Indo-European Phonological Inventory Database

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Old English

Family: Germanic

Region: Great Britain

Time: mid 5th century - mid 12th century


Bilabial Dental Alveolar Post-alveolar Palatal Velar
Voiceless stop p t k
Voiced stop b d
Voiceless fricative f θ s ʃ x
Voiced fricative ɣ
Voiceless affricate t∫
Voiced affricate
Nasal m n
Trill r
Lateral l
Approximant w j


Front Central Back
High i iː y yː u uː
Mid e eː ø øː ә o oː
Low æ æː ɑ ɑː


/io/, /iːo/, /eo/, /eːo/, /æә/, /æːә/


  1. The lateral /l/ in initial position was plain [l] and elsewhere velarized [ł].
  2. The alveolar nasal /n/ is phonetically realized as velar [ŋ] if followed by [k] (þanc) or [g] (sing).
  3. The voiced velar fricative [ɣ] usually occurs medially (dagas) and thus could be considered as an allophone of /g/, but since it occasionally occurs initially (as in guma) and thus contrasts with the voiceless stop /k/, the voiced velar fricative can be considered phonemic. It never appears finally, position in which only the contrast of voicing is neutralized and only /x/ appears (sorh).
  4. Voiceless fricatives are in complementary distribution with the voiced fricatives: /s/, /f/, /θ/ have voiced allophones medially [z],[v], [h], so that /driːfan/ is phonetically [dri:van].
  5. The voiceless velar fricative /x/ has a glottal allophone [h] in initial position and a palatal allophone [ç] when preceded by high front vowels.
  6. Permitted initial consonant clusters: /xl-, xr-, xn-, xw-/ [hl-, hr-, hn-, hw-].
  7. Critical issue concerns whether short diphthongs, represented by the digraphs <eo, ea, io> are monophthongal rather than diphthongal. Here we adhere to Hogg’s position, who follows Lass and Anderson (1975).
  8. The mid vowel /e/ and /o/ were phonetically close to [ε] and [ɔ].
  9. In most dialects, the opposition of roundness in front mid vowels was not present (i.e. only /e/ and /eː/ occurred).
  10. /yː/ and /øː/ were new phonemes introduced only after the operation of i-umlaut on /u/, /o/ and diphthongs respectively. In early manuscripts, the graphemes <y> and <oe> were often replaced by <ui> and <oi> respectively.
  11. In a later stage, the second member of the diphthongs was reduced to a mid central vowel [ə]: /iə/, /iːə/, /eə/, /eːə/.


Hogg, Richard M. 1992. A grammar of Old English. Vol. 1: Phonology. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell.
Luick, Karl. 1914-40 [1964]. Historische Grammatik der englischen Sprache. Stuttgart [Oxford]: Bernhard Tauchnitz [Basil Blackwell].
Jones, Charles. 1989. A History of English Phonology. London: Longman.
Lass, Roger and John M. Anderson. 1975. Old English Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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Credits: apnetwork