Appendix:Middle English pronunciation

The charts below show the way in which the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) represents Middle English pronunciations in Wiktionary articles.

Note that Middle English is not a single, homogenous language; the term refers to the multifarious varieties of English spoken in Britain from 1100–1500 CE, meaning there was plenty of variation and change in pronunciation across time and space. Unless otherwise noted, the pronunciation shown here and given in entries represents the language of Chaucer; London Middle English of the late 1300s and the early 1400s. Phonemes not shown here may appear within pronunciations representing other stages or varieties of Middle English.

Additionally, our knowledge of Middle English pronunciation leaves much to be desired; one major difficulty is the paucity of contemporary sources covering it, though the Ormulum is invaluable here. Instead, we must often resort to indirect sources, such as loans, modern dialectal reflexes, and orthographic variation, which can sometimes be unclear and ambiguous, if not outright contradictory. With such imperfect information, there are sometimes significant disagreements on how certain sounds or words were pronounced; keep in mind that the pronunciation detailed below represents but one opinion, though selected areas of dispute have been marked throughout.

More discussion about the sounds of Middle English is available at Middle English phonology.

Consonants
  IPA   Examples English approximation
b berken bark
t͡ʃ chewen[1] chew
d delite[2] delight
ð brethen breathe
f felawe; Phebe fellow
ɡ gayn, gnawen gain
h hegge hedge
d͡ʒ gingivere; juel jewel
k clewe; kerven; questioun, knowen[1] sky
l lawe[3] law
m man man
n newe[2][4] new
p paleys[1] spy
r risshe; saucer[5] right, but trilled; Spanish perro
s sodeyn; certeyn; science sudden
ʃ schift; shour; parisshe shift
t tyme; theater[1][2][6] sty
θ thef; þou thief
v vewe view
ʍ whit white (in conservative dialects)[7]
x light; douȝt No common modern English equivalent; Scots loch or Yinglish chutzpah
z hasard; zele zeal
Semivowels
j yelow, ȝelpen yes
w wicche, writen, wlak, questioun witch
Vowels
  IPA   Examples English approximation Modern English reflex[8]
Short monophthongs
a fannen; wasp; agreen; art similar to RP pat æ, ɑː
ɛ beste, degre; erthe[9] best ɛ
i cite; glasyng, ymaginacioun; mirre[10] bee, but shorter; similar to kit ɪ
ə fader, lawe[11] again ə
ɔ od; sword; original[9] similar to RP not or GA caught ɒ, ɔː
u tusk; sonne; purpel[10] too, but shorter; similar to put ʊ, ʌ
Long monophthongs
mase, age, potage roughly like father
ɛː brethen; breeth, heedles, pere (“pear”) roughly like RP haired [12]
fresen; authorite; pere (“peer”) face (but monophthongal, as in Scottish English)
mys; wif; wordy; empire meet
ɔː fome; bor caught oʊ~əʊ
dome; cook; flor; wisdom somewhat like bone or RP caught
mous; flour; desirous true [13]
Diphthongs
ɛi̯ day; weif; steire face
ɔi̯ joye; noyse boy ɔɪ
ui̯ voys; poisoun; coyn No modern English equivalent; Spanish muy
iu̯ fruit; glew; rue; pure No modern English equivalent; Welsh lliw juː,
ɛu̯ dew; fewe; beaute No modern English equivalent; Spanish euro
au̯ wrawe; clawen; faucoun how ɔː
ɔu̯ tow; knowen; growen bone oʊ~əʊ
Suprasegmentals
  IPA   Examples Explanation
ˈ doughter /ˈdɔu̯xtər/[14] Primary stress (placed before the stressed syllable)
ˌ ymaginable /iˌmad͡ʒinˈaːbəl/ Secondary stress (placed before the stressed syllable)
. alienat /aːli.ɛːˈnaːt/[15] Syllable boundary

NotesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 /p/, /t/, /t͡ʃ/, /k/ were possibly [pʰ], [tʰ], [t͡ʃʰ], [kʰ] in some positions, as in modern English and German.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 /t/, /d/, /n/ may have been dental [t̪], [d̪], [n̪].
  3. ^ The nature of Middle English /l/ is disputed; a distinction between non-velarised /l/ and velarised /ɫ/ similar to the one between Modern English “clear l” and “dark l” or Latin l exilis or l pinguis has been hypothesised for Middle English. However, there is a conflicting view that Middle English /l/ was clear/non-velarised in all positions.
  4. ^ Words which have /ŋ/ in Modern English usually have the cluster /nɡ/ (pronounced [ŋɡ]) in Middle English.
  5. ^ The articulatory value of Middle English /r/ is unknown; it could have already become an approximant, at least after vowels, but the change /r/ to /ɹ/ is more likely to be an (Early) Modern English development.
  6. ^ Greek theta is usually nativised as /t/ in learned borrowings; e.g. in theater /ˌtɛːˈaːtər/. The modern English pronunciation of these words with /θ/ is a spelling pronunciation, reinforced by the modern Greek pronunciation; the older pronunciation is preserved in modern thyme, Thomas.
  7. ^ Most modern English dialects merge /ʍ/ and /w/; this was already a tendency in some Middle English dialects, though the two sounds were still usually distinguished. Speakers who do not distinguish the sounds can approximate /ʍ/ by producing a cluster /hw/.
  8. ^ Only usual, non-conditioned reflexes are shown here; special developments (e.g. before historic /r/) are not dealt with.
  9. 9.0 9.1 The sounds represented here as /ɛ/, /ɔ/ could have actually been mid [e̞], [o̞] or (less likely) mid-high [e], [o].
  10. 10.0 10.1 Many linguists believe that /i/, /u/ had already been laxed to [ɪ], [ʊ] by the Middle English period; others have disputed this by putting forwards what they believe to be orthoepic evidence that the laxing occurred in the Early Modern English period.
  11. ^ In many cases, Middle English has unreduced vowels where modern English has reduced them to /ə/ or /ɪ/. Final /ə/, from Old English unstressed final short vowels, gradually falls silent over the Middle English period.
  12. ^ A few Middle English words with /ɛː/ have Modern English reflexes with /eɪ/ rather than /iː/, such as break and yea, preserving an alternate development.
  13. ^ The shift to /aʊ/ is blocked before labial consonants (soup, room) and after /j/ (you, youth).
  14. ^ Stress often falls later in the word than in Modern English, such as in /ɛmpəˈruːr/ emperour.
  15. ^ Only used when needed for disambiguation.