Lexicon - Orthography - H.G. Fowler
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  Orthography & Pronunciation


Since the distinctions betweend the sounds of f and v are less distinct in Old English, they are both represented by f. Similarly, s and z are both represented by s.

Several Old English symbols are not used English today. These include æ (ash) which represents the vowel in Modern English 'hat', as well as þ (thorn) and ð, both of which represent the th(eth) in 'cloth' and 'clothe'. The capital of ð is Ð.


The stress in Old English usually falls on the first syllable. However, prepositional prefixes (for-) can be either accented (forweard, forward) or unaccented (forlornen, forlorn). For compound words in which both elements retain their full meaning (sæweall, seawall), the root syllable of the second element retains a secondary stress.


Both long and short vowels are used:

a as in 'and'
a as in 'an'
æ as in 'mat'
æas in 'has'
e as n bet
e as in become
i as in 'tin'
i as in 'seen'
o as in 'cough'
o as in 'row'
u as in 'pull'
u as in cool
y as i with lips in whistling position
y as i with lips in whistling position


All consonants are pronounced. Double consonants are pronounced doubled or long. (Thus -dd- is pronounced as 'red d', not as 'ready'.) Most consonants are pronounced in the same way as Modern English.

The letters s,f, þ, and ð are voiced as in 'risen', 'loaves', 'clothes', and the like. At the beginning and end, they are voiceless as in 'sit', 'loaf', 'path', 'cloth', and the like. The letter s and z, the letters f and v, and the voiced and unvoiced ð and þ were variations in Old English and not sounds of different significance. Accordingly, fæt (fat) and fæt (vat) could be pronounced with an initial f or v, according to dialect.

When used at the beginning of a word before a vowel, h is pronounced as in Modern English 'hound'. Otherwise, it is pronounced like the German ch in ich or ach, or like the Scots ch in loch.

Before a, o, u, and y, c is pronounced k and g is pronounced as in Modern English 'good'. Before e and i, c is pronounced like ch in Modern English 'child', and g is pronounced like y in Modern English 'yet'.

After or between back vowels, g is pronounced as w in Modern English 'draw' (from Old English dragan) and 'bow' (boga)

The combination sc (as in scip) is pronounced as the Modern English sh (ship). The combination cg ( as in ecg) is pronounced as Modern English dge (edge).


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