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Alphabet and Pronunciation.

4. The OHG. monuments were written in the Latin alphabet.

Vowel length was either entirely omitted in writing, or was represented by doubling the respective vowel; but sometimes also by using the accents (,). The sign ", placed over vowels, is here used to mark long vowels.


A. The Vowels

5. The OHG. vowel-system was represented by the five elementary letters a, e, i, o, u, and the digraphs ei, ie (ea, ia), io (eo), iu, ou (au), and uo (ua), the latter having the value of diphthongs.

Note.For i the symbol y was occasionally employed, otherwise y occurred in loan-words only.


6. All the simple vowels had both a short and a long quantity.

The short vowels a, i, o, u, and the long vowels ā, ē, ī, ō, and ū, had nearly the same pronunciation as the corresponding OE. vowels. e had a twofold pronunciation, which is still kept apart in many New High German (NHG.) dialects, according as it represented a primitive Germanic e cp. e.g. OE. OS. OHG. beran, to bear, beside Greek φέρω, Lat. ferō, I bearor an e which arose from the i-umlaut of a ( 41), as Nom. sg. gast, guest, pi. gesti; nerien. to save, from *nazjan. In the former case e had an open sound like the e in English bed, and is generally written e in grammatical treatises, in order to distinguish it from the

umlaut-e, which had a close sound like the in French t.

The following key-words will be of use, as giving an approximate pronunciation of the vowel-sounds to students unacquainted with Old English:

a as in NHG. mann man, man.

ā Engl. father hāhan, to hang.

bed hlfan, to help.

e Fr. t gesti, guests.

ē NHG. reh sēla, soul.

i Engl. it wiʐʐan, to know.

ī NHG. ihn mīn

o Engl. not got, God.

ō NHG. so hōh, high.

u Engl. full gibuntan, bound.

ū food hūs, house.

ei = e + i stain stein, stone.

ie = I + e riet, advised.

The remaining diphthongs ea (ia), io (eo), iu, ou (au), uo (ua), will present no difficulties to the learner who has mastered the key-words to the short vowels in the above table.


B. The Consonants

7. The OHG. consonant-system was represented by the following letters:b, c, ch, d, f, g, h, *j (i, e, g), k, 1, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, th (dh), u (v), *w (uu, u, uv, to, w), x, z.

The letters b, d, k, 1, m, n, p, and t had nearly the same values as in English. The remaining letters require special attention.

c had a twofold pronunciation. It had the sound of English k finally and before the guttural vowels a, o, u, and before consonants, as tac, day, corn, corn, cund, known, cleini, pretty. Before the palatal vowels i, e (except in the combination so) it had the sound of ts, like NHG. z, as luzil, little, ce, to. But, on the other hand, sceidan, to sever, where so was pronounced like the sch in the English word school.

ch mostly represented a single (guttural spirant) sound like the ch in NHG. or in Scotch loch, as sprēchan, to speak. In Upper German monuments it was also used to express the affricata kh, i.e. k + the ch sound in Scotch loch, as khorn (chorn), corn. See 84, 2.

f had a twofold pronunciation according as it represented a Germanic f or p; cp. e.g. OHG. fater, OS. fadar, OE. fder, Gothic fadar, father, with OHG. slafan, OS. slāpan. OE. slāēpan, Gothic slēpan, to sleep. In the former case it was labio-dental, and in the latter bilabial. f=prim. Germ. f was often written u (v) initially, and medially between vowels, as varan, OE. faran, to go, zwīval, Gothic tweifls, doubt.

g, when it represented prim. Germ. g, or rather prim. Germ. ʒ, had the sound of our g in got, as OHG. tag, OS. dag, OE. dg, day; OHG. guot, OE. god, good. See 85, 3. But when it stood for prim. Germ. j, it was a spirant and had nearly the same sound as the y in English yet, as gener (jenēr), Goth. jains, ille, yon herige (herie), Goth. harja, Dat. sing. of heri, army.

h, initially and medially between vowels, had the sound-value of English h in hat; finally and medially before consonants it was the guttural spirant ch (see ch), as habēn, to have, shan, to see; hōh (= NHG. hoch), high, naht (= NHG. nacht), night.

