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Sound changes after 1200

Development of sounds in Middle English (East Midland) after 1200

taken from Johannesson 2

Changes 1200 - 1300

The changes outlined in this section are not reflected in the eME ('3') spelling, nor in the following spelling options provided with each text: eME 'yogh', alternate eME , PC1, PC2, Orm, Orm modified. They are reflected in these spelling options: PH3, SO, Ch, late ME.

eME a_ > o`
eME a_ /A`:/, an open back vowel, remained unchanged in the East Midland dialect until the early 13th century, when it was raised to ME o` /O`:/, a half-open back vowel, in all dialects except N. This change affected all dialects except Northern. 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 the Ormulum (s. Lincolnshire, c. 1160) and only marginally in the Ancrene Riwle group (Herefordshire, c. 1220).
Examples: eME sta_n > sto`n > ModE stone, eME ga_n > go`n > go, eME a_k > o`k > oak.
eME a e o in open first syllable of disyllabic words > a__ ae_ o`
In disyllabic words with an open first syllable, the short vowels a e o in the first syllable were lengthened during the first half of the thirteenth century (1200 - 1250).
  1. Short e was lengthened to ae_ /E`:/. (Note - this sound is spelt e` in the SO spelling option.) The ModE reflex is ea.
    Examples: eME cneden > cnae_den > ModE knead; eME speken > spae_ken > speak; eME breken > brae_ken > break.
  2. Short o was lengthened to o` /O`:/ and thus merged with the reflex of OE a_. The ModE reflex is long o, pronounced /oU`/ or /@`U`/.
    Examples: eME hopen > ho`pen > ModE hope; eME broken p ptc > bro`ken > broken.
  3. Short a was lengthened to a__ /a:/, an open front vowel. (Note - this a__ never merged with the reflex of OE a_, which was a back vowel.) The ModE reflex is long a, pronounced /eI`/.
    Examples: eME maken > ma__ken > ModE make; eME naked > na__ked > naked.
Since this change was only applied to words of two syllables, it could lead to variation of the stem vowel between singular and plural (and other infectional forms), e.g. OE cradol 'cradle' > ME cra__del /a:/, pl. cradeles /a/; OE sadol 'saddle' > ME sa__del, pl. sadeles. In such cases, levelling usually took place: either the long or the short vowel was extended to the rest of the paradigm (thus reversing the sound change in some cases). Hence ModE cradle vs. saddle.

New diphthongs 1200-1300

Note - in the following series, two separate eME sounds become a single diphthong.

eME e_ + w /e:w/ > ew /eU`/.
Examples: eME bre_wen, ble_wen, ne_we, tre_we > brewen, blewen, ne_we , trewe > ModE brew, blew, new, true
eME ae_ + w /E`:w/ > e``w /E`U`/.
Examples: eME slae_wth > sle``wth > sloth; eME dae_w > de``w > dew; Orm shaewenn > Ch shewe(n) > show.
Note - the cedilla is used only to distinguish the opening quality of this diphthong from that of the preceding one. No extra length is implied.
eME i_ + w /i:w/ > iw /I`U`/.
Examples: eME spi_wan > spiwen > spew; eME sti_ward > stiward > steward; eME Ti_wesdai > Tiwesdai > Tuesday.
eME o_ + w /o:w/ > ow /O`U`/.
Examples: eME flo_wen, gro_wen, sto_w > flowen, growen, stow > ModE flow, grow, stow (away).
eME a_ + w /A`:w/ > ow /O`U`/.
Examples: eME cna_wen, bla_wen > cnowen, blowen > ModE know, blow.
Thus eME o_w and a_w merged in the 13th century to ow, at least according to Lass 1. Johannesson 2, on the other hand, feels that two distinct diphthongs were formed initially and that these didn't coalesce until the 14th century.
eME o/o_ + h /x/ > ouh /O`U`x/
Examples: eME dohter, sohte, t`oh, ino_h > douhter, souhte, t`ouh, inouh (doughter, soughte, though, inough)
In the ascii 1250 spelling, this is rendered as owgh, to avoid confusion with ou /u:/
eME e/e_/ae_ + h /x/ > eih /eI`x/
Examples: eME he_h, ne_h, t`ae_h > heih, neih, t`eih (heigh, neigh, theigh)
eME a + h /x/ > auh /aU`x/
Examples: eME lahen, tahte, sah > Ch laughe(n), taught(e), saugh/saw

Changes on the cusp

The passage from non-initial g (or y`h) /G``/ to w came late to the South. In 1340, Ayenbite of Inwyt (Kent) still had y` in oy`en and mory`e where Sir Orfeo (East Midlands), written perhaps 40 years previously, had owhen and tomorwe.

