The first thing you will notice about Old English is that while some of it looks a lot like Modern English, a lot of it does not – including the alphabet, stress, and even how we talk about it. Throughout your studies, you will see tons of abbreviations in order to condense the texts  (OE is Old English, ME is Modern English). I will try to spell everything out, but most authors are not as kind. The alphabet and pronunciation can get confusing, so I’ve included this Pronunciation Guide to assist beginners. On the left you will find the letter as it will be shown in translations of Old English texts. The right will have an explanation on how to say it along with the Modern English example, and sometimes guidance on how to move your mouth to get just the right sound. The bottom of the page includes mini lessons on stress, vowel length, and two of the more confusing consonants.

Vowels           

a            [ɑ] as in Modern English father

æ           called ash, is not in use today, pronounced [æ] as in Modern English cat

e            [e] as in Modern English bet; when following ċ, ġ, or sc, [e] is silent

ea          [æɑ] a diphthong, starting with [æ] and ending with [ɑ]

eo          [eo] or [eʊ] a diphthong, starting with [e] and ending with [o] or [ʊ]

i             [i] as in Modern English feet

ie           [ɪ] as in Modern English sit

o            [o] as in Modern English boat

u            [u] as in Modern English fool

y            [y] like [i] but with pursed lips as in German über or Füße, or as in French ruse or dur

ȳ             [ȳ] like [ī] but with pursed lips as in the French tu

 

 

Diphthongs

A dipthong is a syllable that begins with your mouth forming one letter, and ends with you forming another – pretty tricky.

ea            æ –>a

Start by saying the æ (the a in cat) and end with a (father)

 

ēa            ǣ–>a

Start with a long æ and end with a

 

eo            e–>o

Start with an e (bet) and end with o (boat)

 

ēo            ē –> o

Start with a long e and end with o

 

ie            i –> e

Start with i (as in feet) and end with e (bet)

This is a tough one because scholars aren’t totally sure if this is the correct pronunciation. Later in Anglo-Saxon history it was pronounced as a monophthong and replaced with [i] or [y.] For the sake of studying the language, however, most people agree that this is an acceptable way to pronounce it. Same goes for [īe.]

īe            ī–>e

Start with a long i and end with e

 

Consonants

c            [k] as in Modern English cow. Before a, o, u, and y, c is pronounced like k. Before e and i, c is pronounced like ch

ċ            [ʧ] as in Modern English chew. Double ċċ is pronounced like ch.

cg          [ʤ] like the dge in Modern English edge

f             represents both the [f] and [v] sounds, [f] as in Modern English fox; between voiced sounds [v]

g            [ɡ] as in Modern English good; between voiced sounds [ɣ]. In some older texts, [ʒ] is used instead. Before a, o, u, and y, g is pronounced like g in good. Before e and i, g is pronounced like y in yet.

ġ            [j] as in Modern English yes; after n [ʤ] as in angel

h            within words or finally, [x] or [ç] like German ch

s            represents both the [s] and [z] sounds, [s] as in Modern English sin; between voiced sounds [z]

sc          [ʃ] usually as in Modern English show; occasionally [sk]

þ/ð        called thorn/eth respectively, is not in use today, pronounced [θ] as in Modern English thin; between voiced sounds, [ð] as in then

 

 

Length

  • Syllables with macrons (the little lines over the letter) are pronounced as long
  • Double consonants are also pronounced as long – every consonant is pronounced, so if there are two d’s, say each one
  • Some texts use accents instead of macrons to denote length. This isn’t usually a good idea because it gets confusing, so stick with macrons! Accents are for stress.

 

Stress

  • First syllable is always stressed
  • Prepositional prefixes in nouns and adjectives are stressed, verbs and adverbs are not (usually). In those cases, the second syllable (the one directly after the prefix) is stressed
  • Compound words have two stresses – one for each part of the word

 

Quick Reference Guide:

ME – Modern English

OE – Old English

voiceless/voiced – voiceless syllables are f, s, θ; voiced are v, z, and ðwhich means the vocal cords vibrate when you say the syllable

Dots over c and g when they are…

  • Before the front vowels i and ie and the dipthongs ea and eo
  • At the end of a syllable where g follows any front vowel unless a back vowel immediately follows. For c, only after i.
  • In the few cases where g derives from instead of g or y


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