Phonological history of English

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The phonological history of English describes the changing phonology of the English language over time, starting from its roots in proto-Germanic to diverse changes in different dialects of modern English.

NOTE: In the following description, abbreviations are used as follows:

  • C = any consonant
  • V = any vowel
  • # = end of word
  • * = reconstructed
  • ** = non-existent
  • > = changes into
  • >! = changes into, unexpectedly
  • < = is derived from

Changes by time period

This section summarizes the changes occurring within distinct time periods, covering the last 2,000 years or so. Within each subsection, changes are in approximate chronological order.

The time periods for some of the early stages are quite short due to the extensive population movements occurring during the Migration Period (early AD), which resulted in rapid dialect fragmentation.

Late Proto-Germanic period

This period includes changes in late Proto-Germanic, up to about the 1st century. Only a general overview of the more important changes is given here; for a full list, see the Proto-Germanic article.

  • Unstressed word-final /a/ and /e/ were lost. Early PG *barta > late PG *bart "you carried (sg)".
  • Word-final /m/ became /n/.
    • Word-final /n/ was then lost after unstressed syllables with nasalization of the preceding vowel. Hence PrePG *dʰogʰom > early PG *dagam > late PG dagą > OE dæġ "day (acc. sg.)". The nasalisation was retained at least into the earliest history of Old English.
  • Word-final /t/ was lost after an unstressed syllable. This followed the loss of word-final /n/, because it remained before /t/: PrePG *bʰr̥n̥t > early PG *burunt > late PG *burun "they carried".
  • /e/ was raised to /i/ in unstressed syllables.
    • The original vowel remained when followed by /r/, and was later lowered to /ɑ/.
  • Early i-mutation: /e/ was raised to /i/ when an /i/ or /j/ followed in the next syllable.
    • This occurred before deletion of word-final /i/; hence PIE *upéri > early PG *uberi > late PG *ubiri > German über "over". Compare PIE *upér > early PG *uber > late PG *ubar > German ober "over".
    • But it occurred after the raising of unstressed /e/ to /i/: PIE *bʰérete > PG *berid > *birid "you carry (pl)".
    • This also affected the diphthong /eu/, which became /iu/.
    • As a consequence of this change, /ei/ > /iː/. The Elder Futhark of the Proto-Norse language still contained different symbols for the two sounds.
  • z-umlaut: /e/ is raised to /i/ before /z/.
    • Early PG *mez "me, dative" > late PG *miz > OHG mir, OS mi, ON mér (with general lowering and lengthening of i before r).
    • This change was only sporadic at best because there were barely any words in which it could have occurred at all, since /e/ remained only in stressed syllables. The umlauting effect of /z/ remained, however, and in Old West Norse it was extended to other vowels as well. Hence OEN glaʀ, hrauʀ, OWN gler, hreyrr.
  • Pre-nasal raising: /e/ > /i/ before nasal + consonant. PrePG *bʰendʰonom > PG *bendaną > *bindaną > OE bindan > ModE bind (Latin of-fendō).
    • This was later extended in Pre-Old English times to vowels before all nasals; hence OE niman "take" but OHG neman.
  • Loss of /n/ before /x/, with nasalization and compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel.
    • The nasalization was eventually lost, but remained through the Ingvaeonic period.
    • Hence PrePG *tongjonom > PG *þankijaną > OE þencan > ModE think, but PrePG *tonktos > PG *þanhtaz > *þą̄htaz > OE þōht > ModE thought.
    • This change followed the raising of /e/ before a nasal: PG *þenhaną > *þinhaną > *þį̄haną > Gothic þeihan.
  • Final-syllable short vowels were generally deleted in words of three syllables or more. PG *biridi > Goth baíriþ /beriθ/ "(he) carries" (see above), and also PG *-maz, *-miz > *-mz (dative and instrumental plural ending of nouns, 1st person plural ending of verbs, as on the Stentoften Runestone).

Northwest Germanic period

This was the period that existed after the East Germanic languages had split off. Changes during this time were shared with the North Germanic dialects, i.e. Proto-Norse. Many of the changes that occurred were areal, and took time to propagate throughout a dialect continuum that was already diversifying. Thus, the ordering of the changes is sometimes ambiguous, and can differ between dialects.

  • Allophonic i-mutation: Short back vowels were fronted when followed in the next syllable by /i/ or /j/, by i-mutation: /ɑ/ > [æ], /o/ > [ø], /u/ > [y][citation needed]
    • In this initial stage, the mutated vowels were still allophonically conditioned, and were not yet distinct as phonemes. Only later, when the /i/ and /j/ were modified or lost, were the new sounds phonemicized.
    • i-mutation affected all the Germanic languages except for Gothic, although with a great deal of variation. It appears to have occurred earliest, and to be most pronounced, in the Schleswig-Holstein area (the home of the Anglo-Saxons), and from there to have spread north and south. However, it is possible that this change already occurred in Proto-Germanic proper, in which case the phenomenon would have remained merely allophonic for quite some time. If that is the case, that would be the stage reflected in Gothic, where there is no orthographic evidence of i-mutation at all.
    • Long vowels and diphthongs were affected only later, probably analogically, and not in all areas. Notably, they were not mutated in most (western) Dutch dialects, whereas short vowels were.
  • a-mutation: /u/ is lowered to /o/ when a non-high vowel follows in the next syllable.
    • This is blocked when followed by a nasal followed by a consonant, or by a cluster with /j/ in it. Hence PG *gulþą > OE/ModE gold, but PG guldijaną > OE gyldan > ModE gild.
    • This produces a new phoneme /o/, due to inconsistent application and later loss of word-final vowels.
  • Final-syllable long vowels were shortened.
    • Final /ɔː/ becomes /o/, later raised to /u/. PG *sagō ("saw (tool)") > OE sagu, ON sǫg.
    • Final /ɛː/ becomes /e/ in ON (later raised to /i/), /ɑ/ in West Germanic. PG *hailidē ("he/she/it healed") > ON heilði, but OE hǣlde, OHG heilta.
    • The final long diphthong /ɔːi/ loses its final element and usually develops the same as /ɔː/ from that point on. PG *gebōi ("gift", dative singular) > NWG *gebō > ON gjǫf, OHG gebu, OE giefe (an apparent irregular development).
  • "Overlong" vowels were shortened to regular long vowels.
  • PG /ɛː/ (maybe already /æː/ by late PG) becomes /ɑː/. This preceded final shortening in West Germanic, but postdated it in North Germanic.
  • Unstressed diphthongs were monophthongized. /ɑi/ > /eː/, /ɑu/ > /oː/. The latter merged with ō from shortened overlong ô. PG *sunauz ("son", genitive singular) > NWG *sunōz > ON sonar, OE suna, OHG suno; PG *nemai ("he/she/it take", subjunctive) > NWG *nemē > ON nemi, OE nime, OHG neme; PG *stainai ("stone", dative singular) > NWG *stainē > ON steini, OE stāne, OHG steine.

West Germanic period

This period occurred around the 2nd to 4th centuries. It is unclear if there was ever a distinct "Proto-West Germanic", as most changes in this period were areal, and likely spread throughout a dialect continuum that was already diversifying further. Thus, this "period" may not have been a real timespan, but may simply cover certain areal changes that did not reach into North Germanic. This period ends with the further diversification of West Germanic into several groups before and during the Migration Period: Ingvaeonic, Istvaeonic (Old Frankish) and Irminonic (Upper German).

  • Loss of word-final /z/.
    • This change occurred before rhotacization, as original word-final /r/ was not lost.
    • But it must have occurred after the Northwest Germanic split, since word-final /z/ was not eliminated in Old Norse, instead merging with /r/.
    • /z/ was not lost in single-syllable words in southern and central German. Compare PG *miz > OS mi, OE me vs. OHG mir.
    • The OE nominative plural -as (ME -s), OS nominative plural -ōs may be from original accusative plural *-ans, due to the Ingvaeonic Nasal-Spirant law, rather than original nominative plural *-ōz, which would be expected to become *-a (OHG -a, compare ON -ar).
  • Rhotacization: /z/ > /r/.
    • This change also affected Proto-Norse, but only much later. /z/ and /r/ were still distinct in the Danish and Swedish dialect of Old Norse, as is testified by distinct runes. (/z/ is normally assumed to be a rhotic fricative in this language, but there is no actual evidence of this.)
    • PG *deuzą > Goth dius; OE dēor > ModE deer
  • West Germanic gemination: single consonants followed by /j/ except /r/ became double (geminate). This only affected consonants preceded by a short vowel, because those preceded by a long vowel or by another consonant were never followed by /j/ due to Sievers' law.
    • PG *bidjaną, *habjaną > OE biddan, habban > ModE bid, have

Ingvaeonic and Anglo-Frisian period

This period is estimated to have lasted only a century or so, the 4th to 5th; the time during which the Franks started to spread south into Gaul (France) and the various coastal people began colonising Britain. Changes in this period affected the Ingvaeonic languages, but not the more southerly Central and Upper German languages. The Ingvaeonic group was probably never homogeneous, but was divided further into Old Saxon and Anglo-Frisian. Old Frankish (and later Old Dutch) was not in the core group, but was affected by the spread of several areal changes from the Ingvaeonic area.

The Anglo-Frisian languages shared several unique changes that were not found in the other West Germanic languages. The migration to Britain caused a further split into early Old English and early Old Frisian.

  • Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law: Loss of nasals before fricatives, with nasalization and compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel. Hence PG *munþaz became ModG Mund but in Ingvaeonic dialects first became *mų̄þa. Old English then denasalised the vowels, giving OE mūþ > ModE "mouth".
    • Following this /ɑ̃ː/ > /õː/. PrePG *donts > PG *tanþs > *tą̄þ > *tǭþ > OE tōþ > ModE "tooth". (ModG Zahn < OHG zant.) This also applied to /ɑ̃ː/ arising earlier in Proto-Germanic: PG *þanhtǭ > Late PG *þą̄htǭ > OE þōhte > ModE "(I) thought".
  • Anglo-Frisian brightening:
    • Fronting of /ɑ/ to /æ/[1] (unless followed by a geminate, by a back vowel in the next syllable,[2] or in certain other cases). Hence OE dæġ /dæj/ "day", plural dagas /dɑɣɑs/ "days" (dialectal ModE "dawes"; compare ModE "dawn" < OE dagung /dɑɣuŋɡ/).
    • This does not affect nasal /ɑ̃/. And since this is a back vowel, /ɑ/ in a preceding syllable was prevented from being fronted as well. This created an alternation between the infinitive in *-aną and strong past participle in *-ana (< PG *anaz), where the former became -an in OE but the latter became *-ænæ > -en.
    • Fronting of /ɑː/ to /æː/ (generally, unless /w/ followed).[3]
  • Final-syllable /æ/, /ɑ/ and /ɑ̃/ are lost.
    • No attested West Germanic languages show any reflexes of these vowels. However, the way it affected the fronting of /ɑ/ as described above shows that at least /ɑ̃/ was retained into the separate history of Anglo-Frisian.

Old English period

This period is estimated to be c. AD 475–900. This includes changes from the split between Old English and Old Frisian (c. AD 475) up through historic early West Saxon of AD 900:

  • Breaking of front vowels.[4]
    • Most generally, before /x, w/, and /r, l/ + consonant (assumed to be velarized [rˠ, ɫ] in these circumstances), but exact conditioning factors vary from vowel to vowel.
    • Initial result was a falling diphthong ending in /u/, but this was followed by diphthong height harmonization, producing short /æ̆ɑ̆/, /ĕŏ/, /ĭŭ/ from short /æ/, /e/, /i/, long /æɑ/, /eo/, /iu/ from long /æː/, /eː/, /iː/.
      • Written ea, eo, io, where length is not distinguished graphically.
    • Result in some dialects, for example Anglian, was back vowels rather than diphthongs. West Saxon ceald; but Anglian cald > ModE cold.
  • Diphthong height harmonization: The height of one element of each diphthong is adjusted to match that of the other.
    • /ɑi/ > /ɑː/ through this change,[5] possibly through an intermediate stage /ɑæ/. PG *stainaz > OE stān > ModE stone.
    • /ɑu/ was first fronted to /æu/ and then harmonized to /æɑ/. PG *draumaz > OE drēam "joy" (cf. ModE dream, ModG Traum). PG *dauþuz > OE dēaþ > ModE death (Goth dáuþus, ModG Tod). PG *augō > OE ēage > ModE eye (Goth áugo, ModG Auge).
    • /eu/ is harmonized to /eo/.
  • A-restoration: Short /æ/ is backed to /ɑ/ when a back vowel follows in the next syllable.[1]
    • This produces alternations such as OE dæġ "day", pl. dagas (cf. dialectal dawes "days").
  • Palatalization of velar consonants: /k, ɡ, ɣ, sk/ were palatalized to /tʃ, dʒ, ʝ, ʃ/ in certain complex circumstances. A similar palatalization happened in Frisian, but by this point the languages had split up; the Old English palatalization must be ordered after Old-English-specific changes such as a-restoration.
    • Generally, the velar stops /k, ɡ/ were palatalized before /i(ː)/ or /j/; after /i(ː)/ when not before a vowel; and /k/ was palatalized at the beginning of a word before front vowels. (At this point, there was no word-initial /ɡ/.)
    • /ɣ/ was palatalized in somewhat broader circumstances: By any following front vowel, as well as by a preceding front vowel when a vowel did not immediately follow the /ɣ/.
    • /ʝ/ later becomes /j/, but not before the loss of older /j/ below.
    • /sk/ is palatalized in almost all circumstances. PG *skipaz > ModE ship (cf. skipper < Dutch schipper, where no such change happened), but West Frisian skip. PG *skurtijaz > OE scyrte > ModE shirt, but > ON skyrt > ModE skirt.[6] An example of retained /sk/ is PG *aiskōną > OE ascian > ModE ask; there is evidence that OE ascian was sometimes rendered metathetized to acsian, which is the presumed origin of ModE ask.
  • Palatal diphthongization: Initial palatal /j/, /tʃ/, /ʃ/ trigger spelling changes of a > ea, e > ie.[7] It is disputed whether this represents an actual sound change[8][9] or merely a spelling convention[10] indicating the palatal nature of the preceding consonant (written g, c, sc were ambiguous in OE as to palatal /j/, /tʃ/, /ʃ/ and velar /ɡ/ or /ɣ/, /k/, /sk/, respectively).
    • Similar changes of o > eo, u > eo are generally recognized to be merely a spelling convention. Hence WG /juŋɡ/ > OE geong /juŋɡ/ > ModE "young"; if geong literally indicated an /ɛ̆ɔ̆/ diphthong, the modern result would be *yeng.
    • It is disputed whether there is Middle English evidence of the reality of this change in Old English.
  • i-mutation: The most important change in the Old English period. All back vowels were fronted before a /i, j/ in the next syllable, and front vowels were raised.
    • /ɑ(ː)/ > /æ(ː)/ (but /ɑ/ > /e/ before /m/ or /n/);
    • /o(ː)/ > /ø(ː)/ > /e(ː)/;
    • /u(ː)/ > /y(ː)/;
    • /æa/, /eo/ > /iy/ > /yː/; this also applied to the equivalent short diphthongs.
    • Short /e/ > /i/ by an earlier pan-Germanic change under the same circumstances; often conflated with this change.
    • This had dramatic effects in inflectional and derivational morphology, e.g. in noun paradigms (fōt "foot", pl. fēt "feet"); verb paradigms (bacan "to bake", bæcþ "he bakes"); nominal derivatives from adjectives (strang "strong", strengþ(u) "strength"), from verbs (cuman "to come", cyme "coming"), and from other nouns (fox "fox", fyxenn "vixen"); verbal derivatives (fōda "food", fēdan "to feed"); comparative adjectives (eald "old", ieldra "older, elder"). Note that many echoes of i-mutation are still present in the modern language.
  • Close-vowel loss: Loss of word-final /i/ and /u/ (also from earlier /oː/) except when following a short syllable (i.e. one with a short vowel followed by a single consonant.) For example, PIE *sunus > PG *sunuz > OE sunu "son (nom. sing.)", PIE *peḱu > PG *fehu > OE feohu "cattle (nom. sing.)", PIE *wenis > PG *winiz > OE wine "friend (nom. sing.)", but PrePG *pōdes > PG *fōtiz > WG *fø̄ti > OE fēt "foot (nom. pl.)".
  • Loss of /j/ and /ij/ following a long syllable.
    • A similar change happened in the other West Germanic languages, although after the earliest records of those languages.
    • This did not affect the new /j/ (< /ʝ/) formed from palatalisation of PG */ɣ/, suggesting that it was still a palatal fricative at the time of the change. For example, PG *wrōgijanan > early OE *wrøːʝijan > OE wrēġan (/wreːjan/).
    • Following this, PG */j/ occurred only word-initially and after /r/ (which was the only consonant that was not geminated by /j/ and hence retained a short syllable).
  • H-loss: Proto-Germanic /x/ is lost between vowels, and between /l, r/ and a vowel.[11] The preceding vowel is lengthened.[12]
    • This leads to alternations such as eoh "horse", pl. ēos, and wealh "foreigner", pl. wēalas.
  • Vowel assimilation: Two vowels in hiatus merge into a long vowel.[13]
    • Some examples come from H-loss. Others come from loss of /j/ or /w/ between vowels, e.g. PG frijōndz > OE frīond > frēond "friend"; PG saiwimiz "sea (dat. pl.)" > *sǣwum > OE sǣm.
  • Back mutation: Short e, i and (in Mercian only) a are sometimes broken to short eo, io, and ea when a back vowel follows in the next syllable.[14]
    • Hence seofon "seven" < PG *sebun, mioluc, meoluc "milk" < PG *milukz.
  • Palatal umlaut: Short e, eo, io become i (occasionally ie) before hs, ht.
    • Hence riht "right" (cf. German recht), siex "six" (cf. German sechs).
  • Vowel reductions in unstressed syllables:
    • /oː/ became /ɑ/ in final syllables, but usually appears as o in medial syllables (although a and u both appear).
    • /æ/ and /i/ (if not deleted by high-vowel loss) became /e/ in final syllables.
    • /u/ normally became /o/ in a final syllable except when absolutely word-final.[15]
    • In medial syllables, short /æ, a, e/ are deleted;[16] short /i, u/ are deleted following a long syllable but usually remain following a short syllable (except in some present-tense verb forms), merging to /e/ in the process; and long vowels are shortened.
  • /ø, øː/ are unrounded to /e, eː/, respectively. This occurred within the literary period.
    • Some Old English dialects retained the rounded vowels, however.
  • Early pre-cluster shortening: Vowels were shortened when falling immediately before either three consonances or the combination of two consonants and two additional syllables in the word.
    • Thus, OE gāst > ModE ghost, but OE găstliċ > ModE ghastly (ā > ă/_CCC) and OE crīst > ModE Christ, but OE crĭstesmæsse > ModE Christmas (ī > ĭ/_CC$$).
    • Probably occurred in the seventh century as evidenced by eighth century Anglo-Saxon missionaries' translation into Old Low German, "Gospel" as Gotspel, lit. "God news" not expected *Guotspel, "Good news" due to gōdspell > gŏdspell.
  • /ĭŭ/ and /iu/ were lowered to /ĕŏ/ and /eo/ between 800 and 900 AD.
  • Initial /ɣ/ became /ɡ/ in late Old English. This occurred within the literary period, as evidenced by shifting patterns in alliterative verse.

