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Theme 10. Phonetic, morphological and syntax features of Middle English

The match between sound and spelling worsened; there was confusion in spelling system influenced by French scribes and former dialectal variety.

Middle English Consonants

consonants of Middle English were very similar to those of Present Day English but lacking [η] as in hung (velar nasal) and [3] as in measure (alveo-palatal voiced fricatives)

addition of phonemic voiced fricatives: [v], [z] as an effect of French loanwords: vetch/fetch, view/few, vile/file

loss of long consonants (OE mann →ME man)

h got lost in clusters (OE hlæfdige →ME ladi ("lady")

g became w after l and r (OE swelgan →ME swolwen ("swallow"), OE morgen →ME morwen ("morning")

OE prefix ge- lost its initial consonant and was reduced to y or i (OE genog →ME inough ("enough")

unstressed final consonants tended to be lost after a vowel: OE ic →ME i, OE -lic →ME -ly (e.g. OE rihtlice →ME rihtly ("rightly")

final -n in many verbal forms (infinitive, plural subjunctive, plural preterit) was lost, e.g. OE cuman →Modern English come (the n remains in some past participles of strong verbs: seen, gone, taken); final -n got also lost in possessive adjectives "my" (OE min ME mi) and "thy" (OE þin ME þi) and indefinite article "an" before words beginning with consonant (-n remained in the possessive pronouns, e.g. mine)

w generally dropped after s or t: OE sweostorsister (sometimes retained in spelling: sword, two; sometimes still pronounced: swallow, twin, swim)

l was lost in the vicinity of palatal c in adjectival pronouns OE ælc, swilc, hwilc, miceleach, such, which, much (sometimes remained: filch)

fricative f/v tended to drop out before consonant +consonant or vowel+consonant: OE hlaford, hlæfdige, heafod, hæfde →ME lord, ladi, hed, hadde ("lord," "lady," "head," "had") (sometimes retained: OE heofon, hræfn, dreflian →"heaven," "raven," "driven")

final b got lost after m but retained in spelling: lamb, comb, climb (remained in medial position: timber, amble); intrusive b after m: OE bremel, næmel, æmerge→ME bremble, nimble, ember (also OE þuma→ME thombe, "thumb")

initial stops in clusters gn- and kn- were still pronounced (ME gnat, gnawen, knowen, knave, cniht ("gnat," "gnaw," "know," "knave," "knight")

h was often lost in unstressed positions (OE hit →ME it )

If a word contains the Germanic "gh," the latter sounded a soft, nearly guttural sound, between a modern "g" and a modern "k," e.g., knight, right, bright


Vowels in Middle English were similar to those of Old English, except for the loss of OE y and æ so that y was unrounded to i and æ raised toward [^] or lowered toward [a:].

addition of a new phonemic sound (mid central vowel), represented in linguistics by the symbol called schwa: Ə, the schwa sound occurred in unstressed syllables and its appearance is related to the ultimate loss of most inflections

loss of unstressed vowels: unstressed final -e was gradually dropped, though it was probably often pronounced. (The final "e" in many words may be sounded if it helps the meter of an individual line, e.g., When that Aprille with his shoures sote

The droughte of Marche hath perced to

the rote (G, Chaucer)

-e of inflectional endings was also lost, even when followed by a consonant (as in -es, eth, ed) (e.g. breathe/breathed) except for wishes, judges, wanted, raided; final -e in French loanwords was not lost because of French final stress, hence cité →"city," pureté →"purity"

French loanwords added new diphthongs, e.g. OF point, noyse →ME point, noise

short vowels tended to lengthen before certain consonant clusters (OE climban, feld → ME climbe, feld ("climb," "field")

lengthening of short vowels in open syllables (OE gatu, hopa → ME gate, hope)

shortening of long vowels in stressed closed syllables (OE sōfte, gōdsibb, scēaphirde →ME softe, godsib, scepherde ("soft," "gossip," "shepherd"); exceptions (before -st): OE gast, crist →ME gost, Christ ("ghost," "Christ")

in a long word (if two or more unstressed syllables followed the stressed one), the vowel of the stressed syllable was shortened (Christ/Christmas [ME Christesmesse], break/breakfast [ME brekefast])


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 1379

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Theme 9. General linguistic features of Middle English | Middle English Graphics and Writing
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