LECTURE 3. The Middle English Period.

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LECTURE 3. The Middle English Period.


1) ME spelling changes and reading rules.

2) ME phonetic system.

3) ME grammar system.

Middle English spelling changes and reading rules.

During several centuries after the Norman conquest the business of writing was in hands of French scribes. They introduced into English some peculiarities of French graphic habits. Traces of French tradition in writing have stayed on in English to the present day.

Firstly there were changes in the alphabet, some letters typical of OE came out of use and some new ones were introduced. The alphabet of the 14th c. is basically the same that is in use now:

· the letter “z”, which was used in OE to denote several distinct consonant phonemes, is replaced by the letters “g” and “y” (e.g.: OE zōd - ME gōd; OE zēar – ME yēr);

· the ligature “æ” comes into disuse; the change accompanies the phonetic change of short “æ” into “a” and that of long “æ” into “ē”;

· the letter “g” was introduced to denote the sound [g] as in “gōd” and also the sound [dz] as in “singe”; the sound [dz] is also denoted by the letter “j” as in “joy”;

· the letter “v” is introduced to denote the sound [v], which in ME became a separate phoneme. However this letter soon came to be treated as an allograph of the letter “u” and they became interchangeable (e.g.: over – ouer; use – vse; love – loue);

· the letter “q”, also accompanied by “u”, is introduced to denote the consonant [k] or the cluster [kw] (replaced OE “cw”) (e.g.: quay; queen);

· the letter “z” is introduced to denote the consonant [z], which in ME became a separate phoneme, but it is not used systematically yet, esp. in the middle of words where it is spellt “s” (e.g.: zēl, chēsen)

Secondly there came changes in spelling habits:

- the sound [u:], which was represented by the letter “u” in OE, came to be spelt “ou”, the way it was in French (e.g.: hūs – house; ūt – out; hlūd – loud). In final positions and sometimes in medial ones instead of “ou” the spelling “ow” was introduced (e.g.: cū – cow; hū – how; dūn – down);

- the vowel [u] is often represented by the letter “o” if found in the neighbourhood of such letters as “v, n, m” (e.g.: cuman – come [‘kume]; sum – som [sum]; sunu – sone [‘sune]; lufu – love [‘luve]);

- the vowel [e:] is sometimes denoted by the diagraph “ie” (e.g.: fēld – field [fe:ld]; þēof – thief [θe:f]; lēof – life [le:f]);

- to denote the vowel [ü] in the dialects where it was preserved, the letter “u” was used (e.g.: fÿr – fur = fire);

- the spellings of “þ” and “δ” for the sounds [θ,δ] were changed by the digraph “th” (e.g.: þis – this; þrēo – three);

- for the consonant [v], which had been a mere positional variant of the [f] phoneme in OE and which in ME became a separate phoneme, the letter “v” was introduced;

- the affricate [t∫] was denoted by the digraph “ch”, the corresponding voiced affricate was spelt by “j, g’ dg”;

- the consonant [∫] was spelt “sh” and sometimes “sch” (e.g.: ship, shal);

- the consonant [χ] was first spelt “z” and later “gh”: (e.g.: lizt – light; nizt – night);

- the letter “c” when denoting the consonant [k] was replaced by the letter “k” before “e, i” and “n” (e.g.: drincan – drinken; cyninz – king);

- the cluster [kw] was spelt “qu” instead of OE “cw” (e.g.: cwellan – quellen = kill);

- the consonant “spely in Oe by “z” now came to be spelt “y” (e.g.: zēar – yēr; ziet – yet).