Until Middle English

This period is estimated to be c. AD 900–1400.

  • Homorganic lengthening: Vowels were lengthened before /ld/, /mb/, /nd/, /rd/, probably also /ŋɡ/, /rl/, /rn/, when not followed by a third consonant or two consonants and two syllables.
    • This probably occurred around AD 1000.
    • Later on, many of these vowels were shortened again; but evidence from the Ormulum shows that this lengthening was once quite general.
    • Remnants persist in the Modern English pronunciations of words such as child (but not children, since a third consonant follows), field (plus yield, wield, shield), old (but not alderman as it is followed by at least two syllables), climb, find (plus mind, kind, bind, etc.), long and strong (but not length and strength), fiend, found (plus hound, bound, etc.).
  • Pre-cluster shortening: Vowels were shortened when followed by two or more consonants, except when lengthened as above.
    • This occurred in two stages, the first stage occurring already in late Old English and affecting only vowels followed by three or more consonants, or two or more consonants when two syllables followed (an early form of trisyllabic laxing).
  • Diphthong smoothing: Inherited height-harmonic diphthongs were monophthongized by the loss of the second component, with the length remaining the same.
    • /æ̆ɑ̆/ and /æɑ/ initially became /æ/ and /æː/.
    • /ĕŏ/ and /eo/ initially became /ø/ and /øː/.
  • Middle English stressed vowel changes:
    • /æː/ (from Old English /æː, æɑ/) and /ɑː/ became /ɛː/ and /ɔː/, respectively.
    • /æ/ (from Old English /æ, æ̆ɑ̆/) and /ɑ/ merged into /a/.
    • New front-rounded /ø/ and /øː/ (from Old English /ĕŏ, eo/) were unrounded to /e/ and /eː/.
    • /y/ and /yː/ were unrounded to /i/ and /iː/.
  • /ɣ/ became /w/ or /j/, depending on surrounding vowels.
  • New diphthongs formed from vowels followed by /w/ or /j/ (including from former /ɣ/).
    • Length distinctions were eliminated in these diphthongs, yielding diphthongs /ai, ɛi, ei, au, ɛu, eu, iu, ɔu, ou/ plus /ɔi, ui/ borrowed from French.
    • Middle English breaking: Diphthongs also formed by the insertion of a glide /w/ or /j/ (after back and front vowels, respectively) preceding /x/.
  • Mergers of new diphthongs:
    • Early on, high-mid diphthongs were raised: /ei/ merged with /iː/ (hence eye < OE ēġe rhymes with rye < *riġe < OE ryġe), /ou/ merged with /uː/ and /eu/ merged with /iu/ (hence rue < OE hrēowan rhymes with hue < OE hīw and new < OE nīwe).
    • In Late Middle English, /ai/ and /ɛi/ merge as /ɛi/ (hence vain and vein are now homophones).
  • Trisyllabic laxing: Shortening of stressed vowels when two syllables followed.
    • This results in pronunciation variants in Modern English such as divine vs divinity and south vs. southern (OE súðerne).
  • Middle English open syllable lengthening: Vowels were usually lengthened in open syllables (13th century), except when trisyllabic laxing would apply.
  • Reduction and loss of unstressed vowels: Remaining unstressed vowels merged into /ə/.
    • Starting around 1400 AD, /ə/ is lost in final syllables.
  • Initial clusters /hɾ/, /hl/, /hn/ were reduced by loss of /h/.
  • Voiced fricatives became independent phonemes through borrowing and other sound changes.
  • /sw/ before back vowel becomes /s/; /mb/ becomes /m/.
    • Modern English sword, answer, lamb.
    • /w/ in swore is due to analogy with swear.

Up to Shakespeare's English

This period is estimated to be c. AD 1400–1600.

  • H-loss completed: /x/ (written gh) lost in most dialects, so that e.g. taught and taut become homophones, likewise bow (meaning "bend") and bough.
  • /al/ and /ɔl/ when not followed by a vowel undergo mutations:
    • Before /k/, a coronal consonant or word-finally, they are diphthongized to /aul/ and /ɔul/. (By later changes, they become /ɔːl/ and /oul/, as in modern salt, tall, bolt, roll.) After this, the combinations /aulk/ and /ɔulk/ lose their /l/ in most accents, affecting words like talk, caulk, and folk. Words acquired after this change (such as talc) were not affected.
    • Before /f, v/, the /l/ becomes silent, so that half and calf are pronounced with /af/, and salve and halve are pronounced with /av/. /ɔlv/ is exempt, so that solve keeps its /l/. /ɔlf/ is not wholly exempt, as the traditional pronunciation of golf was [ɡɔf].
    • Before /m/, /al, ɔl/ become /ɑː, oː/, as in alms, balm, calm, palm; Holmes.
    • Some words have irregular pronunciations, e.g. from non-standard dialects (salmon) or spelling pronunciations (falcon in American English).
  • Great Vowel Shift; all long vowels raised or diphthongized.
    • /aː, ɛː, eː/ become /ɛː, eː, iː/, respectively.
    • /ɔː, oː/ become /oː, uː/, respectively.
    • /iː, uː/ become /əi, əu/ or /ei, ou/,[citation needed] later /ai/ and /au/.
    • New /ɔː/ developed from old /au/ (see below).
      • Thus, /ɔː, oː, uː, au/ effectively rotated in-place.
    • /ɛː, eː/ are shifted again to /eː, iː/ in Early Modern English, causing merger of former /eː/ with /iː/; but the two are still distinguished in spelling as ea, ee.[17]
  • Initial cluster reductions:
    • /wr/ merges into /r/; hence rap and wrap become homophones.
  • Doubled consonants reduced to single consonants.
  • Loss of most remaining diphthongs.
    • /au/ became /ɔː/, merging with the vowel in broad and the /ɔː/ of the lot–cloth split below.
    • The long mid mergers: /ɛi, ɔu/ are raised to /ei, ou/, eventually merging with /eː, oː/, so that pane and pain, and toe and tow, become homophones in most accents.
    • The above two mergers did not occur in many regional dialects as late as the 20th century (e.g. Northern England, East Anglia, South Wales, and even Newfoundland).[18]
    • /y, ɛu, iu/ merge to /iu/, so that dew (EME /dɛu/ < OE dēaw), duke (EME /dyk/ < Old French duc /dyk/) and new (EME /niu/ < OE nīwe) now have the same vowel.
      • This /iu/ later becomes /juː/ in standard varieties of English, and /uː/ in some cases through yod-dropping.
      • /iu/ remains in Welsh English and some other non-standard varieties.
    • /ɔi/ and /ui/ merge to /oi/, the only Middle English diphthong that remains in the modern standard English varieties.

Up to the American–British split

This period is estimated to be c. AD 1600–1725.[citation needed]

  • At some preceding time after Old English, all [r] become [ɹ].
  • Initial cluster reductions:
    • /ɡn, kn/ both merge into /n/; hence gnat and Nat become homophones; likewise not and knot.
  • The foot–strut split: In southern England, /ʊ/ becomes unrounded and eventually lowered unless preceded by a labial and followed by a non-velar.[19] This gives put [pʰʊt] but cut [kʰʌt] and buck [bʌk]. This distinction later become phonemicized by an influx of words shortened from /uː/ to /ʊ/ both before (flood, blood, glove) and after (good, hood, book, soot, took) this split.
  • Ng-coalescence: Reduction of /ŋɡ/ in most areas produces new phoneme /ŋ/.
  • In some words, /tj, sj, dj, zj/ coalesce to produce /tʃ, ʃ, dʒ/, and the new phoneme /ʒ/, a sound change known as yod-coalescence, a type of palatalization: nature, mission, procedure, vision.
    • These combinations mostly occurred in borrowings from French and Latin.
    • Pronunciation of -tion was /sjən/ from Old French /sjon/, thus becoming /ʃən/.
    • This sound change still occurs in Modern English: did you /ˈdɪdjuː/ > didjou /ˈdɪdʒuː/.
  • Long vowels /eː, uː/, from ME /ɛː, oː/, inconsistently shortened, especially before /t, d, θ, ð/: sweat, head, bread, breath, death, leather, weather
    • Shortening of /uː/ occurred at differing time periods, both before and after the centralizing of /ʊ/ to /ʌ/; hence blood /blʌd/ versus good /ɡʊd/: also foot, soot, blood, good.
  • The meet–meat merger: Meet and meat become homophones in most accents.
  • Changes affect short vowels in many varieties before an /r/ at the end of a word or before a consonant
    • /a/ as in start and /ɔ/ as in north are lengthened.
    • /ɛ, ɪ, ʌ/ merge before /r/, so all varieties of ModE except for Scottish English have the same vowel in fern, fir and fur.
    • Also affects vowels in derived forms, so that starry no longer rhymes with marry.
  • /a/, as in cat and trap, fronted to [æ] in many areas. In certain other words it becomes /ɑː/, for example father /ˈfɑːðər/. /ɑː/ is actually a new phoneme deriving from this and words like calm (see above).
  • The lotcloth split: in some varieties, lengthening of /ɔ/ before voiced velars (/ŋ/, /ɡ/) (American English only) and voiceless fricatives (/s/, /f/, /θ/). Hence American English long, dog, loss, cloth, off with /ɔː/ (except in dialects with the cot–caught merger where the split is made completely moot).
  • /uː/ becomes /ʊ/ in many words spelt oo: for example, book, wool, good, foot. This is partially resisted in the northern and western variants of English English, where words ending in -ook might still use /uː/.[20]

After American–British split, up to World War II

This period is estimated to be c. AD 1725–1945.

