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Re: Middle English question

From:JOEL MATTHEW PEARSON <mpearson@...>
Date:Thursday, July 29, 1999, 23:15
On Thu, 29 Jul 1999, Tom Wier wrote:

> JOEL MATTHEW PEARSON wrote: >=20 > > Also, one small point: "nother" was probably [no:Der] rather than > > [no:Ter]. Voicing of intervocalic fricatives like "th" goes right > > back to Old English, and if it was [D] in Old English and [D] in > > Modern English, I don't see why it wouldn't have been [D] in Middle > > English. (I'm less certain about "the" and "then". These had [T] > > in Old English, and [D] in Modern English, but I'm not sure when the > > switch-over happened.) >=20 > Well, remember also that even, during the Old English period, scribes > made no functional difference between thorn <=FE> and eth <=F0>, which > today normally have their Icelandic values (AFAIK) of the voiceless > and voiced interdental fricatives respectively. So, it would be difficu=
> to tell based solely on the spelling what their Middle-English counterpar=
> should have been.
Exactly. But in the case of Old English, there's a good reason why scribes didn't distinguish between voiced and voiceless "th" (and used thorn and edh indiscriminately for both), which is that voiced and voiceless "th" were allophones in Old English. The voiced variant was used between vowels and before or after another voiced consonant, while the unvoiced variant was used elsewhere. It was sometime during the Middle English period that the two fricatives became separate phonemes (as shown by minimal pairs like "thigh" and "thy", and near minimal pairs like "thin" and "then"). The trouble is, I can't remember exactly *when* this change happened, and *why* the voiced variant was chosen for words like "the", "then", "thou", and "though"... Perhaps nobody knows for sure, precisely because of the point you mention (the two phonemes weren't distinguished in the spelling). Matt.