Middle English phonetic system


In ME a great change affected the entire system of vowel phonemes. OE had both short and long vowel phonemes, which were absolutely independent and could occur in any phonetic environment. In the 10th-12th c. quantity of vowels becomes dependent on their environment: in some phonetic environment only short vowels can appear, while in other – only long due to a number of changes:

  1. shortening: Long vowels occurring before two consonants are shortened; though they remain long before “lengthening” consonant groups “ld, nd, md” and before clusters belonging to the following syllable. They are also shortened before one consonant in some three-syllable words:

e.g.: cēpte – kepte (keep); wīsdōm – wisdom

wēnde – wēnde (think)

lāferce – laferce (lark); sūþerne – suþerne (southern)

  1. lengthening: Short vowels were lengthened in open syllables and affected short vowels “a, e, o”. The vowels “i, u” remained unaffected though sometimes were also lengthened in open syllables, “i” became “ē”, “u” – “ō”:

e.g.: caru – cāre (care); werian – wēren (wear); hopian – hōpen (hope)

yfel – ifel – ēvel; dures – dōres (doors)

  1. monophthongization of OE diphthongs: All OE diphthongs became monophthongs in ME:

· short “ea” became “a” passing through the stage of “æ: eald – ald; healf – half;

· “ea” before “ld” yielded different results in different dialects: in Southern dialects eald – ēald – ēld; in Midland dialects “a” corresponded to Southern “ea” and was lengthened before “ld”, which in its turn changed into “ō” ald – āld – ōld; in Northern dialects “a” before “ld” was lengthened ald – āld;

· “ea” before “h” and the cluster “h+consonant” also yielded different results in different dialects: in Southern dialects “eah” became “eh, eih” seah – she, seih (saw); in Northern and Midland dialects “eah” changed into “ah, auh” seah – saugh; in West Saxon as a result of i-mutation “ea’ changed into “ie, i” meaht – mieht, might; in other dialects into “e” meaht – meht, miht;

· long “ēā” changed into long “ē” strēām – strēm;

· short “eo” changed first into the vowel “ö” and then into “e”: heorte – hörte – herte; influenced by i-mutation it yielded “ie” into “i” in West Saxon; “io” into “eo” in Kent and “io” into “i” in the North and Midlands;

· the group “eoht” had developed into “iht” in Oe already and “ight” predominates in ME”: knight, fighten;

· long “ēo” changed into long “ē”, often spelt “ee”: dēop – dēp, deep.

  1. rise of new diphthongs: New diphthongs arise in ME different from the OE ones and originated from groups consisting of a vowel and either a palatal or velar fricative:

· rise of diphthongs in –i: æz ► ai, ay (dæz – dai, day); ez ►ei, ey (wez – wei, wey); ēz ► ei, ey (zrēz – grei, grey);

· rise of diphthongs in –w: az ►aw (drazan – drawen; sazu – sawe (saw)); āz ►ōw in Northern dialects (āzen – ōwen (own));

· rise of long front vowels: i+z ►ī (izel – īl (hedgehog)); ī+z ► ī (stīzen – stīen (ascend)); y+z ►ī in Northern and Midland dialects (ryze – rīe (rye); ÿ+z ►ī in Northern and Midalnd dialects (drÿze – drīe (dry)); ēa+h ► eih, ih (hēah – hein (high); ēo+z,h►ei►ī (lēozan – leien – līen (lie))

· rise of long back labialised vowels: u+z ►ū (spelt “ou, ow” fuzol – foul (bird)); ū+z ►ū (spelt “ou, ow” būzan – bowen (bow)); lz►lw (zalze – galwe (gallows)); rz►rw (morzen – morwen)

  1. leveling of unstressed vowels: All unstressed vowels were weakened and reduced to a neutral vowel which was denoted by the letter “e”:

e.g.: bindan – binden, tellan - tellen


OE palatal “c”, which occurred initially before front vowels, medially before “i” and finally after “i” developed into the affricate [t∫]:

e.g.: cild – child; ic – ich (I); swilc – swich (such)

In a few cases ME has variants with [k] and [t∫], [sk] and [∫]:

e.g.: picken (pick) – pitchen (throw); bank (hill) – bench ; skirt – shirt

The OE long consonants denoted by the spelling “cz” developed into voiced affricate [dz]:

e.g.: brycz – bridge; seczan – seggen

In the Southern dialects initial “f” became voiced: for – vor.