After World War II

Some of these changes are in progress.

Examples of sound changes

The following table shows a possible sequence of changes for some basic vocabulary items, leading from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) to Modern English. The notation ">!" indicates an unexpected change, whereas the simple notation ">" indicates an expected change. An empty cell means no change at the given stage for the given item. Only sound changes that had an effect on one or more of the vocabulary items are shown.

one two three four five six seven mother heart hear
Proto-Indo-European óynos dúoH tríh₂ (fem.) kʷetwṓr pénkʷe séḱs septḿ̥ méh₂tēr ḱḗr h₂ḱowsyónom
Pre-Germanic unexpected changes >! dwóy >! tríh₂s >! petwṓr >! pémpe >! sepḿ̥d >! meh₂tḗr >! kérdō
Sonorant epenthesis sepúmd
Final overlong vowels kérdô
Laryngeal loss trī́s mātḗr kowsyónom
Loss of final nonhigh vowels pemp
Grimm's Law twoi þrī́s feþwṓr fémf sehs sefúmt māþḗr hértô housjónom
Verner's Law oinoz þrīz feðwōr seβumt māðēr houzjonom
o > a, ō > ā, ô > â ainaz twai feðwār hertâ hauzjanam
Final -m > -n hauzjanan
m > n before dental seβunt
Final -n > nasalization hauzjaną
Loss of final -t seβun
Sievers' Law hauzijaną
Nasal raising fimf
ā > ō, â > ô feðwōr mōðēr hertô
Proto-Germanic form ainaz twai þrīz feðwōr fimf sehs seβun mōðēr hertô hauzijaną
Final vowel shortening/loss ainz? þrīz feðwur mōðar hertō hauzijan
Final -z loss ain þrī
Rhotacism: z > r haurijan
Intervocalic ðw > ww fewwur
Hardening: ð > d, β > v, f [ɸ] > [f] finf sevun mōdar
Morphological changes >! þriju >! herta
West Germanic pre-form ain twai þriju fewwur finf sehs sevun mōdar herta haurijan
Ingvaeonic (prespirant) nasal loss fīf
ai > ā ān twā
Anglo-Frisian brightening hertæ hæurijan
I-mutation heyrijan
Loss of medial -ij- heyran
Breaking hĕŭrtæ
Diphthong height harmony feowur hĕŏrtæ hēran, hiyran
Back mutation sĕŏvun
Final reduction feowor sĕŏvon >! mōdor hĕŏrte
Raising: ehs eht > ihs iht sihs
hs > ks siks
Late OE lowering: iu > eo þreo
iy > ȳ hȳran
Late Old English spelling ān twā þrēo fēowor fīf six seofon mōdor heorte hēran, hȳran
Middle English (ME) smoothing θrøː føːwor søvon hørte
ME final reduction føːwǝr søvǝn moːdǝr hørtǝ heːrǝn
ME a: æ: > ɔ: ɛ: ɔːn twɔː
-dǝr > -ðǝr moːðǝr
ME unexpected (?) vowel changes >! fiːv-ǝ >! hɛːrǝn
ME diphthong changes >! fowǝr
Late ME unrounding θreː sevǝn hertǝ
Late Middle English spelling (c. 1350) oon two three fower five six seven mother herte heere(n)
Late ME final reduction (late 1300s) >! fowr fiːv hert hɛːr
Late ME /er/ > /ar/ (1400s)[29] hart
Late ME Great Vowel Shift (c. 1400-1550) oːn >! wʊn twoː θriː fǝiv muːðǝr heːr
Early Modern English (EModE) smoothing foːr
EModE raising /woː/ > /wuː/ > /uː/[30] tuː
EModE shortening mʊðǝr
EModE /ʊ/ > /ʌ/ wʌn mʌðǝr
Later vowel shifts fɔːr faiv sɪks hɑrt hiːr
Loss of -r (regional) fɔː mʌðǝ hɑːt hiǝ
Modern pronunciation wʌn tuː θriː fɔː(r) faiv sɪks sevǝn mʌðǝ(r) hɑrt/hɑːt hiːr/hiǝ
one two three four five six seven mother heart hear

NOTE: Some of the changes listed above as "unexpected" are more predictable than others. For example:

  • Some changes are morphological ones that move a word from a rare declension to a more common one, and hence are not so surprising: e.g. *þrī "three" >! *þriu (adding the common West Germanic feminine ending -u) and *keːr "heart" (stem *kerd-) >! *kérd-oː (change from consonant stem to n-stem).
  • Some changes are assimilations that are unexpected but of a cross-linguistically common type, e.g. føːwǝr "four" >! fowǝr where **fewǝr would be expected by normal sound change. Assimilations involving adjacent numbers are especially common, e.g. *kʷetwṓr "four" >! *petwṓr by assimilation to *pénkʷe "five" (in addition, /kʷ/ > /p/ is a cross-linguistically common sound change in general).
  • On the other extreme, the Early Modern English change of oːn "one" >! wʊn is almost completely mysterious. Note that the related words alone ( < all + one) and only ( < one + -ly) did not change.

Summary of vowel developments

Development of Middle English vowels


This table describes the main historical developments of English vowels in the last 1000 years, beginning with late Old English and focusing on the Middle English and Modern English changes leading to the current forms. It provides a lot of detail about the changes taking place in the last 600 years (since Middle English), while omitting any detail in the Old English and earlier periods. For more detail about the changes in the first millennium AD, see the section on the development of Old English vowels.

This table omits the history of Middle English diphthongs; see that link for a table summarizing the developments.

The table is organized around the pronunciation of Late Middle English c. 1400 AD (the time of Chaucer) and the modern spelling system, which dates from the same time and closely approximates the pronunciation of the time. (Modern English spelling originates in the spelling conventions of Middle English scribes and its modern form was largely determined by William Caxton, the first English printer (beginning in 1476).

As an example, the vowel spelled ⟨a⟩ corresponds to two Middle English pronunciations: /a/ in most circumstances, but long /aː/ in an open syllable, i.e. followed by a single consonant and then a vowel, notated aCV in the spelling column. (This discussion ignores the effect of trisyllabic laxing.) The lengthened variant is due to the Early Middle English process of open-syllable lengthening; this is indicated by (leng.). Prior to that time, both vowels were pronounced the same, as a short vowel /a/; this is reflected by the fact that there is a single merged field corresponding to both Middle English sounds in the Late Old English column (the first column). However, this earlier Middle English vowel /a/ is itself the merger of a number of different Anglian Old English sounds:

  1. the short vowels indicated in Old English spelling as ⟨a⟩, ⟨æ⟩ and ⟨ea⟩;
  2. the long equivalents ⟨ā⟩, ⟨ēa⟩, and often ⟨ǣ⟩ when directly followed by two or more consonants (indicated by ā+CC, ǣ+CC, etc.);
  3. occasionally, the long vowel ⟨ē⟩ when directly followed by two consonants, particularly when this vowel corresponded to West Saxon Old English ⟨ǣ⟩. (Middle English, and hence Modern English, largely derives from the Anglian dialect of Old English, but some words are derived from the West Saxon dialect of Old English, because the border between the two dialects ran through the London area. Note that the West Saxon dialect, not the Anglian dialect, is the "standard" dialect described in typical reference works on Old English.)

Moving forward in time, the two Middle English vowels /a/ and /aː/ correspond directly to the two vowels /a/ and /ɛː/, respectively, in the Early Modern English of c. 1600 AD (the time of Shakespeare). However, each vowel has split into a number of different pronunciations in Modern English, depending on the phonological context. The short /a/, for example, has split into seven different vowels, all still spelled ⟨a⟩ but pronounced differently:

  1. /æ/ when not in any of the contexts indicated below, as in man, sack, wax, etc.
  2. A vowel pronounced /ɑ/ in General American (GA) and /ɒ/ in Received Pronunciation (RP) when preceded by /w/ and not followed by the velar consonants /k/, /ɡ/ or /ŋ/, as in swan, wash, wallow, etc. (General American is the standard pronunciation in the U.S. and Received Pronunciation is the most prestigious pronunciation in Britain. In both cases, these are the pronunciations typically found in news broadcasts and among the middle and upper classes.)
  3. /ɑr/ (GA) or /ɑː/ (RP) when followed by a written ⟨r⟩, as in hard, car, etc. (Note, this does not include words like care, where the ⟨a⟩ was pronounced as long /aː/ in Middle English.)
  4. But /ɔr/ (GA) or /ɔː/ (RP) when both preceded by /w/ and followed by written ⟨r⟩, as in war, swarm, etc.
  5. /ɔː/ when followed by an /l/ plus either a consonant or the end of a word, as in small, walk, etc. (In the case of walk, talk, chalk, etc. the /l/ has dropped out, but this is not indicated here. Note also that words like rally, shallow and swallow are not covered here because the /l/ is followed by a vowel; instead, earlier rules apply. Nor are words like male covered, which had long /aː/ in Middle English.)
  6. /ɑ/ (GA) or /ɑː/ (RP) when followed by /lm/, as in palm, calm, etc. (Note that the /l/ has dropped out in pronunciation.)
  7. In RP only, the pronunciation /ɑː/ is often found when followed by an unvoiced fricative, i.e. /f/, /s/ or /θ/, as in glass, after, path, etc. This does not apply to GA and also unpredictably does not affect a number of words of the same form, e.g. crass, math, etc.

