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LINGUIST List 25.185

Sun Jan 12 2014

Qs: Old Norse and Icelandic Vowels

Editor for this issue: Alex Isotalo <alxlinguistlist.org>

Date: 11-Jan-2014
From: Andrew Jarrette <anjarrettegmail.com>
Subject: Old Norse and Icelandic Vowels
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I have three mysteries about Old Norse and Icelandic that I would like to have cleared up.

One is, why is it that Old Norse i-stems like 'gestr' and 'ferð' have i-umlaut, yet other i-stems like 'matr' and 'burðr' do not (assuming these are all i-stems, of which I'm not sure)?

Another question is, why is it that in Icelandic, 'ó' is a mid diphthong [oU], yet its umlaut is now 'æ', a low diphthong [aI], even though this comes from earlier 'œ', which presumably was a mid vowel, [ø:] or similar. Why is it that a former mid long front vowel merges with a low long front vowel, yet the mid long back vowel is kept distinct from the low long back vowel? 'œ' could have become [eI] very easily, and more expectedly. It looks to me like the current pronunciation [aI] is a spelling pronunciation, resulting from the graphic merging of the graphemes 'æ' and 'œ'. Does anyone know whether this is the case?

My third question is, why is it that 'ǫ' and 'u' are fronted to [œ] and [Y] respectively, but 'o' was not fronted? I can understand with regard to 'u' , because [U] is somewhat further front than [u], [o], or [ɔ]. But how was 'ǫ' pronounced? Wasn't it [ɔ] or [ɒ]? Why would these be subject to fronting while ([o] or [ɔ]?) was not? Was 'ǫ' actually somewhat centralized, like [U]?


Andrew Jarrette

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics

Subject Language(s): Icelandic (isl)
                            Norse, Old (non)
Language Family(ies): Germanic

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