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Query Details

Query Subject:   Old Norse and Icelandic Vowels
Author:   Andrew Jarrette
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Linguistic LingField(s):  Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s):  Icelandic
Norse, Old

Language Family:  Germanic

Query:   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
LL Issue: 25.185
Date posted: 12-Jan-2014


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