2. Old English Phonetics and Grammar.
Origin of Old English Vowels.
OE is so far removed from Modern English that one may take it for an entirely different language, this is mainly because of its pronunciation.
The OE sound system developed from Proto-Germanic system, e.g. the main opposition between long and short vowels was inherited. The sound system underwent multiple changes in the pre-written periods of history, especially in Early OE.
The system of OE vowels (10th-11th c.):
a – a:
e – e:
o – o:
u – u:
i – i:
æ – æ:
у – у:
ea, eo, ie + their long variants.
The development of vowels in Early OE consisted of the modifications of separate vowel, and also of the modification of entire sets of vowels.
Development of monophthongs and diphthongs.
The PG short [a] and the long [a:] in Early OE were fronted, and in this process split into several other sounds. There are 3 directions of the changes:
The PG diphthongs [ei, ai, iu, eu, au] underwent regular independent changes in Early OE; they took place in all phonetic conditions irrespective of the environment.
[ai] > [a:] – ains (Gt) – a:n (OE) – one (NE)
[ei] > [i:] – reisan – ri:san - rise
[au]>[ea:] – austr – e:ast - east
[eu]>[eo:], [iu]>[io:] – in OE these diphthongs can be met only in dialects.
Assimilative vowels changes: breaking and diphthongization.
There were 2 processes: breaking and diphthongization.
If a front vowel stood before a velar consonant there developed a short glide between them, as the organs of speech prepared themselves for the transition from one sound to the other. The glide, together with the original monophthong formed a diphthong. The front vowels [i], [e], [æ] changed into diphthongs when they stood before [h],  or  + another consonant, [r] + other consonants, e.g.: [e]>[eo] in OE deorc, NE dark. The change is known as breaking or fracture. Breaking is dated in Early OE.
Diphthongization of vowels could also be caused by preceding consonants: a glide arose after a palatal consonant as a sort of transition to the succeeding vowel. After the palatal consonants [k'] (читается как «ч»), [sk'] and [j] short and long [e] and [æ] turned into diphthongs, e.g. Early OE *scæmu >OE sceamu (NE shame). Another example: jar (OHG) – jear (OE) – year.
Mutation is the change of one vowel to another under the influence of a vowel in the following syllable.
Palatal mutation is also called “i-umlaut”. This is a fronting and raising of a vowel, which took place when there was [i], [i:] or [j] in the following syllable. This is a kind of assimilation, the affected vowels being moved to a place of articulation nearer to that of the following [i] or [j]. Since the sounds [i] and [j ] were common in suffixes and endings, palatal mutation was very frequent. By the age of writing the final syllables with [i] or [j] had disappeared in most words or changed to [e], but their original presence can be traced by examining the related words in other languages.
E.g. da:l (OE) – dails (Gt)
dæ:lan (OE) – dailjan (Gt)
The directions of the palatal mutation:
[æ], [a], [o]>[e]
[ea], [eo] >[ie] – the same mutation with long diphthongs.
Palatal mutation was the most comprehensive process, as it could affect most OE vowels. As a result new phonemes [y] and [y:] arised. Palatal mutation led to root-vowel interchanges in the related words and its traced are preserved in many modern words and forms: e.g. mouse-mice, foot-feet, tale-tell, blood-bleed, man-men, food-feed and others.
Origin of old English consonants
On the whole the consonants were historically more stable than vowels. It may seem that English and PG should have completely the same set of consonants, but it’s not so. Very few noise consonants in OE correspond to the same sounds in PG, because most consonants underwent various changes.
The system of OE consonants:
[p], [b], [t], [d], [k]’ («ч»), [k], [g], [f], [v], [ð], [ө], [s], [z], [x], [x’], [j], [h], [m], [w], [n], [r], [l].
Also there were long consonants, which were fully pronounced:
Treatment of fricatives.
PG had two sets of fricative consonants: voiceless and voiced. In Early OE the difference between the two groups was supported by new features. PG voiced fricatives were hardened to corresponding plosives and voiceless fricatives developed new voiced allophones.
The PG voiced [ð] was hardened to [d] in OE: rauðr (O.Icel) – re:ad (OE) – red (NE)
The PG voiced [v] and [j] were hardened to [b] and [g] in OE initially and after nasal, otherwise they remained fricatives.
