10 thoughts on “Episode 34: Sounds Like Old English

  1. I listened to this whole podcast straight through and it’s pretty great! I like the diversions too, even if you do get pretty far afield from English sometimes.

    Interesting stuff about the softening of hard “G”s at the end of words in Old English. So that accounts for English “day” vs. German “tag”, English “way” vs. German “weg”, etc.?

    • Rootboy,

      Yes, ‘tag’ became ‘day,’ and ‘weg’ became ‘way.’ In fact, both ‘way and ‘weigh’ derive from the same common root. The ‘G’ sound is very tricky though. It’s difficult to establish any rules for exactly how and why it changed. As is often the case, the podcast tends to smooth over the rough edges. I try to mention the general patterns and let the professional linguists worry about the details.

      And yes, I do tend to cover subjects that aren’t always directly related to English. I try to provide some historical context for the specific developments in the language – and I think it makes the overall story a little more interesting. It also relates to the ultimate etymology of words in English. Usually, when I digress into a particular historical topic, I do it with the intention of discussing how certain words from those events came into English.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast, and be sure to keep listening!

      Regards,
      Kevin Stroud

  2. Spelling is a weak point for me, so an area I’m not fond of, but your podcast is making me realize spellings tell stories about whet words were born and where they’ve traveled; it’s fascinating.

    • I read somewhere, but I can’t recall where, that English spelling makes it look non-Germanic. If we were too adopt a more “Germanic” way of writing, English would look decidedly more Germanic than it does now. I know that may seem obvious, but the same can’t be said for Romance languages that would adopt a more Germanic spelling structure.

  3. This may be covered in next episode, but I’ve always wondered why we use “eigh” spellings for the “ay” sound; as in weigh, eight, freight, etc. Does this have to do with the g/y switch?

    Great podcast again!

    • Jim,

      I have already composed most of the next episode. It will focus on the original English alphabet and will include the ultimate origin of many modern English spellings. It includes the ultimate origin of the modern ‘GH’ spelling as found in words like ‘weigh’ and ‘cough.’ So stay tuned! I hope to have the next episode ready next week.

  4. This is getting a long way from English, but one of the reasons Polish spelling is so alarming-looking is that they use the Latin, not the Cyrillic, alphabet and consequently have to use several Latin letters where one Cyrillic one would do.

  5. Hi Kevin,
    I’ve been an avid listener of your compelling podcast since senior high. The sc to sh sound shift rings quite interesting. Does the OE word scyld eventually morph into modern German ‘Schuld’, though it doesn’t make its way into MnE? And does modern German combination ‘sch’ (pronounced /sh/) also have something to do with the shift? Is there a connection between ‘skipper’ and ‘shipper’ (lit.)?

    Gramercy for your great podcast!

    Justin
    Shanghai, China

    • Justin,

      Old English ‘scyld’ (meaning ‘guilt’) and German ‘Schuld’ (meaning ‘guilt’ or ‘debt’) both derived from a common Germanic word which was something like ‘skal’ and which meant ‘to be under an obligation.’ That Germanic root ultimately produced the word ‘shall’ in Modern English. So the ‘SK’ to ‘SH’ sound shift is represented by those examples. However, I don’t know enough about the history of German to answer the question regarding the same sound shift in German. Thanks for the question!

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