Of the spelling options provided with each text, only Chaucer and Late ME fully reflect this sound change. The option Sir Orfeo partly reflects it with the spelling wh.

eME g /G``/ > w after l/r
Examples: eME folgen, sorge, borgen > folwe(n), sorwe, borwe(n) > follow, sorrow, borrow; OE beorg > ModE barrow 'hill, mound'
eME a + g /aG``/ > aw /aU`/
Examples: Orm dray`h`enn, lay`h`e > drawe(n), lawe > draw, law.
eME o + g /oG``/ > ow /O`U`/.
Examples: eME boge > bowe > bow; eME flogen > flowen > flown.
eME e/e_/ae_ + g /J`/ > eiy`(h) /eI`J`/
Examples: eME e_ge > SO eiy`e > eye; Orm saey`h`enn > SO seiy`e 'saw' pt pl; eME wegen > ModE weigh
Note - J` is a voiced palatal fricative, the voiced companion to voiceless C`` in ModG nicht
Some eME words with e_g, often derived from OE verbs ending in e_ogan, have lME and ModE reflexes in ee. In the eME 1250, ascii 1250 and SO spellings, I have assumed that these passed through a diphthong stage - eiy`h and/or ei, but this may not have been the case. A process similar to the contraction of primitive OE *sehan to OE se_on may have taken place.
Examples: eME dre_gen > *drei(e)n / *drehen > dree(n); eME fle_gen > *flei(e)n / *flehen > flee

Changes post 1300

The following changes are not reflected in any of the spelling options provided in this site. They are included because they shed some light on exceptions to the basic rules when working backward from ModE to determine eME forms.

eME ü with /S`/ /tS`/ /dZ`/
In the central EM area (shaded in the map below), OE y remained in eME (typically written u, here represented as ü) until it was unrounded to i about 1300
However, in the neighbourhood of apical fricatives and affricates /S`/ /tS`/ /dZ`/, the remaining ü was retracted to u (rather than unrounded to i) about 1300; many (but not all) words in this set with the u form were adopted in the Chancery Standard (Type IV) during the 15th century, ousting earlier i forms.
Examples: OE swylc` > EM swich, central EM swüch > ModE such; OE c`yric`e > EM chirch, central EM chürch > ModE church; OE sc`yttan > EM schitte, central EM schütte > ModE shut. Similarly OE cycgel, rysc`, myc`el, clyc`c`an, cryc`c`e > ModE cudgel, rush, much, clutch, crutch. But OE hrycg, brycg, wysc`an, hwylc` > ModE ridge, bridge, wish, which.
development of OE hyll
i & u in open 1st syllable of disyllabic words > e__ & o__
The short close vowels i and u were lengthened in the same phonological environment (open syllable in disyllabic words) as the vowels a e o. In this case, however, the change was later: it started about 1300 in the north Midlands and spread gradually towards the south over the next century.
Short i /i/ was lengthened and lowered to long closed e__ /e:/.
Examples: eME wike > we__ke > week
Short u /u/ was lengthened and lowered to long closed o__ /o:/.
Examples: eME dure > do__re > door; eME wude > wo__de > wood.
eME ew /eU`/ & e``w /E`U`/ > iw /I`U`/
After this merger, which took place around 1300, the spelling with <ew> was often extended to words which had i_w in eME: spewe, steward, Tewesday.
eME er > ar
After 1400, /e/ was lowered to /a/ when followed by /r/
Examples: eME sterre, ferr > star, far.
  1. Lass, Roger. The Cambridge History of the English Language Volume II 1066-1479, Cambridge University Press, 1992
  2. Johannesson, Nils-Lennart. East Midland dialect features, currently available in Orrmulum Project, 2017. NB - follow the numbered links for details on Phonology and the lengthening and shortening of vowels. Installing fonts will make these pages easier to read.