PG [z] underwent a phonetic modification into [r] and became a sonorant, which ultimately merged with the older IE [r]: maiza (Gt) – ma:ra (OE) – more (NE),
Voicing and devoicing.
This process influence the PG set of voiceless fricatives [f, ө, x, s] and those of the voiced fricatives which had not turned into plosives, i.e. [v] and [j].
These consonants remained or became voiced in the position between vowels and voiced consonants, they remained or became voiceless in other positions, e.g.:
Gt OE NE
Kiusan [s] – ce:osan [z] – choose
Kaus [s] – ce:as [s] – chose
Wulfos – wulfas [v] – wolves
Wulfs – wulf [f] – wolf
Grammatical categories of nouns.
OE was synthetic or inflected type of the language; In building grammatical forms OE employed grammatical endings, sound interchanges in the root, grammatical prefixes and suppletive formation.
The OE noun had three grammatical categories: number, case and gender.
The category of number consisted of two members: singular and plural. They were very well distinguished in all declensions.
There were 4 cases for the noun: Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative. There were also rare traces of a fifth case, the instrumental, where in Modern English we would use a preposition such as ‘with’ or ‘by means of’ . In most instances we find that the instrumental case merged with the dative.
Gender in OE is grammatical, not logical or natural. Thus wif ‘wife’ is a neuter noun and mann ‘man’ is a masculine noun, and wifmann ‘woman’ is therefore masculine also, as dictated by the second element of the compound. It has been suggested on the basis of recent work in linguistics that feminine nouns kept their gender longer than masculine or neuter nouns, and that’s why in Modern English ‘she’ is occasionally still used to refer to inanimate nouns such as names of countries, ships and the like.
Composition of word in Proto-Germanic (этого вопроса нет в билетах, но она может спросить в связи с тем, как определялось склонение у существительных).
In Early Proto-Germanic the word consisted of three main component parts: the root, the stem-suffix and the grammatical ending. This phenomenon was typical of all Indo-European languages. All nouns in ancient Indo-European languages were divided into groups according to the stem-suffix of the noun. In Late PG the old stem-suffixes lost their derivational force and merged with other components of the word, usually with the endings. The word was simplified: the three-morpheme structure was transformed into a two-morpheme structure.
Morphological classification of nouns
The most remarkable feature of OE nouns was the elaborate system of declensions, the system of noun declensions in Old English comprised all in all over twenty paradigms.
The division of nouns into declensions was as follows: vocalic stems (strong declensions): a-stems (ja- and wa-stems), o-stems (jo- and wo-stems), u-stems, and i-stems. Consonantal stems: n-stems (the weak declension), r-stems, nd-stems. The minor consonantal declensions: "root-stems" which had never had any stem-suffix and whose root was thus equal to the stem.
Division according to gender
Over 1/3 of OE nouns were masculine a-stems, while a 1/4 were feminine o-stems, a 1/4 were neuter a-stems and 10% were masculine consonant stems. Added to this were some other, minor declensions.
Of special interest is the group of root-stems which employed a vowel interchange as a regular means of form-building.
It may be concluded that for all its complicated arrangement the system of noun declensions lacked consistency and precision. There were many polifunctional and homonymous markers in the paradigms. Towards the end of the OE period formal variation grew and the system tended to be re-arranged according to gender on the basis of the most influential types: a-stems, n-stems and o-stems.
OE had the following classes of pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative and indefinite. Other classes – reflexive, relative and possessive were not fully developed.
OE personal pronouns had 3 persons, 3 numbers (dual number was used to refer to a pair of people, e.g. a married couple) in the 1st and 2nd person and 3 genders in the 3d person. The 1st (ic) and 2nd p. (ðu) pronouns had suppletive forms and the 3d p. pronouns (he:, he:o, hit) derived from demonstrative pronouns.
OE has also four cases in the pronouns, still distinguishing the dative and accusative forms, which fell together by Middle English, producing what is in Modern English often referred to as the ‘objective case’.
