Old English Phonetic Changes. Back or Velar Mutation.

This kind of mutation was caused by a back vowel (u, o, a) of the following syllable. The root vowel was diphthongized under the influence of (u, o, a) in the next syllable.

Ex. e>eo herot>heorot (heart)

a>ea sary>seary (armour)

i>io hira>hiora (their)

One more type of mutation before h is found in OE, but the essence of it remains somewhat obscure. As we see, under mutation and fracture short and long vowels and diphthongs underwent qualitative changes. Quantitative changes occurred when

1. the vowels were lengthened. This phenomenon took place in the 9th century. The vowels were lengthened before the lengthened nd, ld, mb.

Ex. bindan>bīndan; wild>wīld; cild>cīld, but if the cluster was followed by

another consonant, lengthening did not take place, ex. cildru.

2. the vowel was also lengthened if the following consonant was dropped, Ex. sæzde>sæde; mæzden>mæden

3. if the consonants ‘m, n’ were lost before the fricatives ‘f, s, þ, h’ the vowels were lengthened: ex. finf>fīf; bronhte>brōhte; uns>ūs; onþer>ōþer (other).


Verner's Law

According to Grimm, the ancient Indo-European parent language sounds ofp, t, and k changed into f, th, and h in the Germanic languages, while b, d, and g in the ancient tongue changed to the Germanic p, t, and k. Verner observed that this was true when the accent fell on the root syllable, but when the accent fell on another syllable, ancient Indo-European p, t, and k became Germanic b, d, and g. Verner then applied these rules to the consonants s and r. Verner's law states that with respect to the Germanic languages, the medial and final fricatives were voiced if they came after an unaccented syllable in the Indo-European parent language.


Grimm's Law

According to Grimm's law, the ancient unvoiced p,t, and k became the English unvoiced f, th, and h, and the Old High German f, d, and h. Thus, taking Latin as an example of an earlier member of the Indo-European language group, the Latin pater became the English father and the Old High German Fater (modern German Vater). In addition, the ancient unvoiced b, d, and g changed to p, t, and k in English (for example, Latin dens, to English tooth) and kh in Old High German.

Old English consonant system

The velar consonants [k, g, x, γ] were palatalized before a front vowel, and sometimes also after a front vowel, unless followed by a back vowel. Thus in OE cild (NE child) the velar consonant [k] was softened to [k’] as it stood before the front vowel [i] – [kild] > [k’ild]; similarly [k] became [k’] in OE sprǽc (NE speech) after a front vowel but not in OE sprecan (NE speak).

Nasal sonorants were regularly lost before fricative consonants; in the process the preceding vowel was proably nasalized and lengthened. It should be also mentioned the loss of consonants in unstressed final syllables. [j] was regularly dropped in suffixes after producing various changes in the root.

PG [z] underwent a phonetic modification through the stage of [з] into [r] and thus became a sonorant, which ultimately merged with the older IE [r]. This process is termed rhotacism.

In all WG languages, at an early stage of their independent history, most consonants were lengthened after a short vowel before [l]. This process is known as geminantion or doubling of consonants, e.g. fuljan > fyllan (NE fill). The change did not affect the sonorant [r], e.g OE werian (NE wear); nor did it operate if the consonant was preceded by a long vowel, e.g. OE dēman, mētan (NE deem, meet).


== Unstressed vowels

In Early ME the pronunciation of unstressed syllables became increasingly indistinct. As compared to OE, which distinguishes five short vowels in unstressed position [e/i], [a] and [o/u], Late ME had only two vowels in unaccented syllables: [ə] and [i], e.g. OE talu – ME tale [΄ta:lə] – NE tale, OEbodiз – ME body [΄bodi] – NE body. The final [ə] disappeared in Late ME though it continued to be spelt as -e. When the ending –e survived only in spelling, it was understood as a means of showing the length of the vowel in the preceding syllable and was added to words which did not have this ending before, e.g. OE stān, rād – ME stone, rode [´stone], [´rode] – NE stone, rode. It should be remembered that while the OE unstressed vowels thus were reduced and lost, new unstressed vowels appeared in borrowed words or developed from stressed ones, as a result of various changes, e.g. the shifting of word stress in ME and NE, vocalization of [r] in such endings as writer, actor, where [er] and [or] became [ə].

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