The letters used by Anglo-Saxon scribes were sometime very like and sometimes very unlike those used in Modern English. These differences are in both shape and function. Where letters were different only in shape, modern English characters can (and will) be used to represent the them. So, in this guide we need only be concerned with differences in function. The following letters that were used in Old English are no longer in use today:
In Old English, as in Modern English, the stress usually falls on the first syllable. For example: mórgen (morning). However, the following points should be remembered:
In Old English, short vowels must be distinguised from long vowels.
When you are completing the exercises, mark your long vowels with a macron (a line over the top). You will find that that is how they are marked in most introductory texts and, with two exceptions, this is how they will be marked in this guide. Unfortunately, due to limits of current browsers, long "æ" will be marked as "ǽ" and long "y" will be marked as "ŷ".
Note that vowels in unstressed syllables should still be pronounced clearly.
It is important to realise that Old English words such as heall, hēold, hielt, which contain diphthongs, are just as much monosyllables as Modern English 'meat' and 'field' (in which two letters represent one vowel) or Modern English 'fine' and 'base", which contain diphthongs. The Old English diphthongs, with approximate pronunciations, are:
A short diphthong is equal in length to a short vowel, a long diphthong to a long vowel. But remember that, like the Modern English word "I", they are diphthongs, not two distinct vowels such as we get in the ea of "Leander".
By this time, you will have noticed that I very frequently use the terms "Modern English" and "Old English". Fortunately, there are very common abbreviations for these terms: "MnE" and "OE" respectively. Also, though it won't be used very frequently in this guide, Middle English is usually abbreviated to "ME".
All consonants must be pronounced, e.g c in cnapa (servant/boy), g in gnæt ('gnat' or midge).
Double consonants must be pronounced double or long. Thus, when you see -dd-, as in biddan, pronounce it as you do when you say "red D", not as you do when you say "ready".
Most consonants are pronounced in the same way as in MnE but there are some exceptions to this.
In other positions, including the beginning and end of words, they are voiceless. That is, they are pronounced like MnE s, f and the th in "cloth", respectively. Examples: sittan (to sit), hlāf (loaf), pæþ (path), oft (often). The same rule accounts for the different sounds in MnE of "path", "paths" and "loaf", "loaves". Note that the prefix ġe- does not cause voicing. This means that, for example, findan and its past participle ġe-funden both have the sound of MnE f.
After or between back vowels (a, o, u, y), the letter g is pronounced roughly as w. For example: dragan (to draw), boga (bow).
OK, I've told you the rules. Try pronouncing the words that follow. If you have got the pronunciation right, then they should all be understandable as modern English words.
Word Pronounced like
scip ship ċiriċe ________________ ġear ________________ ecg ________________
<to do: expand the examples>
Tony Jebson <email@example.com> 14th May 2001