Old English: Bēowulf (pronunciation)

Linnets

Senior Member
Hi all,
I would like to know what is the most correct reconstruction of the Old English pronunciation of Bēowulf, since I have found different transcriptions on the Net ([ˈbeːowuɫf], [ˈbeːo̯wʊlf], [ˈbeːəwʊlf], and so on).
Thanks in advance.
 
  • Sobakus

    Senior Member
    It's not altogether clear what the graphic <o> in these sort of diphthongs represented, because both long, double-length (spelt ēo) and short, single-length (eo) vowels were spelt this way, and a contrast between long and short diphthongs would be very rare typologically, if not exceptional. But then what sort of English vowels would they be if pronounced like normal human vowels? :) In Middle English they developed exactly like their normal o-less counterparts, apart from a couple of words like choose, lose where the /ēo/ merged with /ō/.

    In any case the <o> represents some sort of tongue back raising and/or lip rounding - if this was realised as [eo], then you can just repeat any modern English pronunciation on Forvo; if it instead stood for [øː], here's how that sounds. There was very significant dialectal variation at the time and so both pronunciations likely existed (as well as just [eː] in the south-east). Just don't make the [e] part of [eo] as long as the Old English pronunciation on that website, this sound was hardly triple-length.

    The [eːo] transcription is fully equivalent to [eːo̯] because the [o] didn't make a syllable, i.e. it was the same as the second part of the vowel in how. Whether the <u> was [u] or [ʊ] probably didn't matter (as it doesn't e.g. in Spanish), especially between [w] and [ɫ] (the L was definitely dark).
     
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    Linnets

    Senior Member
    Well, thanks. I've decided [ˈbeːəwʊɫf] because a basic textbook I own transcribes short /u/ as [ʊ] while the long diphthong ēo was transcribed [eeə], which is almost the same as [eːə] or [eːə̯], even if I'm still dubious this reconstruction is correct. The velar [ɫ] seems the most certain thing. Tell me what you think.
    Cheers.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    That is a modern speaker friendly pronunciation much like ecclesiastical Latin is Italian speaker friendly. OE is famous for its equal hight diphthongs. The most likely pronunciation is [eo] or less likely [ɛɔ].
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    That is a modern speaker friendly pronunciation much like ecclesiastical Latin is Italian speaker friendly. OE is famous for its equal hight diphthongs. The most likely pronunciation is [eo] or less likely [ɛɔ].

    I agree with that, but why short e? Isn't the macron supposed to lengthen the quantity?
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    Well, thanks. I've decided [ˈbeːəwʊɫf] because a basic textbook I own transcribes short /u/ as [ʊ] while the long diphthong ēo was transcribed [eeə], which is almost the same as [eːə] or [eːə̯], even if I'm still dubious this reconstruction is correct. The velar [ɫ] seems the most certain thing. Tell me what you think.
    Cheers.
    I've never heard anyone suggest these ended in a schwa [ə], so I stand by my original reply.
    I agree with that, but why short e? Isn't the macron supposed to lengthen the quantity?
    As I say in the first reply, the macron spells a bimoraic (long-vowel-like) diphthong as opposed to a monomoraic (short-vowel-like) one. In other words, one is a diphthongised long vowel and the other a short one. It unlikely to have been a long vowel followed by a third non-syllabic mora.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I agree with that, but why short e? Isn't the macron supposed to lengthen the quantity?
    Sorry, yes. I meant to comment on the quality only and forgot the :. My understanding is that the long-short-opposition applies to the diphthong as a hole, like in modern accents with Canadian raising that distinguish (at least phonetically if not phonemically) between short ʌʊ and long aʊ. Placing the macron on the first part of the diphthong is merely a modern scholarly convention.
     
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