The forms of Genitive case were used like a possessive pronoun, but they cannot be regarded as a separate class of pronouns as the grammatical characteristics of these forms were not homogeneous – some of them were declined and some were not.
There were 2 demonstrative pronouns which had gender, number and were declined as adjectives (had 5 cases).
The adjective in OE could change for number, gender and case (depending on the form of the noun it determined). Adjectives had 2 numbers and 3 genders but 5 cases (4+Instrumental). The Instrumental case was used when the noun was in the Dat. case with instrumental meaning.
The adjective has two sets of forms, termed ‘strong’ and ‘weak’: the strong endings are used when the adjective is used predicatively and is not accompanied by a marker of definiteness – in this case an article or a demonstrative or possessive pronoun; the weak endings occur when the adjective is preceded by a determiner.
Most OE adjectives distinguished between three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative. The regular means used was the suffix –ra to form the comparative and –est, –ost to form the superlative (suffixation).
The other means was suffixation plus vowel interchange. The source of the root-vowel interchange is connected with i-umlaut in Early OE, as –ra, –est, suffixes had different variants (-ira, -ist) which caused palatal mutation. The vowel interchange which took place in Early OE was preserved in OE.
Some adjectives had parallel sets of forms: with and without a vowel interchange.
Some adjectives had suppletive forms: good, bad, much, little, as they do in NE.
All the forms of the OE verb were synthetic, the analytical forms were only beginning to appear. There were the finite forms of the verb and the non-finite forms of the verb, or verbals (Infinitive, Participle). In the most general of terms, the verbal system as a whole was greatly simplified in comparison with the I-E system.
Grammatical categories of the finite verb.
Finite forms regularly distinguished between two numbers: sg and pl. Unlike other verb forms, opposition through number was never neutralized.
The category of Person was made up of three forms: the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd. Unlike number, person distinctions were neutralized in many positions. Person was consistently shown only in the Pres. Tense of the Ind. Mood sg, in other positions the forms could coincide: person was not distinguished in the pl; nor was it shown in the Subj. Mood.
The category of Mood was constituted by the Indicative, Imperative and Subjunctive. Subj. forms conveyed a very general meaning of unreality or supposition, they could be used in different clauses and when presenting reported speech. There were a few homonymous forms.
The category of tense in OE consisted of 2 forms: Present and Past. The tenses were distinguished by all verbs in all moods, there were practically no neutralization. The meanings of the tense forms were also very general. The forms of Present were used to indicate present and future actions. With verbs of perfective meaning or with adverbs of future time the Pres. acquired the meaning of futurity. The Past tense was used in a most general sense to indicate various events in the past. Additional shades of meaning could be attached to it in different contexts.
The categories of aspect and voice are still debatable, as some examples of the verb oppositions were not regular and couldn’t be regarded as members of grammatical categories.
Grammatical categories of verbals.
In OE there were two non-finite forms of the verb: the Infinitive and the Participle. In many respects they were closer to the nouns and adjectives than to the finite verb. Their verbal nature was revealed in some of their functions and in the fact that they could take direct objects and be modified by adverbs.
The Infinitive had no verbal grammatical categories. Being a verbal noun by origin, it had a sort of reduced case-system: two forms which roughly corresponded to the Nom. (Common) and the Dat. cases of nouns. The so-called Common case form of the Infinitive was widely used in different syntactical functions, the Dative case was used on a limited scale and mainly when the Infinitive functioned as an adverbial modifier of purpose.
The Participle was a kind of verbal adjective which had also certain verbal features. Participle I (Present Participle) was opposed to Participle II (Past Participle) through voice and tense distinctions: it was active and expressed present or simultaneous processes and qualities, while Participle II expressed states and qualities resulting from past action. Participles were used predicatively and attributively like adjectives and were declined as weak and strong and agreed with nouns in number, gender and case. Sometimes, however, they remained uninflected.
Morphological classification of verbs.
OE inherited a verbal system from Germanic that was frequently characterized by vowel alternations within the root, known as Ablaut. The alternations themselves were not greatly changed from Germanic to OE.
The verbs of OE are divided into strong verbs and weak ones. These groups further divided into different classes of conjugation.