NOTE: In this table, abbreviations are used as follows:

Late Old English (Anglian), c. 1000 Middle English pronunciation, c. 1400 Modern English spelling, c. 1500 Early Modern English pronunciation, c. 1600 Modern English pronunciation, c. 2000 Source Example
a; æ; ea; ā+CC; often ǣ+CC,ēa+CC; occ. ē+CC (WS ǣ+CC) /a/ a /a/ /æ/ OE a OE mann > man; OE lamb > lamb; OE sang > sang; OE sacc > sack; OE assa > ass (donkey)
OE æ OE fæþm embrace > fathom; OE sæt > sat; OE æt > at; OE mæsse > mass (at church)
OE ea OE weax > wax; OE healf > half /hæf/ (GA)
OE +CC OE āscian > ask /æsk/ (GA); OE fǣtt > fat; OE lǣstan > to last /læst/ (GA) ; OE blēddre (WS blǣddre) > bladder; OE brēmbel (WS brǣmbel) > bramble
(w+, not +g,ck,ng,nk) GA /ɑ/, RP /ɒ/ OE a OE swan > swan; OE wasċan > to wash; OE wann dark > wan
OE æ OE swæþ > swath; OE wæsp > wasp
OE ea OE wealwian > to wallow; OE swealwe > swallow (bird)
(+r) /ar/ > GA /ɑr/, RP /ɑː/ OE heard > hard; OE ærc (WS earc) > ark
(w+ and +r) /ɔr/ > GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ OE ea OE swearm > swarm; OE sweart > old poetic swart >! swarthy; OE weardian > to ward; OE wearm > warm; OE wearnian > to warn
(+lC,l#) /ɔː/ OE smæl > small; OE all (WS eall) > all; OE walcian (WS wealcian) to roll > to walk
(+lm) GA /ɑ/, RP /ɑː/ OE ælmesse > alms; Latin palma > OE palm > palm
(RP, often +f,s,th) /ɑː/ OE glæs > glass; OE græs > grass; OE pæþ > path; OE æfter > after; OE āscian /ɑːsk/ > to ask; OE lǣstan /lɑːst/ > to last
(leng.) /aː/ [æː] aCV /ɛː/ /eː/ > /ei/ OE a OE nama > name; OE nacod > naked; OE bacan > to bake
OE æ OE æcer > acre; OE hwæl > whale; OE hræfn > raven
(+r) /eːr/ > GA /ɛr/, RP /ɛə/ OE a OE caru > care; OE faran > to fare; OE starian > to stare
e; eo; occ. y; ē+CC; ēo+CC; occ. ǣ+CC,ēa+CC /e/ e /ɛ/ /ɛ/ OE e OE helpan > to help; OE elh (WS eolh) > elk; OE tellan > to tell; OE betera > better; OE streċċan > to stretch
OE eo OE seofon > seven
OE y OE myriġ > merry; OE byrġan > to bury /bɛri/; OE lyft- weak > left (hand); OE cnyll > knell
OE +CC OE cēpte > kept; OE mētte > met; OE bēcnan (WS bīecnan) > to beckon; OE clǣnsian > to cleanse; OE flǣsċ > flesh; OE lǣssa > less; OE frēond > friend /frɛnd/; OE þēofþ (WS þīefþ) > theft; OE hēold > held
(+r) ar /ar/ GA /ɑr/, RP /ɑː/ OE heorte > heart; OE bercan (WS beorcan) > to bark; OE teoru (WS teru) > tar; OE steorra > star
(w+ and +r) /ɔr/ > GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ AN werra > war; AN werbler > to warble
(occ. +r) er /ɛr/ /ər/ > GA /ər/, RP /ɜː/ OE e OE sterne (WS stierne, styrne) > stern
OE eo OE eorl > earl; OE eorþe > earth; OE liornian, leornian > to learn
OE +CC OE hērde (WS hīerde) > heard
(leng.) /ɛː/ ea,eCV /eː/ /iː/ OE specan > to speak; OE mete > meat; OE beofor > beaver; OE meotan (WS metan) > to mete /miːt/; OE eotan (WS etan) > to eat; OE meodu (WS medu) > mead; OE yfel > evil
(+r) /iːr/ > GA /ɪr/, RP /ɪə/ OE spere > spear; OE mere > mere (lake)
(occ.) /ei/ OE brecan > to break /breik/
(occ. +r) /eːr/ > GA /ɛr/, RP /ɛə/ OE beoran (WS beran) > to bear; OE pere, peru > pear; OE swerian > to swear; OE wer man > were-
(often +th,d,t,v) /ɛ/ OE leþer > leather /lɛðɚ/; OE stede > stead; OE weder > weather; OE heofon > heaven; OE hefiġ > heavy
i; y; ī+CC,ȳ+CC; occ. ēoc,ēc; occ. ī+CV,ȳ+CV /i/ i /ɪ/ /ɪ/ OE i OE writen > written; OE sittan > to sit; OE fisċ > fish; OE lifer > liver
OE y OE bryċġ > bridge; OE cyssan > to kiss; OE dyde > did; OE synn > sin; OE gyldan > to gild; OE bysiġ > busy /bɪzi/
OE +CC OE wīsdōm > wisdom; OE fīftiġ > fifty; OE wȳsċan > to wish; OE cȳþþ(u) > kith; OE fȳst > fist
OE ȳ+CV,ī+CV OE ċīcen > chicken; OE lȳtel > little
OE ēoc,ēc OE sēoc > sick; OE wēoce > wick; OE ēc + nama > ME eke-name >! nickname
(+r) /ər/ > GA /ər/, RP /ɜː/ OE gyrdan > to gird; OE fyrst > first; OE styrian > to stir
(leng. — occ.) /eː/ ee /iː/ /iː/ OE wicu > week; OE pilian > to peel; OE bitela > beetle
o; ō+CC /o/ o /ɔ/ GA /ɑ/, RP /ɒ/ OE o OE god > god; OE beġeondan > beyond
OE +CC OE gōdspell > gospel; OE fōddor > fodder; OE fōstrian > to foster
(GA, +f,s,th,g,ng) /ɔː/ OE moþþe > moth; OE cros > cross; OE frost > frost; OE of > off; OE oft > oft; OE sōfte > soft
(+r) /ɔr/ > GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ OE corn > corn; OE storc > storc; OE storm > storm
(leng.) /ɔː/ oa,oCV /oː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ OE fola > foal; OE nosu > nose; OE ofer > over
(+r) /oːr/ > GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ OE borian > to bore; OE fore > fore; OE bord > board
u; occ. y; ū+CC; w+ e,eo,o,y +r /u/ u,o /ʊ/ /ʌ/ OE u OE bucc > buck /bʌk/; OE lufian > to love /lʌv/; OE uppe > up; OE on bufan > above
OE y OE myċel > ME muchel >! much; OE blysċan > to blush; OE cyċġel > cudgel; OE clyċċan > to clutch; OE sċytel > shuttle
OE +CC OE dūst > dust; OE tūsc > tusk; OE rūst > rust
(b,f,p+ and +l,sh) /ʊ/ OE full > full /fʊl/; OE bula > bull; OE bysċ > bush
(+r) /ər/ > GA /ər/, RP /ɜː/ OE u OE spurnan > to spurn
OE y OE ċyriċe > church; OE byrþen > burden; OE hyrdel > hurdle
OE w+,+r OE word > word; OE werc (WS weorc) > work; OE werold > world; OE wyrm > worm; OE wersa (WS wiersa) > worse; OE weorþ > worth
(leng. — occ.) /oː/ oo /uː/ /uː/ OE (brȳd)-guma > ME (bride)-gome >! (bride)-groom
(+r) /uːr/ > /oːr/ > GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ OE duru > door
(often +th,d,t) /ʌ/  ?
(occ. +th,d,t) /ʊ/ OE wudu > wood /wʊd/
ā; often a+ld,mb /ɔː/ oa,oCV /oː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ OE ā OE āc > oak; OE hāl > whole
OE +ld,mb OE camb > comb; OE ald (WS eald) > old; OE haldan (WS healdan) > to hold
(+r) /oːr/ > GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ OE ār > oar, ore; OE māra > more; OE bār > boar; OE sār > sore
ǣ; ēa /ɛː/ ea,eCV /eː/ /iː/ OE ǣ OE hǣlan > to heal /hiːl/; OE hǣtu > heat; OE hwǣte > wheat
OE ēa OE bēatan > to beat /biːt/; OE lēaf > leaf; OE ċēap > cheap
(+r) /iːr/ > GA /ɪr/, RP /ɪə/ OE rǣran > to rear ; OE ēare > ear; OE sēar > sere; OE sēarian > to sear
(occ.) /ei/ OE grēat > great /greit/
(occ. +r) /eːr/ > GA /ɛr/, RP /ɛə/ OE ǣr > ere (before)
(often +th,d,t) /ɛ/ OE ǣ OE brǣþ odor > breath; OE swǣtan > to sweat; OE -sprǣdan > to spread
OE ēa OE dēad > dead /dɛd/; OE dēaþ death; OE þrēat menace > threat; OE rēad > red; OE dēaf > deaf
ē; ēo; often e+ld /eː/ ee,ie(nd/ld) /iː/ /iː/ OE ē OE fēdan > to feed; OE grēdiġ (WS grǣdiġ) > greedy; OE > me; OE fēt > feet; OE dēd (WS dǣd) > deed; OE nēdl (WS nǣdl) > needle
OE ēo OE dēop deep; OE fēond > fiend; OE betwēonum > between; OE bēon > to be
OE +ld OE feld > field; OE ġeldan (WS ġieldan) to pay > to yield
(often +r) /ɛːr/ ear,erV /eːr/ /iːr/ > GA /ɪr/, RP /ɪə/ OE ē OE hēr > here; OE hēran (WS hīeran) > to hear; OE fēr (WS fǣr) > fear
OE ēo OE dēore (WS dīere) > dear
(occ.) /eːr/ > GA /ɛr/, RP /ɛə/ OE þēr (WS þǣr) > there; OE hwēr (WS hwǣr) > where
(occ. +r) /eːr/ eer /iːr/ /iːr/ > GA /ɪr/, RP /ɪə/ OE bēor > beer; OE dēor > deer; OE stēran (WS stīeran) > to steer; OE bēr (WS bǣr) > bier
ī; ȳ; often i+ld,mb,nd; often y+ld,mb,nd /iː/ i,iCV /əi/ /ai/ OE ī OE rīdan > to ride; OE tīma > time; OE hwīt > white; OE mīn > mine (of me)
OE ȳ OE mȳs > mice; OE brȳd > bride; OE hȳdan > to hide
OE +ld,mb,nd OE findan > to find; OE ċild > child; OE climban > to climb; OE mynd > mind
(+r) /air/ > GA /air/, RP /aiə/ OE fȳr > fire; OE hȳrian > to hire; OE wīr > wire
ō; occ. ēo /oː/ oo /u:/ /u:/ OE ō OE mōna > moon; OE sōna > soon; OE fōd > food /fuːd/; OE dōn > to do
OE ēo OE cēosan > to choose; OE sċēotan > to shoot
(+r) /uːr/ > /oːr/ > GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ OE flōr > floor; OE mōr > moor
(occ. +th,d,v) /ʌ/ OE blōd > blood /blʌd/; OE mōdor > mother /mʌðə(r)/; OE glōf > glove /glʌv/
(often +th,d,t,k) /ʊ/ OE gōd > good /gʊd/; OE bōc > book /bʊk/; OE lōcian > to look /lʊk/; OE fōt > foot /fʊt/
ū; often u+nd /uː/ ou /əu/ /au/ OE ū OE mūs > mouse; OE ūt, ūte > out; OE hlūd > loud
OE +nd OE ġefunden > found; OE hund > hound; OE ġesund > sound (safe)
(+r) /aur/ > GA /aur/, RP /auə/ OE OE ūre > our; OE sċūr > shower; OE sūr > sour
(occ. +t) /ʌ/ OE būtan > but; OE strūtian > ME strouten > to strut


