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Author Topic: Pronoucing consonants  (Read 5256 times)


  • Ealdormann
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Pronoucing consonants
« on: November 03, 2011, 05:15:00 PM »

I have just bought Henry Sweet’s “An Anglo- Saxon Primer”. This was because it has been mentioned in Gegaderung that he uses accents for the pronunciation of c and g. On arrival I just happened to open it up to a page on pronouns and saw ic written without an accent. Have I got it wrong ? I thought it was pronounced ‘ich’ not ‘ik’.
When I checked the section on pronouncing consonants I had more shocks. He says f had the sound of a ‘v’ in faran and of – I thought that an initial or final f was pronounced as an ‘f’. In the same way he says that s has the sound of ‘z’ in sēćan, swā and wīs whereas I thought an initial or final s was pronounced as an ‘s’. Similarly he says that þ was pronounced as in ‘then’ in þū, þing and sōþ whereas I thought an initial or final þ was pronounced as in thin.
I seem to have it all wrong. Can someone give me some easy guidance ?


  • Hlaford
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Re: Pronoucing consonants
« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2011, 09:55:21 PM »
---I might be wrong because I'm fairly new to Teaching Myself Old English, but I'd agree with you.  Personally (and it IS personally), I'd think of how a word is pronounced today and use that.   For instance, 'thing' and the fact that in German 'I' is Ich which ends with a soft 'ch' sound.

But then, I might be wrong as well!

Wessex Woman


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Re: Pronoucing consonants
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2011, 06:38:55 PM »
David, I have Sweet's Anglo Saxon primer that I've had for 15 years. It's where I started with Old English.

I was very surprised to read your post, so I pulled it off the shelf and had a look. In the glossary there is a dot over the c so according to the glossary it's pronounced 'itch' I have seen 'ik' in some texts. Chaucer mimics the 14thC Geordie accent in the Shipwright's tale by having the clerks say 'ik' instead of 'i' or 'ic'.

Sweet sets out the rules for this at the top of page 4 in my book §3 consonants:

"c had a sound like Mn.E. ch in child when it came before or between the front vowels i and e... also finally after i, ē, ǣ: līċ 'body', bēċ 'books', sprǣċ 'speech'.

I've looked for where it says that faran is pronounced with a v, sēćan, swā and wīs with a z, and þū, þing and sōþ with a voiced þ. I cannot find it. Could you give me a page number?

I have to say that I've always pronounced wīs with a z, but certainly not the other two. I've also done a stint pronouncing þū with /ð/ because the modern pronunciation is with the voiced consonant.

It's interesting that you bring this up as I was reading Ancrene Wisse recently and OE initial f is often replaced in the Middle English with v. In fact, in the glossary there is no separate v section, it's mixed in with the f. There's vrovre (M.E.) - frofor (O.E), varen - faran, vōt - fōt, vorþ - forþ, vīnden - findan. My selections of Ancrene Wisse come from Sweet's Middle English primer. He says that the language of Ancrene Wisse is a direct descendent of the language spoken by Alfred and Ælfric. I've also heard that the modern West Country dialects are particularly enthusiastic about voicing initial consonants.

The question is, they appear to have done this in 1250, did they do it 300 years before that? Modern English is descended from East Midlands English perhaps when we pronounce f and s rather than v and z, we're reading West Saxon with a Mercian accent.


  • Ealdormann
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Re: Pronoucing consonants
« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2011, 12:15:06 AM »

The book I have is called “An Anglo-Saxon Primer: With Grammar, Notes, and Glossary”  by Henry Sweet published by BiblioBazaar and appears to be a reproduction of the Clarendon Press 3rd edition published in 1886.

The sounds of consonants starts on page 3 and the total entry for f is
f  has the sound of v everywhere where it is possible:- faran (go), of (of), ofer (over); not of course, in oft (often), or when doubled, as in offrian (offer).
On page 4 the total entry for s is
s had the sound of z:- sēćan (seek), swā (so), wīs (wise), ārisan (rise); not of course in combination with hard consonants,as in stān (stone), fæst (firm), rīćsian (rule), or when double , as in cyssan (kiss).
On page 4 the total entry for þ is
þ had the sound of our th (=dh) in then :- þū (thou), þing (thing), sōþ (true), hǣþen (heathen); except when in combination with hard consonants where it had that of our th in thin, as in sēćþ (seeks). Note hæfþ (has) = hædvh.

On page 19 we have the personal pronouns starting with
Nom.     ic (I),
However on page 106 in the glossary we have the first entry for I is
īc, prn.  I.


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Re: Pronoucing consonants
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2011, 11:07:44 PM »
I have the ninth edition. My pronouns start on page 22 and ic has the dotted c and the short i, just as it does in the glossary. The ninth edition also confirms what you originally said about voicing consonants

Quote from: Sweet's Anglo - Saxon Primer 9th ed.
f, s, and þ  had the sounds of f, s and th in thin initially and finally in accented words; next to 'voiceless consonants' (such as p,t); and when double.
That's what I've been working with for 15 years. I wonder why they changed it to this with the revising of the text. The spelling of Ancrene Wisse is very suggestive. Without recourse to any kind of evidence or argument, I suppose it's a case of picking what you want to go with. Not very satisfying, but what can you do? I'm thinking of seeing if I can e-mail this Peter Baker chap about the pronunciation of g. If I do I may as well put in a paragraph about f, þ, and s.

I wish Stephen Pollington would weigh in on this.