples at present;