This table describes the main developments of Middle English diphthongs, starting with the Old English sound sequences that produced them (sequences of vowels and g, h or w) and ending with their Modern English equivalents. Many special cases have been ignored.

Note: V means "any vowel"; C means "any consonant"; # means "end of word".

Late Old English (Anglian) Early Middle English Late Middle English Early Modern English Modern English Example (Old and Modern English forms given)[31]
æg, ǣg /ai/ /ai/ [æi] /eː/ /ei/ dæġ > day; mæġ > may; mæġden > maiden; næġl > nail; fæġer > fair; clǣġ > clay; grǣġ > gray
eg, ēg# /ɛi/ weġ > way; pleġan > to play; reġn > rain; leġer > lair; leġde > laid; hēġ (WS hīeġ) > hay
ēgV /ei/ > /iː/ /iː/ /əi/ /ai/ ēage > ēġe > eye; lēogan > lēġan > to lie (deceive); flēoge > flēġe > fly
ig, īg, yg, ȳg /iː/ tiġel > tile; liġe > (I) lie ("recline"); hīġian > to hie; ryġe > rye; byġe > (I) buy; drȳġe > dry
æw, aw, agV /au/ /au/ /ɔː/ /ɔː/ clawu > claw; lagu > law; dragan > to draw
ǣw, ēaw, ew, eow /ɛu/ /ɛu/ /juː/ /(j)uː/ mǣw > mew; lǣwede > lewd; scrēawa > shrew; eowu > ewe
ēw, ēow /eu/ /iu/ ċēowan > to chew; hrēowan > to rue; blēow > blew; trēowþ > truth
iw, īw, yw, ȳw /iu/ hīw > hue; nīwe > new; trīewe (WS) > true; Tīwesdæġ > Tiwesdæġ > Tuesday
āw, āgV, ow, ogV, ōw, ōgV /ɔu/ /ɔu/ /ou/ > /oː/ /əu/ (British), /ou/ (American) /bou/; flogen > flown
ugV, ūgV /uː/ /uː/ /əu/ /au/ /bau/
æh, ah, ag# /auh/ /auh/ ([x] > ) /ɔː/ /ɔː/ slæht (WS sleaht) + -or > slaughter
([x] > /f/) /af/ /æf/ hlæhtor > laughter
eh /ɛih/ /ɛih/ /ei/ > /eː/ /ei/ streht > straight
ēh /eih/ > /iːh/ /iːh/ /əi/ /ai/ hēah > hēh > high; þēoh > þēh > thigh; nēh > nigh
ih, īh, yh, ȳh /iːh/ reht > riht > right; flyht > flight; līoht > līht > light
āh, āg#, oh, og# /ɔuh/ /ɔuh/ ([x] > ) /ou/ > /oː/ /əu/ (British), /ou/ (American) dāg > dāh > dough
([x] > /f/) /ɔf/ /ɒf/ (British), /ɔːf/ (American) trog > trough
āhC, ohC, ōhC /ɔuh/ /ɔuh/ /ɔː/ /ɔː/ āhte > ought; dohtor > daughter; þoht > thought; sōhte > sought
ōh#, ōg# /ouh/ > /uːh/ /uːh/ ([x] > ) /əu/ /au/ bōg > bough; plōg > plōh > plough
([x] > /f/) /ʊf/ (centralized) /ʌf/ ġenōg, ġenōh > enough; tōh > tough; ruh > rough
uh, ug#, ūh, ūg# /uːh/ (non-centralized) /ʊf/  ?

Development of Old English vowels

This table describes the main changes from Late Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic up through Old English, Middle English and Modern English. It focuses on the Old English and Middle English changes leading to the modern forms. Other tables are also available to cover specific areas in more detail:

This table only describes the changes in accented syllables. Vowel changes in unaccented syllables were very different and much more extensive. In general:

  1. In Old English, long vowels were reduced to short vowels (and sometimes deleted entirely) and short vowels were very often deleted. All remaining vowels were reduced to only the vowels /u/, /a/ and /e/, and sometimes /o/. (/o/ also sometimes appears as a variant of unstressed /u/.)
  2. In Middle English, almost all unstressed vowels were reduced to /ə/; then, final /ə/ was dropped. The main exception is Old English -iġ, which becomes Modern English -y.
  3. Unstressed vowels in Modern English other than those spelled <e> are due either to compounds or to borrowed words (especially from Latin and Old French).

NOTE: The Old English words in this table are given in their Anglian form, since this is the form that underlies Modern English. However, standard Old English was based on the West Saxon dialect, and when the two dialects differ, the West Saxon form is indicated with a WS in parentheses following the Anglian form.

NOTE: In this table, abbreviations are used as follows:

1"Pre-Germanic" in this context refers to a post-PIE language that maintains PIE phonology but with morphological adjustments made as necessary to account for the Proto-Germanic form. Reconstructions are only given for solidly reconstructible Proto-Indo-European roots.