In Kent initial “s” in words of OE origin was also voiced: synne – zenne (sin)



Middle English grammar system


In OE the reduction of declension had already begun: many i-stem and u-stem substantives were influenced by a-stems and ō-stems. In the 11th -13th centuries these tendencies developed more intensively. Weakening of inflections is connected with leveling of unstressed endings. Simplification of substantive morphology affected the grammatical categories of the substantive in different way. The OE gender disappeared together with other distinctive features of the substantive declension. Semantically gender was associated with the differentiation of sex and, therefore, the formal grouping into genders was suppressed by a semantic division into inanimate and animate nouns with a further subdivision into males and females. Thus, the two categories preserved in ME substantive are case and number.

The number of declensions is preserved: strong and weak, but the number of stems is reduced. The strong declension originates from the OE a-stem declension, but in ME all vowel-stem substantives and many consonant-stem ones are added to this declension. Strongly declined substantives have two cases: common and genitive, OE nom., acc., dat. cases having fused into one case – the common case at the beginning of ME, and two numbers: singular and plural.

e.g.: nom. - stōn – stōnes; gen. - stōnes – stōnes

nom. - fish – fishes; gen. – fishes - fishes

The case forms differ only in the singular.

The weak declension of substantives originates from OE n-stem declension. However in ME it has a tendency to disappear, therefore, many substantives with former n-stem pass into the strong declension. The substantives persevered in the weak declension do not have case forms and build plural forms by means of the ending –en(n):

e.g.: care – caren.

Substantives belonging in OE to root-stems in ME have the same categories of number and case as the strong declension but there is leveling of forms without Umlaut in the singular and with Umlaut – in the plural:

e.g.: nom. – fōt – fēt; gen. – fōtes – fētes (foot-feet)

Thus, the complicated substantive paradigm that existed in OE was gradually simplifies in ME, which is reflected in the following:

1) reduction of number of declensions;

2) reduction of the number of grammatical categories;

3) reduction of the number of categorial forms within one of the two remaining grammatical categories – the category of case.


In OE all pronouns were declined and the pronominal paradigm was very complicated. In ME the system was greatly simplified and nowadays what remained of the pronominal declension is mainly represented by the declension of the personal pronoun and on a small scale – demonstrative and interrogative (relative).

· personal pronouns: have the following forms in ME:

sing. 1st, 2nd, 3rd (m., f., n.) p. pl. 1st, 2nd, 3rd p.

nom. ich thou hē, hē/shē, hit/it wē yē hī, they

obj. mē thē hir, her, hit/it ūs you hem, them

The following changes occur here since OE:

- dual number pronouns have disappeared;

- genitive case forms no longer exist;

- the dat. and acc. have been merged into one objective case;

- the 3rd per.pl. pronoun “hī” is gradually suppressed by “they”;

- initial “h” of the neuter pronoun “hit” is often lost;

- the origin of the fem.pronoun “shē” is not clear; it may have developed from the OE fem. demonstrative pronoun “sēo”.

· possessive pronouns have the following forms:

sing. 1st, 2nd, 3rd (m., f., n.) p. pl. 1st, 2nd, 3rd p.

mīn, mī thīn, thī his, hir/her, his our your hire, their

The forms “mīn, thīn” are used if the following word begins with a vowel or “h”; they are also used as predicatives no matter what the initial sound of another word is. The forms “my, thy” are found before a word with an initial consonant.

e.g.: myn herte, myn elbowe; thy child

· demonstrative pronouns: the OE forms of the demonstrative pronouns “sē, sēo” are changed into “þe, þeo” which in ME function both as demonstrative pronoun and as article. Since the 14th c., however, the form “þat” was the only one preserved as a demonstrative pronoun form. Simultaneously, the declension system of the pronoun was undergoing changes: the form “þōs” (from nom. and acc. pl. of the OE “þes”) became the plural of “þat”. The other demonstrative pronoun “þes” (this) developed in the following way: sing. –“this” from OE nom. and acc. sing. “þis”; pl. - “thise, these”; sing. - “that” from OE nom. and acc. sing. Neuter “þæt”; pl. – “thō, thōs.

the pronoun “þe” (that)

singular (m., f., n.) plural

nom. þe þeo þat, þet þeo, þe

gen. þes, þe þer þes, þe þer, þe

dat. þen, þan þer þen, þan, þe þen, þe

acc. þene, þe þeo þat, þet, þe þeo, þe

the pronoun “þes

singular (m., f., n.) plural

nom. þes þeos þis þeos

gen. þisses þisse þisses þisse

dat. þisse þisse þisse þissen

acc. þesne þeos þis þeos

· interrogative pronouns developed from OE.

