Old English: Bēowulf (pronunciation)


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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    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.