Late PIE1 Proto-Germanic1 Condition Old English Middle English Modern English Examples
  i-umlaut2   i-umlaut2   i-umlaut2
a, o, h₂e, h₃e, H̥ a   æ e /a/ /e/ /æ/; RP /ɑː/ /ɛ/ PG *paþaz > OE pæþ > "path"; PG *batizǫ̂ > OE betera > "better"; PG *taljaną > OE tellan > "to tell"
(leng.) /aː/ /ɛː/ /ei/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *hwalaz > OE hwæl > "whale"; PG *matiz > OE, ME mete "food" > "meat"; PG *stadiz > OE, ME stede > "stead"
(+g) /ai/ /ɛi/ > /ai/ /ei/ /ei/ PG *dagaz > OE dæġ > "day"
(+h) /au/ /ɛu/ /ɔː/; /æf/ /(j)uː/ PG *hlahtraz > OE hlæhtor (WS hleahtor) > "laughter"; PG *slahtiz > OE sleht (WS slieht) > ME sleight "slaughter"
+n,m a,o e /a/ (occ. /o/) /e/ /æ/; occ. GA /ɔ/, RP /ɒ/ /ɛ/ PG *mannz, manniz > OE man, mon > "man", plur. men > "men"; PG *hamuraz > OE hamor > "hammer"; PG *handuz > OE hand > "hand"; PG *sange > OE past sang > "sang"; PG *lambaz > OE lamb > "lamb"; Latin candēla > OE candel > "candle"; PG *gandrǫ̂ > OE gandra > "gander"; PG *langaz > OE lang, long > "long"; PG *sandijaną > OE sendan > "send"; PG *bankiz > OE benċ > "bench"; PG *hanjō > OE henn > "hen"
(leng.) /aː/ /ɛː/ /ei/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *namǫ̂ > OE nama > "name"; PG lamǫ̂ > OE lama > "lame"; PG *banǫ̂ > OE bana "slayer" > "bane"
+mf,nþ,ns ō ē /oː/ /eː/ /uː/; /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /iː/ PreG *donts, dontes > PG *tanþz, tanþiz > OE tōþ > "tooth", plur. tēþ > "teeth"; PG *gans, gansiz > OE gōs > "goose", plur. gēs > "geese"; PG *anþaraz > OE ōþer > "other"
(+CC) /o/ /e/ GA /ɔ/, RP /ɒ/; GA /ɔː/ /ɛ/ PG *samftijaz, samftô > OE sēfte, *sōfta >! OE sōfte > "soft"; PG *anstiz > OE ēst "favor" > ME "este"
+lC a æ > e /a/ /e/ /ɔː/ /ɛ/ PG *fallaną > OE fallan (WS feallan) > "to fall"; PG *fallijaną > OE fællan > fellan (WS fiellan) > "to fell"
(+ld) /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *aldaz, aldizǫ̂ > OE ald (WS eald) > "old", ældra (WS ieldra) "older" > "elder"; PG *haldaną > OE haldan (WS healdan) > "to hold"
+rc,rg,rh æ > e e /e/ /e/ GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ Latin arca > OE erc (WS earc) > "ark"
+rC (C not c,g,h) ea e /a/ /e/ GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ PG *harduz > OE heard > "hard"
before a,o,u a (by analogy) æ /a/ /a/ /æ/; RP /ɑː/ /æ/; (RP) /ɑː/ Latin cattus > OE catt > "cat"
(leng.) /aː/ /aː/ /ei/ /ei/ PG *talō > OE talu > "tale"; PG *bakaną, -iþi > OE bacan > "to bake", 3rd sing. pres. indic. bæcþ "bakes"
(+g,w) /au/ /au/ /ɔː/ /ɔː/ PG plur. *dagôs > OE dagas "days" > dial. "dawes"; PG *laguz > OE lagu > "law"; PG *clawō > OE clawu > "claw"
before later a,o,u ea eo /a/ /e/ /æ/; (RP) /ɑː/ /ɛ/
(leng.) /aː/ /ɛː/ /ei/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *alu(þ) > OE ealu > "ale"; PG *asiluz > OE eosol (WS esol) "donkey"
(+g,w) /au/ /ɛu/ /ɔː/ /(j)uː/ PG *awī > OE eowu > "ewe"
before hs,ht,hþ + final -iz N/A i (occ. ie) N/A /i/ N/A /ai/ PIE *nokwtis > PG *nahtiz > OE nieht > OE niht > "night"
e, h₁e, occ. i+C*e,a,o e   e N/A /e/ N/A /ɛ/ N/A PIE *nizdos > PG *nestaz > OE nest > "nest"; PG *helpaną > OE helpan > "to help"; PG *fehtaną > OE fehtan (WS feohtan) "to fight" (irreg.); PG *berkaną > OE bercan (WS beorcan) > "to bark"
(leng.) /ɛː/ N/A /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ N/A PG *brekaną > OE brecan > "to break"; PG *ebnaz > OE ef(e)n > "even"; OE feþer > "feather"
(+g,h) /ɛi/ > /ai/ N/A /ei/ N/A PG *wegaz > OE weġ > "way"; PG *regnaz > OE reġn > "rain"; PG *seglaz > OE seġl > "sail"
(+ld) /eː/ N/A /iː/ N/A PG *felduz > OE feld > "field"; PG *geldaną > OE ġeldan (WS ġieldan) "to pay" > "to yield"
+m i N/A /i/ N/A /ɪ/ N/A PG *remǫ̂ > OE rima > "rim"; PG *nemaną > OE niman "to take" > archaic "to nim"
(leng.) /eː/ N/A /iː/ N/A
+rC (C not c,g,h); wV; C (C not c,g) +later a,o,u eo N/A /e/ N/A /ɛ/; (+r) GA /ɑ/(+r), RP /ɑː/ N/A PG *werþaną > OE weorðan "to become"; PG *hertǭ > OE heorte > "heart"
(leng.) /ɛː/ N/A /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ N/A PG *etaną > OE eotan (WS etan) > "to eat"; PG *beraną > OE beoran (WS beran) > "to bear"
(+w) /ɛu/ N/A /(j)uː/ N/A
+ late final hs,ht,hþ i (occ. ie) N/A /i/ N/A /ɪ/ N/A PG *sehs > OE siex > "six"; PG *rehtaz > OE riht > "right"
i, (h₁)e+C*i, (h₁)e+C*y, (h₁)e+nC i   i i /i/ /i/ /ɪ/ /ɪ/ PG *fiską > OE fisċ > "fish"; PG *hringaz > OE hring > "ring"; PG *bidjaną > OE biddan "to pray" > "to bid"; PG *itiþi > OE 3rd sing. pres. indic. iteþ "eats"; PG *skiriþi > OE 3rd sing. pres. indic. sċirþ (WS sċierþ) "shears"; PG *stihtōjaną > OE stihtian "to establish"
(leng.) /eː/ /eː/ /iː/ /iː/ PG *wikō > OE wicu > "week"
(+g) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ Latin tegula > OE tiġele > "tile"; PG *brigdilaz > OE briġdel > "bridle"
(+ld,nd) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *blindaz > OE blind > "blind" /blaind/; PG *kildaz (plur. *kildōzō) OE ċild > "child" /tʃaild/; PG *wildijaz > OE wilde > "wild" /waild/
+ mf,nþ,ns ī ī /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *fimf > OE fīf > "five"; PG *linþijō > OE līþe "gentle" > "lithe"
(+CC) /i/ /i/ /ɪ/ /ɪ/ PG *fimf tigiwiz > OE fīftiġ > "fifty"
+rC (C not c,g,h); w io > eo i /e/ /i/ /ɛ/ /ɪ/ PG *liznōjaną > OE liornian > OE leornian > "learn"; PG *a + firrijaną > OE afirran (WS afierran) "to remove" (cf. feorr "far")
(+w) /eu/ > /iu/ /iu/ /(j)uː/ /(j)uː/ PG *niwulaz > OE niowul, neowul "prostrate"; PG *spiwiz > OE spiwe "vomiting"; PG *hiwiz > OE hīw > "hue"
before a,o,u i (io, eo) N/A /i/ (/e/) N/A /ɪ/ (/ɛ/) N/A PG *milukz > OE mioluc,meolc > "milk"
(leng.) /eː/ (/ɛː/) N/A /iː/ (/iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/) N/A
(+g) /iː/ (/ɛi/ > /ai/) /iː/ /ai/ (/ei/) /ai/
u, (H), (H), (H), (H)3 u   u y /u/ /i/ /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /ɪ/ PG *sunuz > OE sunu > "son"; PG *kumaną, -iþi > OE cuman > "to come", 3rd sing. pres. indic. cymþ "comes"; PG *guldijaną > OE gyldan > "to gild"
(leng.) /oː/ /eː/ /uː/; /ʌ/; /ʊ/; (+r) GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ /iː/ PreG *dhurus > PG *duruz > OE duru > "door"; PG *widuz > OE widu >! OE wudu > "wood"; PG *ubilaz > OE yfel > "evil"
(+g) /uː/ /iː/ /au/ /ai/ OE ryġe > "rye"
(+w) /uː/ /iu/ /au/ /(j)uː/
+ mf,nþ,ns ū ȳ /uː/ /iː/ /au/ /ai/ PG *munþz > OE mūþ > "mouth"; PG *kunþijaną > OE cȳþan "to make known" > ME "kithe"
(+CC) /u/ /i/ /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /ɪ/ PG *tunskaz > OE tūsc > "tusk"; PG *wunskijaną > OE wȳsċan > "wish"; PG *kunþiþō > OE cȳþþ(u) > "kith"
before non-nasal + a,e,o o (by analogy) e /o/ /e/ GA /ɔ/, RP /ɒ/ /ɛ/ PG *drupǫ̂ > OE dropa > "drop"; PG *fulką > OE folc > "folk"
(leng.) /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; (+r) GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *fulǫ̂ > OE fola > "foal"; PG *nusuz (*nusōu?) > OE nosu > "nose"; PG *hupōjaną > OE hopian > "to hope"
(+g,h,w) /ɔu/ /ɛi/ > /ai/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; GA /ɔːf/, RP /ɒf/ /ei/ PG *duhter, duhtriz > OE dohter > "daughter", plur. dehter "daughters"; PG *trugaz > OE trog > "trough"; PG *bugǫ̂ > OE boga > "bow" /bou/
(+ld,rd) /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; (+r) GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *guldaz > OE gold > "gold"; PG *burdą > OE bord > "board"
ē(H), eh₁ ǣ > ā   ē ē /eː/ /eː/ /iː/ /iː/ PG *slǣpaną > OE slēpan (WS slǣpan) > "to sleep", Latin strāta > OE strēt (WS strǣt) > "street"; PG *dǣdiz > OE dēd (WS dǣd) > "deed"; Latin cāseus > OE ċēse (WS ċīese) > "cheese"
(+CC) /e/ /e/ /ɛ/ /ɛ/
(+g,h) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *nǣhaz, nǣhistaz > OE nēh (WS nēah) "near" > "nigh", superl. nēhst (WS nīehst) "nearest" > "next"
+n,m ō ē /oː/ /eː/ /uː/ /iː/ PG *mǣnǫ̂ > OE mōna > "moon"; PG *kwǣniz > OE kwēn > "queen"
+w; ga,go,gu ā ǣ /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/
(+g) /ɔu/ /ɛi/ > /ai/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /ei/ PG *mǣgôz > OE māgas "relatives"
(+w) /ɔu/ /ɛu/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /(j)uː/ PG *knǣwaną, -iþi > OE cnāwan > "to know", 3rd sing. pres. indic. cnǣwþ "knows"
ēi, iz, etc.4 ē   ē ē /eː/ /eː/ /iː/ /iː/ PG *hēr > OE hēr > "here"; PIE *mizdhā > PG *mēdō > OE mēd "reward"
(+g,h) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ OE past hēht "called" > "hight"
(+w) /eu/ > /iu/ /eu/ > /iu/ /(j)uː/ /(j)uː/
ā, ō, aH, oH, eh₂, eh₃; an+K, on+K, h₂en+K, h₃en+K ō; ą̄+h   ō ē /oː/ /eː/ /uː/; /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /iː/ PG *fōtz, fōtiz > OE fōt > "foot", plur. fēt > "feet"
(+CC) /o/ /e/ GA /ɔ/, RP /ɒ/; GA /ɔː/ /ɛ/ PG *kōpi-dǣþ > OE cēpte > "kept"; PG *mōti-dǣþ > OE mētte > "met"
(+g,h) /ɔu/; /uː/ /iː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; /au/; /ʌf/ /ai/ PG *swōganą > OE swōgan "to sound" > ME /sɔuə/ > "sough" /sou/; PG *bōgaz > OE bōg > ME /buːh/ > "bough" /bau/; PG *tōhaz > OE tōh > ME /tuːh/ > "tough" /tʌf/; PG past *sōh-dǣþ > OE sōhte > ME /sɔuhtə/ > "sought"
(+w) /ɔu/ /eu/ > /iu/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /(j)uː/ PG *grōwaną > OE grōwan > "grow"
(h₁)ei, ī, iH; (h₁)en+K, in+K ī; į̄+h   ī ī /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *wībą > OE wīf > "wife"; PG *līhiþi > 3rd sing. pres. indic. līþ (WS līehþ) "lends"; PIE *lengwhtos > PG *lį̄htaz > OE līht (WS lēoht) > "light" (in weight)
(+CC) /i/ /i/ /ɪ/ /ɪ/
(+g,h) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *hīgōjaną > OE hīgian > "hie"
(+w) /iu/ /iu/ /(j)uː/ /(j)uː/ PG *Tīwaz > OE Tīw (name of a god) + -es "'s" + dæġ "day" > "Tuesday"
ū, uH; n̥+K, un+K ū; ų̄+h   ū ȳ /uː/ /iː/ /au/ /ai/ PG *mūs, mūsiz > OE mūs "mouse", plur. mȳs > "mice"; PG *hūdijaną > OE hȳdan > "to hide"
(+CC) /u/ /i/ /ʌ/; /ʊ/ /ɪ/ PG *rūstaz > OE rūst > "rust"; PIE *pn̥kʷstis > PG *fų̄hstiz > OE fȳst > "fist"
(+g,h) /uː/ /iː/ /au/; /ʌf/ /ai/ PG *būganą > OE būgan "to bend" > "bow"; PG *rūhaz > OE rūh > "rough" /rʌf/; PG *drūgijaz > OE drȳge > "dry"
(+w) /uː/ /iu/ /au/ /(j)uː/ OE trūwian "to trust" > archaic "trow" /trau/
ai, oi, h₂ei, h₃ei ai   ā ǣ /ɔː/ /ɛː/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/; (+r) GA /ɔr/, RP /ɔː/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ PG *stainaz > OE stān > "stone"; PreG perfect *roidhe > PG past *raide > OE rād > "rode"; PreG *oyerā > PG *airō > OE ār > "oar"; PIE *ayes > PG *aiz > OE ār "bronze" > "ore"; PG *hwaitiją > OE hwǣte > "wheat"
(+CC) /a/ /a/ /æ/; RP /ɑː/ /æ/; RP /ɑː/ PG *faittiz > OE fǣtt > "fat"
(+g,h) /ɔu/ /ɛi/ > /ai/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /ei/ PG *aiganą > OE āgan > "owe"; PG *daigaz > OE dāg, dāh > "dough"
(+w) /ɔu/ /ɛu/ GA /ou/, RP /əu/ /(j)uː/ PG *maiwiz > OE mǣw > "mew"
au, ou, h₂eu, h₃eu au   ēa ē /ɛː/ /eː/ /iː/; /ei/; /ɛ/ /iː/ PG *auzǭ > OE ēare > "ear"; PG *hauzijaną > OE hēran (WS hīeran) > "to hear"
(+w) /ɛu/ /eu/ > /iu/ /(j)uː/ /(j)uː/ PG *skrawwǫ̂ > OE sċrēawa > ME "shrewe" > "shrew"
+c,g,h; rc,rg,rh;lc,lg,lh ē ē /eː/ /eː/ /iː/ /iː/ PG *auke(?), *aukijaną > OE ēc, ēċan (WS ēac, īeċan) "also, to increase" > ME "eke, eche" > "eke" (archaic), "to eke"
(+g,h) /iː/ /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PG *augǭ > OE ēġe (WS ēage) > "eye"; PG *hauhaz, hauhistaz > OE hēh (WS hēah) > "high", superl. hēhst (WS hīehst) "highest"; PIE *leuktos > PG *leuhtaz > OE lēht (WS lēoht) > "light" (brightness)
(h₁)eu eu   ēo N/A /eː/ N/A /iː/ N/A PG *deupaz > OE dēop > "deep"; PG *beudaną > OE bēodan "to command"
(+w) /eu/ > /iu/ N/A /(j)uː/ N/A PG *hrewwaną > OE hrēowan > "to rue"
+c,g,h; rc,rg,rh; lc,lg,lh ē N/A /eː/ N/A /iː/ N/A PG *reukaną > OE rēcan (WS rēocan) > "to reek"
(+g,h) /iː/ N/A /ai/ N/A PG *fleugǭ > OE flēge (WS flēoge) > "fly"; PG *leuganą > OE lēgan (WS lēogan) > "to lie"
(h₁)eu+C*i, (h₁)eu+C*y iu   N/A īo > ēo N/A /eː/ N/A /iː/ PIE *newios > PG *niujaz > OE nīwe > "new"; PG *biudiþi > 3rd sing. pres. indic. bīott (WS bīett) "commands"
(+w) N/A /eu/ > /iu/ N/A /(j)uː/ PG *triwwiz > *triwwijaz > OE trīowe, trēowe > ME "trewe" > "true"
+c,g,h; rc,rg,rh; lc,lg,lh N/A ī N/A /iː/ /ai/ /ai/ PIE *leuktionom > PG *liuhtijaną > OE līhtan (WS līehtan) "to light"

