English Spelling change after Norman Conquest

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      Anglo-Saxon Alphabet was an adaptation of the Roman letters by early Christian missionaries from Ireland. They had made it roughly a phonetic representation of the vernacular of their converts. Sounds which did not exist in Latin were improvised by using letters from the heathen 'Runic' writing. Runic letters used by priests (Germanic people) and men of learning (Cynewulf's signed poems are in runic letters). These letters consisted of straight-lined symbols scratched upon stone, or by inventing a new symbol.

Anglo-Saxon Alphabet was an adaptation of the Roman letters by early Christian missionaries from Ireland. They had made it roughly a phonetic representation of the vernacular of their converts.

      Thus old English sign 'p' from the Runic and the & invented newly by taking the Irish form of the Latin 'd' and putting a line through its upper stroke. Both these letters represented th-sounds, and their functions were replaced by the th which is still used in the later middle English period. But the early printers and fifteenth century writers often used a 'y' in certain common words like the and that for this symbol p: and hence spellings such as ye for the and yat for that are found as late as the 18th century.

      The consonants have changed relatively not so markedly but vowels, particularly the long ones have become almost completely transformed during the history of the languages. From the fifteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries the long vowels and some of the short ones changed very greatly in sound. From Aelfric, the Anglo-Saxon prose writer through Chaucer in the middle English period to Shakespeare in the Early modern period, changes in the pronunciation of vowels in the history of English may be noted.

      Old English began by being roughly phonetic in its spelling. But in the four centuries of its written history (from 700 to 1100) this spelling became to a considerable extent unphonetic with the development of the pronunciation. For example, the 'c' in the old English words Cuman 'come' and 'Cyrice' 'church' had approximately the sound of k, though the one was in the back or gutteral position in the mouth and the other in the palatal or front. But by the end of the period the front 'c' in Cyrice had Come to be sounded as a sibilant consonantal (tf) like the modern ch. As the French scribes habitually used ch for this sound in their own language.

      Middle English developed the convention of using the letters ch for this sound (tf) generally. Again, the Old English y had the sound of 'y'. Though this sound remained in some dialects, the French scribes (after the Norman Conquest) wrote it 'u' according to the use of this symbol in their own writing, and hence the spelling with 'u' in modern church. But the French writers found in English the usual spelling of the sound long u (u:) as in Old English hus (house) and the shortu (u) as in Old English lufu love'. This is represented by the one symbol u. The letter u did duty for three distinct English sounds: (y) (u:) (u). In the writing of the period the method of making the letters m, n and u was such that they were very easily confused. To avoid the confusions, the French copyists conventionalised the practice of using ou for longu as in hous (hu:s) and o for short u whenever it came next to m, n, or other confusable symbols. So lufu came to be written as loue (medial v sound represented by a second u).

      That is why so many words with the pronunciation of u have continued to be written, regardless of sound with O ; such as love, monk, and sun. Corresponding to middle English loue, monk (munk) and sone (suno), which have become modern English (IAv),: (MAnk) and (SAN) with retaining the now quite unphonetic spelling with O. Similarly, the French scribes had improvised a spelling gh for the then English strongly sounded gutteral h (x) in words like right old English riht and might (old English miht). But these gutteral sounds became silent in the later fifteenth century just when printing was becoming influential. Consequently we have a whole series of such words in which the gh-spelling may seem quite meaningless (right, might etc).

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