· reflexive pronouns developed in ME from the groups “objective case of personal pronouns + self”: himself, herself, themselves;

· relative pronouns: from OE form “þæt”, which was the nom. and acc. neuter of the dem. and relative pronoun, in ME “that” developed, which was used as a relative pronoun without destination of gender or number. In the 14th c. new relative pronouns appear developed from negative ones: “which” and “who”.

· other pronouns: the OE defining pronouns “zehwā” (every) and “zehwilc” (each) disappear in ME. The pronouns “æzþer” (either), “ælc” (each), “swilc” (such) and “sē ilca” (the same); the indefinite ones “sum” (some) and “æniz” (any); the negative “nān” (no, none) are preserved as “either, ech, swich, that ilke, som, any, noon” and become invariable.


The disappearance of grammatical gender in ME substantives and the reduction of case endings leads to a considerable change in adjective declension, besides, the characteristic weak-declension ending –en is dropped. The only case ending in adjectives comes to be –e and the highly developed OE paradigm is reduced to the following:

e.g.: nom. - yong – yonge (strong), gen. - yonge – yonge

nom. – gōd – gōde; gen. – gōde - gōde

Degrees of comparison of adjectives are formed by means of the suffixes –er, -est. suppletive forms are also preserved in ME as well as the forms with vowel interchange in the root syllable:

e.g.: hard - harder – hardest

good – bettre – best

evil – werse – werst

muchel – mōre – mōst, mēst

litel – lesse – lest

long – lenger – longest

Alongside of such degrees of comparison formations like “more profitable”, “most faithful” appear in ME.



All types of verbs that existed in OE are preserved in ME, but some changes take place due to phonetic phenomena of ME.

· strong verbs: The infinitive ending in –an and the past plural ending in –on are weakened to –en(-n). In class IV and class V verbs the past forms begin to penetrate into the past plural, thus preparing the reduction of four main parts of a strong verb to three. On the other hand, the vowel of participle II in class II and class III verbs begins to spread to the past plural. Grammatical alternation of consonants is completely abandoned. The OE prefix “ze-“ is reduced to “y-“. Thus classes of strong verbs in ME are the following:

I. wrīte wrōt writen writen

II. chēsen chēs chōsen chōsen

III. drinken drank drōnken drōnken

IV. bēren bār bēren, bar bōren

V. gēten gat gēten, gat gēten

VI. shāken shōk shōken shāken

VII. fāllen fell fellen fallen

The similarity of vowels in the infinitive, past singular and past plural of classes Iv and V made it possible for the two classes to influence one another and several verbs originally belonging to class V changed into class IV. This is what happened to the OE verbs “specan, wefan (weave), wrecan (avrnge), tredan (tread).

· weak verbs: The evolution of weak verbs in ME reveals a strong tendency towards regularity and order. Two classes are distinguished in ME: class I takes the ending –de in the past without any vowel interchange before the dental suffix and the ending –ed in participle II; class II verbs, which were marked by –ode, -od in OE, weaken these endings to –ede, -ed in ME. In the 14the c. in some weak verbs a stem ending in –l, -n, -f, -v the past suffix –d changes into –t; verbs with a stem in –rd, -nd, -ld form their past in –rte, -nte, - lte and their participle II in –rt, -nt, it.

I. deemen deemde deemed

II. stiren stirede stired

looken lookede looked

· preterite – present verbs are preserved in ME and their forms undergo changes due to the general tendencies of the period.

