ORTHOGRAPHY There are a number of letters used in Old English which were later discontinued; of these the following are the main ones: Þ ‘thorn’ and ð ‘eth’ (later replaced by th indicating the voiced and voiceless ambidental fricatives), ʒ ‘yogh’ used for g, ‘wynn’, i.e. ‘joy’, was a form of the letter w used in early texts, æ ‘ash’ a ligature (two letters in one form) composed of a and e and representing a sound intermediate between /a/ and /e/.
PHONOLOGY The writing system of Old English is by and large phonological, i.e. every letter represents a phoneme. This applies above all to fricatives though diphthongs, the affricate /dʒ/ and the fricative /ʃ/ used more than one letter.
ALLOPHONY OF /g/ Before back vowels [g] is found, [ɣ] between back vowels and [j] before and between high vowels. There were two affricates /tʃ/ and /dʒ/, the first deriving from palatalisation in early Old English and the second inherited from pre-Old English.
The fricatives /f, θ, s/ had two main allophones, a voiceless one at the beginning or end of a word or in the environment of a voiceless segment and a voiced one when found intervocalically. This alternation can be seen to this day and is responsible for present-day alternations like wife : wives.
The letter c represented the phoneme /k/, when it occurred before a consonant (cwic, ‘alive’), a back vowel (cuman, ‘come’) or a front vowel which had arisen due to i-umlaut (cynelic, ‘kingly’). It also represented the phoneme /tʃ/ which arose due to the early palatalisation of velars cyrice ‘church’.
CONSONANT LENGTH Old English had both long vowels and long consonants. This was an inherited feature of Germanic and has only been maintained in the present-day Scandinavian languages (bar Danish). Examples of long consonants are cyssan ‘kiss’, settan ‘set’, siþþan ‘since’.
PHONOTACTICS Clusters existed in Old English which are not permissible today. These were simplified in the Middle English period chiefly by the reduction of clusters of /h/ or /w/ and a following sonorant: hlāf ‘loaf’,wrītan ‘write’. The other major phonotactic change is the simplification of onsets consisting of a velar stop followed by an alveolar nasal (permissible in German) gnagan ‘gnaw’, cnēo ‘knee’. In nearly all these cases present-day orthography indicates the former phonetic realisation.
OLD ENGLISH VOWEL SYSTEM Note the distinction between two types of low vowels, front and back. Moreover, there are four diphthongs in later Old English ea, æa [æa, æ:a] and eo, ēo [eə, e:ə] which were sensitive to the consonants which followed them. Examples for the contrast in length are listed in the columns below.
STRESS IN OLD ENGLISH This rested on the lexical root of a word. At this stage the language had long since developed the type of stress accent — stressed syllables are longer and louder than unstressed ones — which is still typical of English and other Germanic languages. Prefixes with nouns could also take stress as in ˡandswaru (answer) but verbs always have root stress as in forˡgiefan (forgive).
With the influx of Romance words in the Middle English period alternative stress pattern arise. By and large a system begins to emerge in late Middle English for foreign words which demands stress on the first heavy syllable starting from the penultimate syllable of a word and moving leftwards, i.e. towards the beginning of the word. This system — although it shows many exceptions in Modern English — would appear to have replaced the Germanic pattern because it resulted in the right stress pattern when applied to inherited native words as well.