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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Old English -Pronounciation

This site uses many Old English / Anglo-Saxon words. A few O.E. words are spelt and pronounced exactly as they were in the time of Alfred the Great; however, many have suffered a change of spelling and / or pronunciation and sometimes have had their meaning altered. Often Anglo-Saxon words can look quite foreign on the page but when pronounced, suddenly come to life.
How then should these Anglo-Saxon words be pronounced ? No one can be dogmatic here - no-one is alive to ask ! It's likely, however, that the pronunciations outlined below are fairly near to the originals.

In Old English, stress is usually put on the first syllable of the word, for example : ÆLFRED, WODEN.
The consonants b,d,k,l,m,n,p,r,s,t,w,x,z were pronounced as in Modern English. J,q, and v were not used, j being a variant of i (as in Latin). The redundant modern q was spelled, quite logically, cw and v was a variant of u (again, as in Latin). The modern ‘v’ sound was usually taken by the letter f. Old English and Modern English use the ‘th’ sound frequently. In Anglo-Saxon there were two letters, derived from runic symbols, which were used for the modern ‘th’. These were ðÐ, called “Eth” ( or actually by the Anglo-Saxons - “Ðæt”) and þÞ “Thorn”; these were used interchangeably. Another frequently used unfamiliar O.E. letter was æÆ called “Ash”. [see below]
Some consonants are sounded according to their position in a word and the sound of the letters around them, although, as this is English, no rule is absolute! Thus c usually has the hard ‘k’ sound but sometimes i.e. before ‘e’ and ‘i’, it has the sound ‘ch’ thus ‘chicken’ is rendered as ‘cicen’. ‘F’ was pronounced as usual unless in the middle of a word when it became a ‘v’ sound- hence ‘seolfer’ is ‘silver’. ‘G’ was as in modern-English except before ‘e’ or ‘i’ when it became a ‘y’ sound - hence ‘geard’is ‘yard’. It can also sound like a soft ‘w’ -as in ‘boga’ (bow). ‘H’ is sounded in O.E. even when awkward to the modern eye, before another consonant e.g. ‘hwit’ (white). Elsewhere it sounds like the German ‘ch’sound found in ‘ich’.
Anglo-Saxon used the letters ‘cg’for the ‘dge’ sound heard twice in ‘judge’. The letters ‘ng’ would have two distinct sounds - as in ‘fin-ger’ not ‘sing-er’.

There were seven vowels in West-Saxon O.E. each having a short or long pronunciation

‘A’ was pronounced as in ‘cat’ when short and when long as in ‘Afrikaans’
‘E’ was pronounced as in ‘fed’ when short and when long as in ‘fade’
‘I’ was pronounced as in ‘sit’ when short and when long as in ‘seat’
‘O’ was pronounced as in ‘mod’ when short and when long as in ‘more’
‘U’ was pronounced as in ‘full’ when short and when long as in ‘food’
‘Y’ was pronounced as in the French ‘tu’ when short and when long as in the French ‘sur’

There were also three commonly used diphthongs - also short / long.
‘EA’ was pronounced as in ‘hair’ (short) and as in ‘slayer’ (long)
‘EO’ was pronounced like E+O glided quickly together
‘IO’ was sounded similarly.

It's worth noting, however, that, as today, there were likely many regional accents and dialects; Mercian, for example, was quite different to Old West Saxon.

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