Old English Consonant System

146. Table 9 shows the system of OE consonants in the 9thand 10th c.

The system consisted of several correlated sets of consonants. All the consonants fell into noise consonants and sonorants. The noise consonants were subdivided into plosives and fricatives; plosives were further differentiated as voiced and voiceless, the difference being phonemic. The fricative consonants were also subdivided into voiced and voiceless; in this set, however, sonority was merely a phonetic difference between allophones. Cf. OE pin bin, where the difference in sonority is phonemically relevant (NE pin, bin)and OE hlāf [f] hlāford [v] where the difference is positional: the consonant is voiced intervocally and voiceless finally (incidentally, voiced and voiceless fricatives were not distinguished in OE spelling). The opposition of palatal and velar lingual consonants [k] [k'], [g] [g'] had probably become phonemic by the time of the earliest written records (see 141). (Some scholars include in the system one more palatal consonant: [sk], spelt as sc, e. g. OE scip (NE ship); others treat it as a sequence of two sounds [s'] and [k'] until Early ME when they fused into a single sibilant [ʃ].) It is noteworthy that among the OE consonants there were few sibilants and no affricates.

Table 9

Old English Consonants

Place of articulation Manner of articulation Labial, labiodental Fore lingual (dental) Mediolingual (palatal) Back lingual (velar)
Noise consonants plosive voiceless p p: t t: k' k': k k:
voiced b b: d d: g': g g:
fricative voiceless f f: θ θ: s s: x' x': x x: (h)
voiced v ð z γ' (j) γ
Sonorants m m: n n:   (ŋ)
w r l i  

147.The most universal distinctive feature in the consonant system was the difference in length. During the entire OE period long consonants are believed to have been opposed to short ones on a phonemic level; they were mostly distinguished in intervocal position. Single and geminated (long) consonants are found in identical phonetic conditions. Cf. OE lǣde 1st p. sg Pres. of lǣdan (NE lead)and lǣdde (Past); OE sticca (NE stick) stica (Gen. case pl of OE stice, NE stitch). In final position the quantitative opposition was irrelevant and the second letter, which would indicate length, was often lacking, e. g. OE man and eal are identical to mann, eall (NE man, all).


  1. A survive the education system
  2. A. What countries is English the first language? Match English-speaking countries with their national flags and capitals.
  3. An Extract from the Late Middle English works criticizing the Church
  4. Ask your friend questions in English about their content. Summarize his/her answers.
  5. B) Argue the pros and cons of: 1. Tutorial system. 2. Students' uniform. 3. Residential colleges.
  7. Changes of Short Vowels in Early New English
  8. Changes of Stressed Vowels in Early Old English
  9. Changes of Unstressed Vowels in Early Old English

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Loss of Consonants in Some Positions | QUESTIONS AND ASSIGNMENTS

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