2. Phonology

Short vowels

OE a e i o u

   1  OE a, e, i, o, u in stressed position typically remained unchanged in ME. For the effect of a following nasal, see 68. For the effect of a following r, see 69. For the effect of a following l, see 7072. For ME lengthening of these vowels, see 2535.
  Examples: OE Angl. calf > ME M,N calf, OE wascan > ME wasche; OE settan > ME sette, OE cwellan > ME quelle; OE sittan > ME sitte, OE in > ME in; OE god > ME god, OE from > ME from; OE full > ME full, OE cuman > ME come.

OE

   2  In most dialects, OE 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, 8). In the Mercian ancestor of the sWM of the Ancrene Riwle group and in OE Kentish, however, OE had been raised to e in late OE.
  Examples: OE ws, t, wru > ME was, at, wrae; sWM,SE wes, et, wree.

OE y

   3  OE y developed in three different ways in different dialect areas:
  • in EM and N it was unrounded to i about 1100,
  • in WM and SW as well as the central EM area (shaded in Map 2) it remained in eME (typically written <u>, here represented as ) until it was unrounded to i about 1300,
  • in SE it was unrounded and lowered to e in lOE.

Map 2
  Examples: OE hyll ‘hill’ > ME hill hll hell, OE synn ‘sin’ > ME sin snne zenne.
  Note: In OE cyning king the y was often unrounded to i even in OE due to influence from the following syllable; the word has the form king in all ME dialects.
 
   4  In the neighbourhood of apical fricatives and affricates (, , ) the remaining was retracted to u (rather than unrounded to i) about 1300; from the North Central Midland area (shaded) many (but not all) words in this set with the u form were adopted in the Chancery Standard (Type IV), ousting earlier i forms.
  Examples: OE swyl ‘such’ > WM,SW swch > swuch, such, EM swich, later swuch, such, SE swech, sech; OE yrie > WM,SW chrch > church, EM chirch, later church, SE cherch; OE scyttan ‘shut’ > WM,SW schtte > schutte, EM schitte, later schutte, SE schette. Similarly OE cyggel ‘cudgel’, rysc ‘rush’, myel ‘great’, ‘much’, clyan ‘clutch’, crye ‘crutch’. But OE hrycg, brycg, wyscan, hwyl > EM ridge, bridge, wish, which.
 

Short diphthongs

OE ie

   5  OE ie was confined to WS, where it had arisen as a result of i-mutation of ea or io or of palatal diphthongization of e. The diphthong ie was monophthongized to y after c. 900; this y later underwent the same development as y of any other origin (cf. 3).
  Examples: OE WS iele > yle (non-WS ele ) chill, OE WS iefan > yfan (non-WS efan ) give.

OE io

   6  The OE diphthong io developed into eo in late OE and shared the later development of original OE eo (cf.  7). In Northumbrian and northern Mercian the io remained, however, and was later monophthongized in the Northern and northern EM dialects of ME to i.
  Examples: OE mioluc > meoluc, meolc > ME melk; Nthb, NM mioluc > N,nEM milk.

OE eo

   7  OE eo developed into a rounded front half-close monophthong, , at the end of the OE period. In the 12th century the was unrounded to e in N, EM (the Ormulum shows vacillation between <eo> and <e>, i.e. and /e/) and SE, but remained in SW and WM until the 14th century (the Gawain group shows vacillation between <o> and <e>, i.e. and /e/).

Examples: OE heorte > hrte > herte; OE heofon > hven > heven.


Map 3

OE ea

   8  OE ea developed in late OE into a half-open front monophthong , which merged with OE and was further opened to a /a/ in late OE and early ME (cf. OE , 2).
  Examples: OE WS eall > ll > all, OE wearm > wrm > warm, OE WS eaf > f > af.

Long vowels

OE

   9  OE remained unchanged in ME until the onset of the Great Vowel Shift (see The Castell of Pleasure, ch. 2).
  Examples: OE lf > ME life, OE rdan > ME ride.

OE

 10  OE developed in a parallel fashion to OE y:
  • in EM,N it was unrounded to about 1100 (usually written <y> in later ME);
  • in WM and SW it remained (usually written <u>, here represented by ) until it was unrounded to about 1300;
  • in SE it was unrounded and lowered to .
  Examples: OE ms mice > ME myce ms ms, OE fr fire > ME fyre fr fr.

OE

 11  OE remained unchanged (usually written <ou>, <ow>) in ME until the onset of the Great Vowel Shift (see The Castell of Pleasure, ch. 2).
  Examples: OE ms > ME mouse, OE c > ME cow.

OE

 12  OE remained unchanged in ME (represented by ). At the end of the ME period it was overtaken by the Great Vowel Shift and raised to (see The Castell of Pleasure, ch. 2).
  Examples: OE cpan > ME kpe, OE ft > ME ft.

OE

 13  OE remained unchanged in ME (represented by ), except in N, where it was raised and fronted to about 1300, usually written <u> or <ui>.
  Examples: OE bc > N bke, OE gd > N gde, gd.
 14  In the non-Northern ME dialects the was overtaken by the Great Vowel Shift and raised to (see The Castell of Pleasure, ch. 2). In some words this was subsequently shortened in early Modern English. Neither of these changes was reflected in the spelling.
  Examples: OE gs goose > ME gs > (C15), OE ft foot > ME ft > , OE bld blood > ME bld > .

OE

 15  OE remained as ME , a front half-open monophthong.
  Examples: OE s sea > ME s, OE ldan lead > ME lde.

OE

 16  OE , an open back vowel, was raised to ME , a half-open back vowel, in all dialects except N. The change 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: OE stn stone > ME stn, OE gn go > ME g.

 

 17  In N ME remained (usually written <ai>, <ay>) until it was raised to (a half-open front vowel) about 1300.

Map 4

Long diphthongs

OE o

 18  OE o developed in a fashion parallel to OE eo. It developed into a rounded front half-close monophthong, , at the end of the OE period. In the 12th century the was unrounded to in EM (the Ormulum shows vacillation between <eo> and <e>, i.e. and ), but remained in SW and WM until the 14th century (the Gawain group shows vacillation between <o> and <e>, i.e. and ).
  Examples: OE dofol > ME dvel > dvel; OE lof dear > ME lf > lf.
 19  In OE Kentish, o merged with OE o in lOE. For the further development, see 23.

OE a

 20  OE a developed into a front half-open monophthong, , and thus merged with the continuation of OE .
  Examples: OE dad dead > ME dd; OE laf leaf > ME lf; OE grat > ME grt.
 21  In SE, OE a developed into a rising diphthong (written <ia>, <ya>): OE dad > dyd. After a preceding /r/ the diphthong is normally reduced to a (short) monophthong /a/: OE grat > grat (rarely gryt ).

OE e

 22  OE e was confined to WS, where it had arisen as a result of i-mutation of a or o. The diphthong e was monophthongized to after c. 900; this later underwent the same development as of any other origin (cf. 10).
  Example: OE WS heran hear > lWS hran > ME SW hre. (But OE non-WS hran > ME hre.)

OE o

 23  OE o remained in lOE only in Kentish (in the other dialects it had merged with o), where OE o had also become o. In early ME, this o developed into a rising diphthong (written <ie>, <ye>).
  Examples: OE dofol > dyuel, OE logan lie, tell untruths > lye.
 24  In monosyllabic words where o was syllable-final, it was monophthongized to (written <i>, <y>).
  Examples: OE so, so dem. pron. fem. nom. sg. > s, OE bon, bon be inf. > b, b, OE bo be subj. > b, OE son see > z.