Interpreting Middle English Spelling Evidence Using Evidence from Modern Dutch
MetadataShow full item record
During the Middle English period, the digraphs <ai>, <ay>, <ei>, <æi>, denoting reflexes of the Old English long monophthongs ǣ, ē and ā, and <oi>, <eo> and <ou>, denoting reflexes of the Old English long monophthong ō, appear in written material. These spellings alternate with expected <a>, <e>, <æ> and <o>. While the <i> in <ai>, <ay>, <ei>, <æi> and <oi> might mark vowel length or raising, this paper investigates the possibility that digraphs were used to denote a diphthongal realisation, based on the analysis of spelling and rhyme data extracted from two Middle English texts from the West Midlands. Secondly, a new methodological approach is explored by comparing the possible diphthongisation in Middle English to a sound change involving the diphthongisation of the long monophthongs /eː/, /oː/ and /øː/ in certain varieties of Modern Dutch. The presence of a process causing diphthongisation of long monophthongs in Modern Dutch suggests the possibility of a similar process affecting long monophthongs in Middle English. The spelling evidence discussed in this study supports the claim that the tendency to diphthongise long mid monophthongs in varieties of Modern Dutch is also found in Middle English.