Infinitive cunnen durren Shulen mowen mōten owen
Present Indicative Singular 1st 2nd 3rd Plural Subjunctive Singular Plural Imperative Singular 2nd Plural 2nd   can, con canst, const can, con cunnen, can   cunne cunnen   ---- ----   dar darst dar durren   durre durren   ---- ----   shal shalt shal shulen   shule shulen   ---- ----   may mayst may mowen   mowe mowen   mōt mōst mōt mōten   mōte mōten   ouh owest ouh, oweth owen   owe owen
Past Indicative Singular 1st 2nd 3rd Plural   Subjunctive Singular Plural   couthe,coude couthest, coudest couthe,coude couthen, couden   couthe,coude couthen, couden   dorste,durste dorstest, durstest dorst,durste dorsten, dursten   dorste,durste dorsten, dursten   sholde sholdest   sholde sholden     sholde sholden     mighte mightest   mighte mighten     mighte mighten   mōste mōstet   mōste mōsten     mōste mōsten   oughte oughtest   oughte oughten     oughte oughten
Participle I Participle II --- couth ---- ----       owen


· anomalous verbs preserve the system of the verbs inherited from OE: “bēn”, “gōn”, “dōn” and “willen”.

Infinitive bēn gōn Dōn willen
Present Indicative Singular 1st 2nd 3rd Plural Subjunctive Singular Plural Imperative Singular 2nd Plural 2nd   am art is bēn   bē bēn   bē bēth   gō gōst gōth gōn   gō gōn   gō gōth   dō dōst dōth dōn   dō dōn   dō dōth   wil, wol wilt, wolt wil, wol wollen   wille, wolle willen, wollen   ----- -----
Past Indicative Singular 1st 2nd 3rd Plural Subjunctive Singular Plural   was wēre was wēren   wēre wēren     yede, wente yedest, wentest yede, wente yeden, wenten   yede, wente yeden, wenten   dide didest dide diden   dide diden   wolde woldest wolde wolden   wolde wolden
Participle I Participle II bēinge bēn gōinge gōn dōinge dōn ---- wold



LECTURE 4. The New English Period.


1. Changes in phonetic system.

2. Changes in grammar system.

Changes in phonetic system.


1. loss of unstressed [∂]: at the outset of MnE the vowel [∂] is lost. It was lost when it was final and also when followed by a consonant: lived, fille, stopped, tables. However, it was preserved and later changed into [i] in the groups [s∂z], [z∂z], [∫∂z], [dz∂z], [t∂d], [d∂d]. it was also preserved and eventually developed into [i] in some adjectives and participles: learned, wicked, ragged. Loss of [∂] had special consequences for the spelling: the letter “e” was preserved in words having a long root vowel. In this case the so-called mute “e” arose which denotes length of the preceding vowel. When final [∂] was lost in words ending in –we like “morwe, sorwe, narwe”, the result was “morw, sorw, narw”: in the 16th c. final –w developed into the diphthong [∂u]: morrow, sorrow, narrow.

2. loss of vowels in intermediate syllables: in some three-syllable and four-syllable words the vowel of a middle syllable is lost: chapiter►chapter; phantasie►fancy.

3. the change of [er] into [ar]: this change began in the 14th c. but was completed in the late 15th c. It is reflected mainly in spelling, in a few cases the combined spelling “ear” is adopted: ferre→far; sterre→star; werre→war; herthe→hearth; herte→heart.

4. the Great Vowel Shift: the most significant phonetic change of this period was the Great Vowel Shift which left imprint on the entire system of MnE. The essence of the shift was the narrowing of all ME long vowels and diphthongisation of the narrowest long ones:

i:→ai time, finden

e:→i: kepen, field

ε:→e:→i: street, east

a:→ei maken, table

o:→o:→ou stone, open

o:→u: moon, goos

u:→au mous, now

au→o: cause, drawen

5. changes of short vowels: the short vowels of NE were more stable than the long ones: only two out of five underwent certain alterations:[a] and [u]. ME [a] is reflected as [æ] in NE: ME that [θat] – NE that [θæt]. The more pbvious change of ME [a] came about when it was preceded by the semivowel [w]: was, water. The other change was a case of delabialization: ME short [u] lost its labial character and became [λ]; ME hut [hut] - NE hut; ME comen - NE come.