1A + separates the sounds that produced the Proto-Germanic vowels in question from the sounds that formed the conditioning environment. The notation C* means a sequence of zero or more consonants.

2I-umlaut refers to a sound change that took place around 500 AD with pervasive effects on English vowels. Specifically, vowels were fronted or raised whenever an /i/ or /j/ followed in the next syllable. Nearly every vowel was affected. Affected vocabulary is shown in a different color.

3PIE and H became Proto-Germanic un; similarly for , and . K refers to either of the PIE sounds or k, which fell together in Proto-Germanic and the other Centum languages; or to any of the nine PIE velars when followed directly by a voiceless consonant (especially t). H refers to any laryngeal sound. The ogonek (e.g. ą, ǭ) indicates a nasal vowel. Long vowels are noted with a macron (e.g. ē, ō). Extralong vowels are noted with a circumflex (e.g. ô).

4The origins of Proto-Germanic ē are somewhat in dispute.

See also


  1. ^ a b Campbell 1959, pp. 52–53.
  2. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 60–62.
  3. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 50–51.
  4. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 54–60.
  5. ^ Campbell 1959, p. 53.
  6. ^ Cercignani 1983.
  7. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 64–71.
  8. ^ Campbell 1959.
  9. ^ Mitchell & Robinson 2001.
  10. ^ Lass 1994.
  11. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 186–187.
  12. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 104–105.
  13. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 98–104.
  14. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 85–93.
  15. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 155–156.
  16. ^ Campbell 1959, pp. 143–144.
  17. ^ Cercignani 1981.
  18. ^ Wells 1982, pp. 192–94, 337, 357, 384–85, 498..
  19. ^ Dobson 1968, p. 720.
  20. ^ Trudgill 2002, p. 71.
  21. ^ Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. chpt. 17. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 
  22. ^ Wells 1982, pp. 245–47.
  23. ^ Wells 1982, pp. 339–40, 419.
  24. ^ Trudgill 2002, pp. 28-30.
  25. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), chpt. 7
  26. ^ a b c Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), chpt. 12
  27. ^ Trudgill 2002, pp. 77–78.
  28. ^ Trudgill 2002, pp. 63–66.
  29. ^ Dobson, E.J. (1957), English Pronunciation 1500–1700, London: Oxford University Press, p. 558 
  30. ^ Dobson, E.J. (1957), English Pronunciation 1500–1700, London: Oxford University Press, pp. 677–678 
  31. ^ Many examples from Fernand Mossé (1968), A Handbook of Middle English, tr. James Walker, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, pp. 27–29.


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