Development of Vowels in Unstressed Syllables in OE, ME, Early New English
The development of the vowels in unstressed syllables, final syllables in particular, was basically different. Whereas in stressed position the number of vowels had grown (as compared with the PG system), due to the appearance of new qualitative differences, the number of vowels distinguished in unstressed position had been reduced. In unaccented syllables especially final long vowels were shortened and thus the opposition of vowels –long to short – was neutralized. OE nama to the earlier namon. It must also be mentioned that some short vowels in final unaccented syllables were dropped. After long syllables that is syllables containing a long vowel or a short vowel followed by more than one consonant , the vowels (i) and (u) were lost. The following examples illustrate the retention of (u) and (i) after a short syllable and their loss after along one: OE scipu and sceap (NE ships, sheep, pl from skeapu), OE werian – deman ( Ne wear, deem, Gt. Domjan)
In ME and NE the main direction of the evolution of unstressed vowels was the same as before, even in the pre-written period unstressed vowels had lost many of their former distinctions, namely their differences in quantity as well as some of their differences in quality. The tendency towards phonetic reduction operated in all the subsequent periods of history and was particularly strong in unstressed fnal syllables in ME.
In Early ME the pronunciation of unstressed syllables became increasingly indistinct. As compared to OE which distinguished five short vowels in unstressed position [e/i], [a] and [o/u], Late ME had only two vowels in unaccented syllables:[ӛ] and [i] which are never directly contrasted, this means that phonetic contrasts in unstressed vowels had been practically lost.
OE fiscas ME fishes [‘fiSes] NE fishes pl
OE fisces ME fishes NE fish’s Gen/
OE rison ME risen [rizӛn] Ne rose (OE past pl)
The occurrence of only two vowels [ӛ] and [i] in unstressed final syllables is regarded as an important mark of ME, distinguishing it in the one hand from OE with its greater variety of unstressed vowels, and on the other hand from NE when the ME final [ӛ] was dropped.
This final [ӛ] disappeared in Late ME though it continued to be spelt as –e. We should remember though that while the OE the OE unstressed vowels were reduced and lost, new unstressed vowels appeared in borrowed words or developed from stressed ones as a result of various changes, the shifting of word stress in ME and NE vocalization of [r] in such endings as writer , actor where [er] and [or] became [ӛ]. These developments show that the gap between the stressed and unstressed vowels has narrowed so that in ME and NE we can no longer subdivide the vowels into two distinct subsystem that of stressed and unstressed vowels.
Weak Verbs in OE
Weak verbs are relatively stronger than strong verbs. They reflect a later stage in the development of the Germ.languages. There were an open class in OE as new verbs that entered the language generally formed their forms on analogie with the weak verbs. Whereas, the strong verbs used vowel interchange as means of differentiation among the principal verb tense, the weak verbs used for that purpose suffixation(suffixes –t,-d) : cēpan, cepte, cept. The weak verbs had a stem-forming suffix, that followed the root & the grammatical endings. In accordance of the character of the stem-suffix the weak verbs are classified into 3 classes:
The stem suffix “i”, the class includes many words from other nouns, adjectives and verbs. All of them have a front- root vowel – the result of the palatal mutation due to the “i” element of the stem suffix.( dōn-deman; ful-fyllan). In the cause of time this palatal suffix was lost. It was preserved only in some participles in the form of “e”: dēman, demd, demed.
The stem-suffix “oi”.The “o” element of the suffix is preserved in the past tense & in the Participle II. The root vowel of this class remained unchanged because of the preceding ō (lufo-ian) in all forms.
Only 3 verbs: -habban –have;-libban-live; seezan-say.