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Reading Premodern English






Introduction

Reading Premodern English aims at giving the reader a convenient method of learning English as it was written before the modern age. I hope that gathering Old English and Middle English in one convenient handbook may offer a helpful way of encountering and learning the essentials of both, and in effect the ability to read almost anything in English as it was written before modern times.





Lesson 1
Letters & Sounds



The first most important step in reading Premodern English is learning the letters and sounds. Each vowel in the chart below is represented with its "long" sound and printed with a line over it. When a vowel is to be pronounced as "short" it shall have the same sound but pronounced for a shorter amount of time, and will be printed without the line over it. Any consonants not listed are pronounced as those in Modern English, except there are no silent letters.




Front VowelsBack VowelsVowel-Pairs
Old         Middle
ī / ȳ    machīneū        rūleea        ai     oi   ( Pronounce
ē        hēyō        bōneeo        au    ou    as the vowels suggest,
ǣ       hāve ā        fātherio         ei             but as one syllable
ie         eu            not two.)

Consonants

c   can by back vowels.f   five between vowels or m, n, l, or r.
     child by front vowels.    five everywhere else.
g    good before back vowels.h  hat beginning a word.
     bow after back vowels or after l or r.    loch everywhere else.
     yelp by front vowels. /    father between vowels or m, n, l,       or r.
s   size between vowels or m, n, l or r.    thin everywhere else.
     size everywhere else.
ȝ    used sometimes for the "y" and "w" sounds of       g.
     used sometimes for the "ch" (loch)-sound of       h.


Special Letter-Groups and Exceptions

Soft c = "ch"
sc / sch  ship-cce
cg / gge    edge -ccan   -can
enga, enge  stonehenge
enc  benchHard c = "k"
c-, g-  cat, gap-c
cy-, gy-  king, giddy-cca, -ca, -cu
-ecan   -ican   -cian



Note:

The letter (uppercase ) is called "ash" after a runic letter that had the same sound.

Runic "thorn," and "eth" a d with a line through it, are interchangeably used for the th-sound. The uppercases are and .

ȝ (similar to the shape of the number 3) is called "yogh" and is another form of the letter g, that came to be used for the "strange" sounds of g ("y" and "w") and the "strange" sound of h ("ch" as in loch) Its uppercase is the same shape just larger in size.








c

"k""ch"
cocccockcildchild
cucowlceach
eacalsogeliclike
ilcasameheofonlicheavenly
bacanto bakeceastquarrel
f

"v""f"
cnifasknivescnifknife
hofaslovehofhoof
giefugiftselfself
yfeleviloftoften
freeverfderfather




g

"g""w""y"
godgoodbogabowgearyear
godGodlagulawgearayore
gumamanbrogafeargeayea
hungorhungermorgenmorrowdgday
gripeacedagianto dawngiefanto give




ȝ

"y""w" "ch" (loch)
ȝeryearsorȝesorrowriȝtright
ȝesterdaiyesterdayȝoȝlingeyowlingmiȝtmight
ȝetyetboȝebowneiȝnigh
ȝififgnaȝento gnawoȝtthought
ȝeyedaȝiento dawnoruȝthrough




h

"h""ch" (loch)
hamhomecnihtknight
hlafloafdohtordaughter
hlafordlordmearhhorse
hwtwhatneahnigh
hietheyhtproperty
S

"z""s"
busigbusyssea
risanto risesawolsoul
nosunoseblisshappiness
bosmbosombletsungblessing
usendthousandhushouse




/

"th" (father)"th" (thin)
broerbrothersotruth
furerfurtherwiagainst
hraequicklyrowungsuffering
famembraceancgratitude
wiereworthyuthou









sc
"sh"
scip, schipship
disc, dischdish
hnesce, neschenesh
flsc, fleschflesh
scohshoe
cg / gge
"dge"
ecg, eggeedge
brycg, bruggebridge
secgan, seggento say
hecg, heggehedge
mycg, myggemidge
eng
"enge" (stonehenge)
engelangel
hengesthorse
senganto singe
twenganto twinge
lengestlongest




