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Loss of Consonants in Some Positions


Comparison with other OG languages, especially Gothic and O Icel, has revealed certain instances of the loss of consonants in WG and Early OE.

Nasal sonorants were regularly lost before fricative consonants; in the process the preceding vowel was probably nasalised and length­ened. Cf.:

Gt fimf, O Icel fim, OHG fimf − OE fīf (NE five).

Gt uns, OHG uns − OE ūs (NE us)

Fricative consonants could be dropped between vowels and before some plosive consonants; these losses were accompanied by a compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel or the fusion of the preceding and succeeding vowel into a diphthong, cf. OE sēon, which corresponds to Gt saihwan, OE slēan, (NE slay), Gt slahan, G. schlagen, OE sæʒde and sæde (NE said).

We should also mention the loss of semi-vowels and conso­nants in unstressed final syllables. [j] was regularly dropped in suffix­es after producing various changes in the root: palatal mutation of vowels, lengthening of consonants after short vowels. The loss of [w] is seen in some case forms of nouns: Nom. trēo, Dat. trēowe (NE tree); Nom. sæ, Dat. sæwe (NE sea), cf. Gt triwa, saiws.

Old English Consonant System


Table 9 shows the system of OE consonants in the 9th and 10th.c.

The system consisted of several correlated sets of consonants. All the consonants fell into noise consonants and sonorants. The noise consonants were subdivided into plosives and fricatives; plosives were further differentiated as voiced and voiceless, the difference being phonemic. The fricative consonants were also subdivided into voiced and voiceless; in this set, however, sonority was merely a phonetic difference.

Table 9


between allophones. Cf. OE pinbin, where the difference in sonority is phonemically relevant (NE pin, bin) and OE hl āf [f] − hlāford [v] where the difference is positional: the consonant is voiced intervocally and voiceless finally (incidentally, voiced and voiceless fricatives were not distinguished in OE spelling). The opposition of palatal and velar lingual consonants [k] − [k’], [g] − [g’] had probably become phonemic by the time of the earliest written records. (Some scholars include in the system one more palatal consonant: [sk’], spelt as sc, e. g. OE scip (NE ship); others treat it as a sequence of two sounds [s’] and [k’] until Early ME when they fused into a single sibilant [ʃ].) It is noteworthy that among the OE consonants there were few sibilants and no affricates.

The most universal distinctive feature in the consonant sys­tem was the difference in length. During the entire OE period long con­sonants are believed to have been opposed to short ones on a phonem­ic level; they were mostly distinguished in intervocal position. Single and geminated (long) consonants are found in identical phonetic conditions. Cf. OE lǽde −1st p. sg Pres. of lǽdan (NE lead) and lǽdde (Past); OE sticca (NE stick) − stica (Gen. case pl of OE stice, NE stitch). In final position the quantitative opposition was irrelevant and the second letter, which would indicate length, was often lacking, e. g. OE man and eal are identical to mann, eall (NE man, all).



Date: 2015-02-28; view: 2803

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