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Author Topic: Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/  (Read 7797 times)


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Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/
« on: October 02, 2011, 02:14:03 AM »
Just some idle browsing brought me to back to Peter Baker's Intro to Old English and I came across this section.

Quote from: Intro to Old English by Peter S. Baker
2.2.3. Silent e; o for u

When ċ, ġ or sc (pronounced [ʃ]) occurs before a back vowel, it is sometimes followed by an e, which probably should not be pronounced, but merely indicates that the ċ should be pronounced [ʧ], the ġ [j] or [ʤ], and the sc [ʃ]. For example, you will see sēċean 'seek' as well as sēċan, ġeþinġea 'of agreements' as well as ġeþinġa, and sceolon 'must' (plural) as well as sculon.

Notice that sceolon has o in the first syllable while sculon has u. These two spellings do not indicate different pronunciations; rather, the Old English spelling system appears (for unknown reasons) to have prohibited the letter-sequence eu, and scribes sometimes wrote eo instead to avoid it. Other words that are spelled with o but pronounced are ġeō 'formerly', ġeong 'young', ġeoguð 'youth' and Ġeōl 'Yule'. For these you may also encounter the spellings iū, iung, iuguð, Ġiūl and Iūl.

This is the first time I've heard of this pronunciation rule, and I wondered if I was sloppy when I started Old English, but checking Mitchell and Sweet, I find no mention of this rule.

It's a bit of a mind-bender to pronounce 'geong' as I would pronounce the name of Freud's fellow psychologist, and 'geol' as per the modern pronunciation. Am I the only one who missed this memo?

I am slightly resistant to a /ʤ/ pronunciation of OE g - that feels very French - but will go along with it, it seems sensible enough considering the provenance of the word 'singe', but for 'engel', it feels really wrong.


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Re: Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/
« Reply #1 on: October 18, 2011, 08:31:21 PM »
Please correct me if I've got your meaning the wrong way round.

I think most of these notes are as I understood them from Pollington's Introduction.

I found it comforting to know that Gear became year especially as it meant that Beowulf's tribe the Geats were therefore the Yeats which makes sense of the textbook tribe the Jutes. Bede writing in Latin IIRC would have transcribed the Y pronunciation of Geats into a Latin Iutes or something like that.

This could be seen to also fit with Nederlands (Dutch) where the G is sometimes pronounced somewhere between an 'a' an 'h' and a 'y'. e.g. Het gaat goed. It goes good

As for cg sounding as a j this also made sense to me as the German for bridge is brucke, the old English brycg therefore has some of both the german spelling and the english pronunciation.

Hope I've understood you properly and if so also helped put your mind at rest. Also if I'm wrong on any of this I hope someone will correct me.


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Re: Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2011, 07:28:45 AM »
No, the notes come from Peter Bakers Intro to Old English, the online version. It's a pretty good resource.

I'm familiar with the g having a /j/ value when before a front vowel - y i e ea. The same rules actually apply to modern Swedish.

The interesting thing for me was that eo is not always the diphthong. The e is a silent letter used to signify that 'g' is palatized, and 'u', due to spelling rules, cannot come after an e. Therefore geo, geong, geol, and geogoð are pronounced /ju:/, /jung/, /ju:l/, and /ju:guϴ/. This is a different to how I've been pronouncing these words for the past 15 years.

It also says that e is sometimes used as a silent letter to change the c into modern 'ch' sound and 'g' into a modern 'j' sound.

This is the only place I've seen these pronunciation notes, and they've blown my mind.


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Re: Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/
« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2011, 05:07:30 AM »
So Peter Baker is saying that g may have been pronounced /ʤ/ in certain positions in certain words. He gives the example ġeþinġea, the e being silent and informing the pronunciation of the g. He also gives the example of engel. I was very resistant to that. I have pronounced it with a hard g - the velar stop - for 15 years. I had also read a book very long ago that said that if Old English engel and been the basis of the modern word it would have come out ingle, a bit like the German. The fact that we now pronounce it with the /ʤ/ is because of later reloan from french of aungel.

Anyway, I'm reading Aelfric's lives of the saints and the spelling has not been 'normalized'. Real spelling gives clues as to pronunciation. For example words ending in g sometimes have a c - cyningc suggesting that the g was pronounced.

I've also come across geþincga (I can't remember where, sorry). Cg being the normal way to represent /ʤ/. Now, reading St Agnes I come across ic hæbbe godes encgel haligne mid me. That clinches it for me.

Seriously though, am I the only one on here for whom this is new. 15 years of study and 176 pages into Aelfric's Lives of the Saints and now I know how to pronounce engel?