enc
"ench"
bencbench
stencstench
drencanto drench
cwencanto quench
wrenctrick
-cce
(Soft c = "ch")
wiccewitch
biccefemale dog
cryccecrutch
wccewatch
sticcea piece
-ccan, -can
(Soft c = "ch")
feccanto fetch
wccanto watch
reccanto tell
tcanto teach
rcanto reach




c-, g-
"ca-", "ga-"
cgekey
cppecap
grsgrass
gtgoats
glsaluxury
cy-, gy-
"ki-", "gi-"
cynnkin
cyningking
cystexcellence
gyddengoddess
gyltguilt
-c
(Hard c = "k")
bcback
fca space of time
blcblack
smca taste
wrcwrack




-cca, -ca, -cu
(Hard c = "k")
sticcastick
wicca(male) witch
pricaprick
stricastreak
wicuweak
-ecan, -ican, -cian
(Hard c = "k")
wrecanto wreak
sprecanto speak
stricanto strike
macianto make
liccianto lick




Note:

A small group of words have ce- or ci- where the c is pronounced as "k" instead of "ch":

(Hard c = "k")
cenekeen, brave
cembanto kemb, to comb
cempawarrior
cennanto conceive
centKent
cepanto keep
citelkettle
citelianto kittle, to tickle







Different Spellings

It is important to face the fact that the same word may have different spellings, especially a word that is usually spelt with a vowel-pair (such as ea), that may show up sometimes with only a single vowel (as or e) . Instead of trying to recognize a word by one fixed spelling as in Modern English, the reader should generally expect a similar spelling, but not always the same spelling.



Words with ce-, ci- (with the "ch"-sound") or ge-, gi- (with the "y"-sound) sometimes have spellings with c-, cy or g, gy. Where c-, cy and g, gy represent those spellings they still have the soft "ch" and "y" sounds. In some words the spellings ge, gi were completely replaced with the letter ȝ. In these cases the letter ȝ represents the "y" sound alone.

ciele, cile, cyle chill
cild, cyld child
ceaster, cester, cster city
gear, ger, ȝer, gr year
geong, ȝongyoung







Letter "Teams"

To help understand some differences in spellings it is helpful to remember the below "teams" that include different (but similar) letters or sounds that may show up in the same word.

Vowels

a / o

Before the letter n:
man / monman
hand / hond hand
Before -ld:
ald / oldold
bald / bold bold
Long a ___> o :
fa / fo foe
gast / gost ghost
/ a / e

t / atat
gld / gladglad
fder / faderfather
Long ___> e :
lce / leche
doctor
flsc / flesch
flesh
i / y / u

cild / cyldman
dai / day hand
cyst / cust excellence
brycg / bruggebridge









u / o / ou

strengu / strengostrength
wundor / wonderwonder
lufu / lovelove
Long u ___> ou:
hus / hous house
pund / pound pound
Vowel of ending / e

nama / namename
talu / tale tale
tima / timetime
hundas / hundeshounds





Consonants


g / w

dagas / dawesdays
boga / bowe tale
morgen / morwenmorn
gnagan / gnawento gnaw


g / ai

mgden / maidenmaiden
dg / daiday

eg / ei
weg / weiway


hl / l

hlaford / loverdlord
hlfdige / levedilady

hn / n
hnesce / neschenesh



hr / r

hrfn / ravenraven
hring / ringring

hw / wh / w
(sometimes also qu)
hwt / what / wat / quat what
hwil / while / wile / quilewhile








Double Vowels

Occasionally words with long vowels have their vowel doubled to indicate the long vowel:

swete / sweetesweet
on / oonone
god / good good






The letters U and V

In Premodern English, the u-sounds and v-sounds eventually came to be spelt the same way. When they were at the beginning of a word, they were spelt with the pointy v form, and when they were anywhere else in a word, they were spelt with the roundish u form.

"u"
vponupon
huntehuntsman
"v"
vertuvirtue
louelove


Even though they were spelt the same, it is easy to distinguish when the u or v indicates a "u" sound, and when it indicates a "v"-sound by its position in the word. For simplicity, however, most texts use the modern manner of spelling all "v"-sounds with the pointy v and all u-sounds with the roundish u, and that is also how we shall present them in this book.






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