Consonant Changes in Pre-Wrilten Periods

§ 135.On the whole, consonants were historically more stable than vowels, though certain changes took place in all historical periods.

It may seem that being a typical OG language OE ought to contain all the consonants that arose in PG under Grimm's and Verner's Law. Yet it appears that very few noise consonants in OE correspond to the same sounds in PG; for in the intervening period most consonants under­went diverse changes: qualitative and quantitative, independent and positional.

Some of the consonant changes dated in pre-written periods are re­ferred to as "West Germanic" (WG) as they are shared by all the lan­guages of the WG subgroup; WG changes may have taken place at the tran­sitional stage from PG to Early OE prior to the Germanic settlement of Britain. Other changes are specifically English; they took place in Ear­ly OE.

Treatment of Fricatives. Hardening. Rhotacism. Voicing and Devoicing

§ 136. As shown in § 58, after the changes under Grimm's Law and Verner's Law PG had the following two sets of fricative consonants: voiceless [f, θ, x, s] and voiced [v, ð, γ, z].

In WG and in Early OE the difference between the two groups was supported by new features. PG voiced fricatives tended to be hardened to corresponding plosives while voiceless fricatives, being contrasted to them primarily as fricatives to plosives, developed new voiced allophones.

§ 137. The PG voiced [ð] (due to Verner's Law or to the third act of the shift) was always hardened to [d] in OE and other WG languages; cf., for instance, Gt gops, godai [ð], O Icel, gōðr and OE ʒōd (NE good).The two other fricatives, [v] and [γ] were hardened to [b] and [g] ini­tially and after nasals, otherwise they remained fricatives (see examples in Table 7).

§ 138. PG [z] underwent a phonetic modification through the stage of [ʒ]into [r] and thus became a sonorant, which ultimately merged with the older IE [r]. Cf. Gt. wasjan, O Icel verja and OE werian (NE wear). This process, termed rhotacism, is characteristic not only of WG but also of NG.

§ 139. In the meantime or somewhat later the PG set of voiceless fricatives [f, θ, x, s] and also those of the voiced fricatives which had not turned into plosives, that is, [v] and [γ], were subjected to a new pro­cess of voicing and devoicing. In Early OE they became or remained voiced intervocally and between vowels, sonorants and voiced conso­nants; they remained or became voiceless in other environments, name­ly, initially, finally and next to other voiceless consonants. Cf. Gt qipan, qap with [θ] in both forms, and OE cweðan [ð] between vowels and cwæð [θ]at the end of the word (NE arch, quoth ‘say’).

The mutually exclusive phonetic conditions for voiced and voice­less fricatives prove that in OE they were not phonemes, but allophones.

Table 7

Reflexes of Proto-Germanic Fricatives in Old English

Change illustrated Examples
Hardening Late PG OE Other OG languages OE NE
    O Icel rauðr rēad red
ð d Gt wasida [ð] werede wore, past of wear
v b Gt bropar brōpor brother
dumbe dumb
γ g Gt guma 3uma ‘man’
Voicing or devoicing v   Gt sibun [v] seofon [v] seven
v Gt hlaifs hlāfas [v] loaves
f (Cf. R хлеб) hiāf [f] loaf
f v Gt wulfos wulfas [v] wolves
f Gt wulfs wulf [f] wolf
θ ð Gt siupan [θ] sēopan [ð] seethe
θ Gt saup [θ| sēað [θ] seethed
γ   Gt dagos daʒas days
x Gt baúrgs buruh, burh borough
s z Gt kiusan [s] cēosan [z] choose
s Gt kaus [s] cēas [s] chose
Rhotacism z r Gt maiza [z] māra more
Gt huzd hord hoard

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