PS Wulfric, I don't think the Geats and the Jutes are the same people.
« Last Edit: October 22, 2011, 05:10:23 AM by Horsa »


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Re: Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2011, 12:57:44 AM »
When I started reading St. Agnes, I got terribly excited because I was reminded of Keats' St Agnes Eve.

Anyway, it turns out that the cg combination is used regularly for g. I'm now not so sure that it does represent /ʤ/ or the 'j' sound in modern English for those for whom the ipa character does not appear.

These examples are from 'Another story written by Terentius' (appended to St Agnes)

We've got 'Hæbbe he mid him forð to þære fyrdincge . / Iohannem . and paulum' L318

'Þa gebundon þa godes cempan . bardan þone cynincg'  L363

'find me nu aftergencgan' find me a successorL372

'ælþeodigum and andfencge' L387

'þæt þa cristenan nahte nan þincg on worulde.' L397

So it would appear from these examples that if 'cg' represents the /ʤ/ or modern english j sound, then it occurs when a g comes after an n and a front vowel. Indeed, 'after a front vowel' seems to be the pronunciation for licgan, secgan and brycge.

On the other hand, this may just be a scribal flourish or folly or an attempt to represent the velar plosive after the nasal ng or /ŋ/

I have way more trouble pronouncing cyning with a final j sound or þing to rhyme with 'whinge' than I ever did with engel.


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Re: Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/
« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2011, 06:02:08 PM »
I read Baker’s account of OE pronunciation a year or so ago, and whilst it didn’t blow my mind, as I’ve only been learning OE a few years, it did intrigue me that he disagrees with every other account of pronunciation I’ve encountered; I think he also has an alternative interpretation of the differences in long and short vowel pronunciation.

Being a pragmatist, I dislike the notion (perhaps wrongly, having little innate affinity for linguistics) that’s often implicit in textbooks and discussions, of OE being some monolithic, static entity. It seems more realistic to view it as an evolving cluster of connected dialects, so that in overall terms there’s no such thing as OE pronunciation, but rather OE pronunciations, contingent upon time and place. The spelling and even vocabulary differences between different regions and times certainly seem many and obvious; there’s also a useful, but not exhaustive, list of them in Baker’s online resources I think. Did some/all of these reflect pronunciation variants? Does anyone know whether the “ncg/ngc” cluster is restricted to a particular time/place, that might suggest a simple temporal/dialectical variant in the pronunciation of “g”? Or is there is reason that this could not be? Pronouncing “þing” as “thinj” sounds wrong to me, but then is intuition a better guide in such cases than evidence, if there is any?



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Re: Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/
« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2011, 07:58:50 PM »
Being a pragmatist, I dislike the notion (perhaps wrongly, having little innate affinity for linguistics) that’s often implicit in textbooks and discussions, of OE being some monolithic, static entity.

Yeah me too. I like to think of the rules for pronunciation of Old English as rules for a pronunciation rather than the pronunciation, or even a working pronunciation. However, as a hobbyist, I rely on people like Peter Baker, to sift through all the evidence, they have the access to it and the manpower, and make educated guesses that illuminate the pre-conquest period. My overwhelming interest is in the language and literature. When he says that g was sometimes pronounced like modern j'. I want to know exactly where (in the word) not just get three examples. I also want to know how he believes this to be true and a little information on the extent of this phenomenon in time and space.

Because there are those out there who say that pronunciation doesn't matter one whit because we will never know how it was pronounced because there are no surviving speakers and we don't have a time machine. This idea is wrong for two reasons. First, we can have a good idea on how OE was pronounced at least at one time in one part of the country. Secondly, it's important because most of what was written down in OE was meant to be read aloud. The poetry is not concrete poetry. The sievers types are based totally on the sound of the language: its rhythm and word length. Working with OE poetry without referring to its sound is akin to appreciating the Mona Lisa by reading a description of it.

Finally, I feel almost like I'm time travelling when I read Old English. I'm hearing their voices and almost touching their world when I read, and that's because I believe what I've been told about pronunciation.

'thinj' sounds wrong to me too. The word survived as 'thing' so you would expect it to have been a hard g or just the nasal consonant, but then again, modern English is not derived from Late Old West Saxon. I don't know. I'm tempted to go to the New Age hypnotists to get them to help me make a spirit journey back to the 10th century.


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Re: Pronunciation: silent e & o = u, g as /ʤ/
« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2011, 10:02:56 PM »
----you do realise that you're all putting me right off going further into learning Old English, don't you???   I thought that it was roughly like modern German, which I've got the hang of since their rules and pronunciation is set and that's it.   But all these different ways of pronouncing things...I'm going cross-eyed.   I think I'll just pronounce things the way they've come down to us, for instance, OK, 'engel' is 'angel' with a soft g.
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