6. growth of long monophthongs and diphthongs: new long monophthongs and diphthongs developed in NE from the vocalisation of some consonants. Two voiceless fricatives [χ] and [χ’] were vocalised towards the end of ME. The glide [u] is already shown in ME spelling: taughte, braughte. Later [au] was contracted to [o:] according to regular vowel changes and [χ] was lost. The palatal fricative [χ’] changed into [j] during the 15th c.; it changed into [i] and together with the preceding [i] yielded a long monophthong [i:]: night [niχ’t]→[nijt]→[ni:t]→[nait]. The most important instance of vocalisation is the development of [r] which accounts for the appearance of many new monophthongs and diphthongs in the 16th or 17th c. It was vocalised when it stood after vowels, either finally or followed by another consonant. Losing its consonantal character [r] changed into the neutral sound [∂] which was added to the preceding vowel as a glide forming a diphthong:

after short vowels

o+r → o: for, thorn

a+r → a: bar, dark

i+r → з: first

e+r →з: serven

u+r → з: fur

∂+r → ∂ brother

after long vowels

i:+r → ai∂ shire

e:+r → i∂ beer

ε:+r → i∂ ere (ear)

ε:+r → ε∂ there

a:+r → ε∂ hare

o:+r → o∂/o: floor

o:+r → u∂ moor

u:+r → au∂ flour (flower)

7. rise of long [a:] and [o:]: Long [a:] is found in MnE in different environments. There are two main sources of modern [a:]:

- [a:] from [a] → [a-æ-æ:-a;]; it occurs before [θ,δ] – bath, path, father, rather; fefore [s] – class; grass; before [st] – cast, fast; before [sk] – ask, mask; before [sp] – grasp, clasp;

- [a:] from [au]; in some cases MnE has [a:] in words where ME [a] was followed by the cluster “l+consonant” and had developed into [au] from which [o:] might have been expected: calm, palm.

The group [al] developed into [aul] already in the 15th c., so the words “all, call, talk” were pronounced [aul], [kaul], [taulk]. In the 16th c. the diphthong [au] developed into [o:] whith the spelling “au, aw”: walk, tall.

Before “lf, lv” and “m, n+consonant] [a:] developed: calf, half; plant, example.

8. rise of long [з:]: in the 16th c. a new vowel appears, its appearance is connected with changes of some vowels before [r] and with vocalization of [r]. It arises in the following cases:

- from the group i+r: fir, sir, dirt;

- from u+r: fur, curtain, burn;

- from o+r after “w”: worm, word, world;

- from e+r: heard, learn.

Changes in the 17th century.

a) the change of [a] into [o] after [w]: ME short [a] remained unchanged after [w], but in the 17th c. the group [wa] developed into [wo]: labial articulation of the consonant was exteneded to the vowel. The change [wa→wo] didn’t take place when [a] was followed by one of the velar consonants [k, g, η], in this case [a] developed into [æ].

b) the change of [u] into [λ]: short [u] changed into [λ] in words with u-spelling (but, cut), sometimes with o- spelling (some, love) and ou-spelling (rough [ru:f→ruf→rλf], enough). The vowel [λ] is also found in a few words which had in ME [o:] represented by “o” or “oo”. These words went through the shift of [o:→u:→u→λ] (month, done, blood, flood). [u] remained unchanged in words where it was preceded by a labial consonant (bull, pull).

c) the change of [e:] into [i:]: long close [e:] resulting from ME long open [ε:] was narrowed to [i:]. The sound values of the digraphs “ea” and “ee” coincided (beat, sea). In “great” and “break” the [e:] was preserved and was eventually diphthongized into [ei].

d) other changes: [ei] and [e:] merged into [ei] (says, said) and [o:] and [ou] also merged (stone, oak). Most unstressed vowels were reduced to either [r] or [∂] in the 2nd syllable of dissylabic words or in the 1st syllable of dissylabic words (wishes, admire).


1) development of [χ]: two variants of the development of [χ] are distinguished: a) before “t” and b) in final position. [χ] is lost before “t” and the preceding vowel is shortened (light [liχt>li:t]). Final [χ] changes into [f] (cough, laugh), where it remained to be denoted “gh”; in a few words it was lost (though, through).