*j (that is i in the function of a consonant) did not occur in OHG. manuscripts, but was represented by i (e, g). It had nearly the same sound-value as the y in English yet, as nerien from *nazjan, to save; hirteo, Goth. hardje, Gen. pl. of hirti, shepherd, genēr (jenēr), Gothic jins, ille, yon.

q occurred only in combination with u as in English..

r was a trilled sound in all positions as in Scotch, as reht, right, bran, to bear, fart, way, fagar, beautiful.

s was a voiceless spirant in all positions like the s in English sit, as sunu, son, kiosan, to choose, kōs, I chose.

th (dh) seems in the ninth century to have been a voiced interdental spirant like the th in English then, as thenken, to think.

u (v). Single u (v) was frequently written for Germanic f (see f), as uaran, varan, to go. It was also employed, especially after consonants and before the vowel u, to express u consonant, i.e. English w, as suarz for suuarz, black, uurdun for uuurdun, they became.

*w (i.e. u in the function of a consonant) did not occur in OHG. manuscripts, but was generally represented by uu (uv, vu, vv), and had the sound-value of English w in wit. It was also sometimes written u (v), see above under u (v). In this grammar and glossary we shall generally write w.

x occurred almost exclusively in loan-words.

z had a twofold pronunciation. It had the sound-value ts, initially as also medially and finally, after consonants and when it arose from tt. Examples are:zan, tooth, lenzo, spring, holz, wood, hrza, heart, suarz, black, scaz, money, cp. OE. sceatt, O.Icel. skattr, Goth. skatts; sezzen, OS. settian, to set, pret. sg. sazta, OS. setta (satta). In other cases it was a kind of s sound, as ha, hatred, bīan, to bite, See 84. In this book the ts sound is represented by z, and the s sound by .

Phonetic Survey of the OHG. Sound-System

8. A. Vowels (Sonants).

Guttural Short a, o, u

Long ā, ō, ū

Palatal Short , e, i

Long ē, ī

9. B. Consonants.









p, pp


t, tt

k, kk




d, dd

g, gg




(th ?)

s, ss

h, hh (ch)




th (dh)





m, mm


n, nn






l,ll; r,rr




w, j





To these must further be added the aspirate h and the three affricatae (i.e. an explosive + a homorganic spirant) z (i.e. ts), pf (ph), and the Upper German kh (ch) i.e. k + the ch-sound in Scotch loch.

note.In the writing down of primitive Germanic forms the sign ŋ

is used to represent the guttural nasal, and x to represent the guttural spirant (h). The guttural n occurred before gutturals only, as trinkan, to drink, lang, long.


10. A diphthong is the combination of a sonantal with a consonantal vowel. The sonantal vowel is the bearer of the stress (accent) in the syllable in which it occurs. All the OHG, diphthongs, ei, ie (ea, ia), io (eo), iu, ou (au), and uo (ua), were falling diphthongs, that is, the stress fell upon the first of the two elements.


11. The double consonants, nn, &c., must be pronounced long as in Italian and Swedish, thus rinnan, to run, as rin-nan. They were uniformly shortened (simplified) when they became final or came to stand before other consonants, and also frequently medially when preceded by a long vowel, as rinnan, to run, pret. sing. ran; brennen, to burn, pret. sing. branta; slāffan beside slāfan, to sleep. See 89.

Stress (Accent).

12. In all uncompounded words the chief stress falls upon the stem-syllable and always remains there even when suffixes and inflexional endings follow it. This syllable is always the first of the word.

In compound words the chief stress falls upon the stem-syllable of the first component part if the second part is a noun or an adjective; and on the stem-syllable of the second part if this is a verb or derived from a verb.


[ Contents ] [ Intro ] [ Glossary ]
[ I ] [ II ] [ III ] [ IV ] [ V ] [ VI ] [ VII ] [ VIII ] [ IX ] [ X ] [ XI ] [ XII ] [ XIII ]