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Author Topic: Pronouncing þ and ð  (Read 199 times)

David

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Pronouncing þ and ð
« on: April 18, 2017, 04:29:01 PM »
When I started learning Old English I came across a couple of rules for þ and ð.
1. There is no difference between þ and ð.
2. They are voiceless when they are the first or last letter of the word.
 
However I have been troubled by people who said that they voice the þ and ð in þǣr, þæt, þe, þīn, þis and þū because they are voiced in modern English. I kept to my guns but would have liked confirmation.
 
Now reading Fulke’s “Introduction to Middle English” he says that initial and final f, s, þ and ð were voiceless in Old English. However at the very end of the Old English period some of these letters started to be voiced in the initial position, particularly in the south. This then spread in Middle English, particularly under the influence of French words starting with v, until we get the modern pronunciation.

Jayson

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Re: Pronouncing þ and ð
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2017, 12:00:34 PM »
When first thinking of learning more about A-S England and in particular the language, I spoke to an Oxford professor of A-S who told me that the [size=0px]þ was pronounced as in Thick and Thin and the [/size][/size][size=0px]ð as in This and That, which to be honest, does make sense.   Why else should there be two separate letters?   There does seem to be confusion about this which is not surprising, I suppose, since none of us really know how the language was pronounced.[/size]
Wessex Woman

David

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Re: Pronouncing þ and ð
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2017, 10:54:53 PM »
I think that it is generally considered that in Icelandic ð is voiced and þ is not. However they say that in Old English there is no difference. It appears that þ came from the rune and was the first to be used. Later the Irish trained monks introduced ð in Anglian areas and it quickly became popular. Some writers preferred one and some the other but most used both interchangeably. Our language course only uses þ and never ð and my paper dictionary, Clark Hall, only uses ð and never þ.
 
The letter þ is called “þorn” and is sometimes used for the word “thorn” but ð never is. We call ð “eth” but the Anglo-Saxons called it “ðæt”. Occasionally ð was used for “ðæt” but þ never was. The crossed thorn was used for “ðæt” and, in fact, was far more common than ð.
 
Transcriptions tend to rewrite that in full so my copy of the Peterborough Chronicles replaces the “ð” in the manuscript with þet, the Anglian version of þæt.
 
In manuscripts I have seen oþ and oð, þa and ða, þæt and ðæt, þe and ðe, þes and ðes, þone and ðone and wiþ and wið.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2017, 10:56:43 PM by David »

Bowerthane

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Re: Pronouncing þ and ð
« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2017, 02:41:31 PM »
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I spoke to an Oxford professor of A-S who told me that the þ was pronounced as in Thick and Thin and the ð as in This and That, which to be honest, does make sense.
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Well bless my soul.  When I began to teach myself Old English I made a personal convention of doing that thinking it would make for orderly thinking and help things sink in, generally.  Yet soon I stopped bothering as it seemed pointless and the textbooks seemed unanimous that there was no phonological difference between eth and thorn.

I also remember thinking it odd that one or the other didn’t simply fall out of use ( as indeed thorn did in Middle English) but, as my handwritten Old English improved, I found an eth-thorn sequence, in words like oþþe more ergonomic ( you can go straight from crossing the eth to the top of the ascender for thorn), and I’m sure I’ve seen that in manuscripts.

I should be very intrigued to hear more about this.



David

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Re: Pronouncing þ and ð
« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2017, 06:11:24 PM »
Yes þ did fall out of use in Middle English but that was long after ð did. It seems that ð fell out of use in the 13th century but þ did continue until it started to be replaced by y.
 
I think that the Icelandic people were far more sensible than the Anglo-Saxons. If you have two letters to represent two sounds the obvious thing is to use one for one sound and one for the other sound. In Middle English their approach was to eventually get rid of both letters.
 
 
I think that both of these could be candidates for the most stupid innovation in our language. However my vote would go for the introduction of weak adjectives, the abolition of the passive voice or using “thou” to show status rather than number.

Deoran

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Re: Pronouncing þ and ð
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2017, 06:58:43 PM »
I too understand that (somewhat disappointingly) þ and ð were pronounced the same.

I have read a hypothesis of sorts that the two forms were retained to add visual interest to texts, which is plausible, given that writing had much more of the aesthetic about it in the past, and that we do a similar thing now, more subtly but on a much larger scale, using different fonts. Not sure how you'd test that one way or the other though!

I also feel there was some personal preference: for example, I think Alfred tended to favour ð over þ. Or maybe that just reflects a specific time / place. Is anyone aware of research looking at the proportion of one versus the other through time and space?