2) loss of [l] before [k, m, f, v]: it was lost before [k,m,f,v] and the words like “talk, plam, calf, halves”came to be pronounced [to:k], [pa:m], [ka:f], [ha:vz]. [l] was preserved before [v] in words of Latin origin (resolve, valve). [l] was also lost [d] in “should” and “would”.

3) appearance and loss of [w]: in a few words with an initial labialised vowel there appeared an initial so-called prothetic [w]. The most well-known example is the word “one” in OE it was “ān”, in ME “ōn”. The development is like that: [o:n>wo:n>wu:n>wun>wλn]. [w] also appeared in the word “woof”, but it was lost in anstressed syllables after a consonant (answer, conquer).

4) voicing and voiceless fricatives: voiceless consonants were voiced in several types of words. It mainly affected the consonant [s] and the cluster [ks] which became [z] and [gz] (words of French origin: dessert, resemble; exhibit, anxiety). In a few words it also affected [f] and [t∫] which became [z] and [dz] (of>off; knoweleche>knowledge).

5) loss of consonants in clusters: in many words when a word ended in ttwo consonants, the final one was los: [mb]> [m]: lamb, climb; [mn]> [m]: damn, solemn; [ln]>[l]: kiln. In a cluster of three consonants the middle one was dropped: [stl]>[sl]: castle, rustle; [stn]>[sn]: fasten, glisten; [ftn]>[fn]: often, soften; [stm]> [sm]: Christmas; [ktl]> [kl]: exactly; [ktn]> [kn]: exactness; [skl]> [sl] muscle; [ndz], [ldz]>[nz, lz]: strange, divulge; [nt∫, lt∫]>[n∫,l∫]: French, milch. Words having one final consonant sometimes acquire another with final –n added –d: poune>pound, boun>bound.

6) change of [d] to [δ] when close to [r]: [d] became [δ] in the neighbourhood of [r] in the words: fader>father, weder>weather. A similar change [t>θ] took place: autour>author.

7) [j] merged with preceding consonant: it happens after an unstressed vowel and affects clusters [sj, zj, tj, dj]. [sj] often spellt by –ti-, -xi- >[∫]: pension, session, anxious; [zj]>[z]: collision, division; the group [zju]>[zu,z∂]: measure, pleasure; [tj]>[t∫] often spellt by “ture, tue”: fortune, statue; [dj]>[dz]: soldier, educate.

8) loss of consonants in initial clusters: in certain cases a cluster is lost: [k, g] are lsot before [n]: knight, gnaw; when [kn, gn] was preceded by a vowel it was preserved: diagnosis. Initial [w] is lost before [r]: write. The cluster [hw] or the voiceless [w], which was denoted by the spelling “wh”, changed into [w]: what.


The traditional view is that the definite article appeared in OE, while the indefinite article appears only in ME. In OE the meaning of the demonstrative pronoun “sē” (that) is weakened so that it approaches the status of an article. Therefore in OE there appears a new grammatical category within the system of substantives: the category of determination represented by the opposition: the article/absence of article.

In ME an indefinite article arose. It had its origin in the numeral “ān” (one). First signs of such development were already seen in OE. Then long “ā” in unstressed position was shortened and there appeared an unstressed variant “an”. When the long “a” changed unto long “o” the numeral became “ōn”; the divergence in sound between the stressed and the unstressed form furthered the separation of the article from the numeral.

When “ōn” or “an” was followed by a word beginning with a consonant, the -n was dropped and there arose the variants “ō”, “a”. With the numeral, this alternation was later abandoned, and the form “ōn” came to be used in all environments. With the indifenite article, the alternation of “an” and “a” depending on the initial sound of the following word has been preserved until today.

Thus in ME the word “the” has its counterpart in the word “a(n)”, so one may say that English has an article system represented by two members: the definite and the indefinite articles. Therefore, the whole system of determination may be represented in the following way: a) no article::article (marked); b) definite article::indefinite article.


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