Summary – Middle English


1. Leveling of vowels in the unstressed position.

2. No principally new monophthongs in the system of the language appeared, but the monophthongs of the [o] and [e] type may differ: they are either “open” – generally those developed from the Old English ā (stān > stōn) or “close” – developing from the Old English ō (bōk > bōk (book))

3. The sounds [æ] and [y] disappeared from the system of the language.

4. There are no long diphthongs.

5. New diphthongs appeared with the glide more close than the nucleus (because of the origin) as contrasted to Old English with the glide more open than the nucleus.

6. No parallelism exists between long and short monophthongs different only in their quantity.

7. The quantity of the vowel depends on its position in the word. (a,o,e – always long in an open syllable or before ld, mb, nd. All vowels are always short before two consonants, with the exception of ld, mb, nd).

Only in one position – in a closed syllable before one consonant vowels of any quantity could be found (wīs but pig).

New affricates and the fricative [∫] appeared in the system of the language.

8. The resonance (the voiced or the voiceless nature) of the consonants ([f], [v], [s], [z] and [θ],[ð]) became phonemic.


Changes in the phonetic system in New English


Vowels in the unstressed position



Vowels in the unstressed position already produced in Middle English to the vowel of the [ə] type are dropped in New English if they are found in the endings of words, for example:


Old English Middle English New English


nama name name [neim]

wrītan writen write [rait]

sunu sone son [sлn]



the vowel in the endings is sometimes preserved – mainly for phonetic reason:

wanted, dresses

- without the intermediate vowel it would be very difficult to pronounce the endings of such words.


Vowels under stress

Qualitative changes

- changes of monophthongs

All long monophthongs in New English(XV – XVII century) underwent a change that is called The Great Vowel Shift.

Due to this change the vowels became narrower and more front. Thus:


Middle English New English



[ā] > [ei] make make

[ē] > [i:] see see

[ō] > [ou] ston stone

[ō] > [u:] roote root

moon moon



two long close vowels: [ū] and [ī] at first also became narrower and gave diphthongs of the [uw] or [ij] type. But those diphthongs were unstable because of the similarity between the glide and the nucleus.

Consequently the process of the dissimilation of the elements of the new diphthongs took place and eventually the vowels [ī] and [ū] gave us the diphthongs [ai] and [au] respectively. For instance:


Middle English New English


[ū] > [au] hous house

[ī] > [ai] time time


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