[Ads-l] OT: Old English vowel length

Barretts Mail mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Sat Aug 3 15:09:20 EDT 2019

I would like to learn OE pronunciation but am puzzled by long vowels in recordings I’ve found. 

The Englisc mailing list (https://www.rochester.edu/englisc/ <https://www.rochester.edu/englisc/>) appears to be no longer active, so I thought I would ask here. I suppose Anglo-Saxon qualifies as a topic for the ADS since it is a chronolect of American English. 

In both examples below, I thought I found multiple cases where long vowels are pronounced short. I give two examples that seem very clearly to be so.

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_English_phonology#Examples <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_English_phonology#Examples>) has a recording of the "Lord’s Prayer” made by Erutuon. The recording itself can be viewed and manipulated more easily with the link at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/transcoded/0/0e/Ang-Our_Father.ogg/Ang-Our_Father.ogg.mp3 <https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/transcoded/0/0e/Ang-Our_Father.ogg/Ang-Our_Father.ogg.mp3>.

The long “ā” in “ġedæġhƿāmlīcan” seems short.

I also looked at https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/beowulf-reading-ll-26-52 <https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/beowulf-reading-ll-26-52>, which has a recording of “Beowulf” lines 26 to 52 by Stuart Lee. The reading begins at 4:58 into the audio clip.

The first vowel in “Ālēdon" in line 34 seems short (see text at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2003.01.0001 <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:2003.01.0001>).

Robert D. Stevick (“A Firstbook of Old English” (revised, 2001)) says (p. 42) that you can have no more than one long vowel/diphthong per root/derivational morpheme. Wiktionary (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/alecgan#Old_English <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/alecgan#Old_English>) gives alecgan as deriving from Proto-Germanic, at which stage the “ā” can be broken away as a separate morpheme. 

But either way, the word-initial “ā” is written with a macron both in the text cited above and in Chickering’s “Beowulf” (1977).

Can anyone provide guidance on the length of such vowels?

Benjamin Barrett (he/his/him)
Formerly of Seattle, WA
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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