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  1. Qualitative:

The system of vowels in ME were no longer symmetrical as it was in OE

Short Vowels

    • [y] changed to [i] e.g. OE hyll – ME hill (hill);

    • [æ] changed to [a] e.g. OE wæs – ME was (was).

As a result:

i

e

a

o

u

Long Vowels

    • [ỹ] changed to [ī];

    • [ǽ] fell together with [έ];

    • [ā] changed to [ō] e.g. OE stān – ME sto[o:]ne (stone).

As a result:

close

open

ī

ū

ē

ō

έ

ǿ

New Diphthongs

OE diphthongs turned into monophthongs:

OE Diphth.

ME Sounds

OE

ME

ĭě/īē

i

līehtan

lighten (lighten)

ĕŏ/ēō

e

heorte

herte (heart)

ĕă/ēā

æ

ēast

eest (east)

New diphthongs appeared due to vocalisation of [j], [γ] and [w]. These consonants turned into vowels ([i], [u] and [u] respectively) and became the glides of the new diphthongs:

i-glides

OE

ME

u-glides

OE

ME

[ei]

weζ[j]

wey[i] (way)

[iu]

-

-

[ai]

mæζ[j]

may[i] (may)

[au]

laζ[γ]u

law[u]e [‘lauə] (low)

[oi] (in French loan-words)

boy, toy

[ou]

cnāw[w]an

know[u]en [‘knouən] (know)

New English

Great Vowel Shift – the change that happened in the 14th – 16th c. and affected all long monophthongs + diphthong [au]. As a result these vowels were:

    • diphthongized;

    • narrowed (became more closed);

    • both diphthongized and narrowed.

ME Sounds

NE Sounds

ME

NE

[i:]

[ai]

time [‘ti:mə]

time [taim]

[e:]

[i:]

kepen [‘ke:pən]

keep [ki:p]

[a:]

[ei]

maken [‘ma:kən]

make [meik]

[o:]

[ou]

[u:]

stone [‘sto:nə]

moon [mo:n]

stone [stoun]

moon [mu:n]

[u:]

[au]

mous [mu:s]

mouse [maus]

[au]

[o:]

cause [‘kauzə]

cause [ko:z]

This shift was not followed by spelling changes, i.e. it was not reflected in written form. Thus the Great Vowel Shift explains many modern rules of reading.

Short Vowels

ME Sounds

NE Sounds

ME

NE

[a]

[æ]

[o] after [w]!!

that [at]

man [man]

was [was]

water [‘watə]

thatæt]

man [mæn]

was [woz]

water [‘wotə]

[u]

[Λ]

hut [hut]

comen [cumen]

hut [hΛt]

come [cΛm]

There were exceptions though, e.g. put, pull, etc.

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