Early English : a study of old and middle English by John W Clark

By John W Clark

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1 The answer, at least in the case of Early English, is, 'pretty confidently so long as pretty generally'. It is undoubtedly true that King Alfred, say, would find the modern students' pronunciation of his preface to the OE translation of St Gregory's Pastoral Care uncouth, but it is also undoubtedly true that he would understand it, whereas he quite certainly would not understand a pronunciation interpreting OE spelling according to the usual 'values' of the letters in NE spelling. The opening sentence of that preface, in the Bodleian ms Hatton 20, runs as follows (when printed in the modern fashion): •lElfred kyningZ 1 It is bemusing to consider how the invention of the phonograph may affect our descendants' knowledge of our speech, but even more to consider how that same invention may affect the development of speech itself.

The answer to the first question is that the sound of 'z' is contributed to not only by the vibration of the vocal cords but also by the audible friction of the breath passing through a narrow channel formed by the front of the tongue almost - but not quite - touching the palate just behind the teeth. The answer to the second question is that 'z', though like 'u' and 'i' and unlike's' in having 'voice', is like's' and unlike 'u' and 'i' in having audible friction. 'z' and's', then, are both consonants, but 'z' is a voiced consonant and's' a voiceless one.

There was, indeed, an 'England' for centuries before 450, but it was on the Continent, not in Britain, and it was probably not always the same place, but was rather whatever district was inhabited for the time being by the Germanic tribes that sooner or later came to call themselves by various early forms of the name English or Angles. Our Germanic ancestors had the habit, convenient and natural for them however confusing for their descendants, of giving their name to whatever country they were inhabiting at the time, just as today John Smith, if he removes his fami!

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