The total number of ‘strong’ verbs was only slightly higher than 300. They were native words descending from PG and many of them were very frequent in the language. The strong verbs differed from the weak ones primarily in the shape of the preterit: they were characterized by ablaut in the middle of the word.
Strong verbs are traditionally subdivided into six classes, depending on the sequences of root vowels that appear in the different tenses. Some authors include a seventh class, which consists of reduplicating verbs. The strong verbs have four principal forms: Infinitive, Past tense singular, Past tense plural, Past Participle.
The ‘weak’ verbs constitute the vast majority of the verbs. Unlike the strong verbs they had stable root vowels and tended to add a dental ending (-d- or –t-), sometimes consisting of an extra syllable. The OE weak verbs are relatively younger than the strong verbs. They reflect a later stage in the development of Germanic languages. They were an open class in OE, as new verbs that entered the language generally formed their forms on analogy with the weak verbs. The strong verbs were ‘root-stem’ verbs, i.e. they did not have any stem-forming suffix following the root, but they added their grammatical endings to the root directly. The weak verbs, however, had a stem-forming suffix that followed the root and preceded the grammatical ending. In accordance with the character of the stem-suffix the weak verbs are subdivided into three classes.
Most verbs in OE were regular – in their conjugation they followed one of the patterns typical of this or that class of strong or weak verbs. However, there were also a few irregular verbs, conjugated in some specific way.
Irregular weak verbs
The sign of irregularity of the weak verbs in OE was vowel interchange, a feature not typical of this group of verbs.
The majority of the weak verbs belonging to the 1st and 2nd classes were regular, but there were also some irregular verbs: tellan –talde – tald (to tell), sellan –salde – sald (to sell).
The weak verbs of the 3rd class are considered to be irregular, because the class consists of only three verbs, following their own individual patterns of form-building.
Irregular strong verbs
There was a group of strong verbs which in the pre-written period lost some of their forms and preserved the others, changing their lexical and grammatical meaning. These verbs are called preterite-present. Originally the Present tense forms of these verbs were Past forms. Later these forms acquired a present meaning but preserved many formal features of the Past tense. The new past tense forms of these verbs in OE are built with the help of dental suffixation, like weak verbs. The majority of preterite-present verbs are defective – they do not have all the forms of regular verbs, which lost their connection with the other forms and were dropped.
Preterite-present verbs were further to develop in a number of different ways.
E.g. different forms of one verb ā an developed into 3 words of NE: owe, own, ought.
The other irregular strong verbs developed into modern modal and auxiliary verbs can-could, dare, shall-should, may-might, must.
Suppletion, as we know, is one of the oldest means of form-building. All Indo-European languages, and English among them, have suppletive verbs – those building different forms from different roots. Each of them is a class in itself. Among such verbs we may mention the following: bēon – wesan (be); ān – eode (go), don – dyde (do). The first verb of each of the pairs above is the root for the Present tense, the second – for the past.
The use of the cases
The Nominative was used for subject, subject complement and vocative. The Accusative was used for direct object, adverbial of time and preposition of motion. Genitive was used with the meaning of possession, measure, object of the verb of depriving. Dative was used with most propositions and as indirect object.
Since the grammatical category in OE was marked by inflection, this meant that constituents of a sentence were ‘moveable’; in theory all six possible permutations of the constituents S(ubject), V(erb) and O(bject) (or, better, Complement) could be varied in order to convey special emphasis within the clause. In practice, however, some word orders were more frequent than others. The most frequently found orders were (as, for example, in Modern German), verb-second order in main clauses (that is, any order of subject and complement, provided that the verb was the second constituent in the string), and verb-final order in dependent clauses.
In dependent clauses the verb usually appeared in clause-final position, with any auxiliary usually following the infinitive or participle.
For stylistic variation, or for emphasis, the object or complement might be placed first in the sentence: Complement – Verb - Subject
Since the auxiliary verb do had not developed in OE to any significant extent, OE questions were formed with subject-verb inversion:
What say you, farmer?
Were you today hunting?
And in negative sentences the negative particle ne appears at the beginning of the clause and is usually followed by verb and subject:
Not saw I ever that town
We must conclude that OE word order was much ‘freer’ than it is today, in terms of the possible orders of constituents.
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