Colloquium: Dr. Sverre Stausland Johnsen on Vowel reduction in Old English and its origin in phonetic error

When: Friday February 13th 4:15pm
Where: H-527



In Old English, an original unstressed long *’ō’ is in some
morphological categories reflected as variation between ‘u’ and ‘a’.
The traditional explanation for this variation is that *’ō’ generally
developed to ‘a’, but that it developed to ‘u’ when the following
syllable also had a *’u’.

My hypothesis is that *’ō’ reduced to ‘u’ in medial syllables due to
the short duration of such syllables. A statistical study of an Old
English corpus strongly supports my new hypothesis, and finds no
support for the traditional explanation. I suggest that *’ō’ has
reduced and raised to ‘u’ as the result of phonetic errors by speakers
and listeners, and that a purely grammatical account for this
phenomenon seems redundant.



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