Episode 35: English Sounds and Roman Letters

As the sounds of English evolved in the 7th century, the first English scribes began to write the language with the Roman alphabet.  But the English scribes had to invent ways to represent the unique sounds of Old English.  In this episode, we explore the first English alphabet and the lingering effect of that alphabet on modern English spellings.

5 thoughts on “Episode 35: English Sounds and Roman Letters

  1. I have a question to English speakers, who don’t speak Dutch or German. Do you understand Dutch, if the person speaks very slow, or if you just read Dutch? Because as a German, I understand a lot of it, like this speech of Beatrix. Some parts are almost identical to German. On holidays in the Netherlands, my mother, who speaks just a little English, and the dutch woman next door, who only spoke a little German, used to chat for hours over the fence, both very slow and trying to pronounce very carefully. Fascinating experience for me, as a child. As Germans and English, we are looking at the dutch language from different directions, but you see the evolution, as in Strasse, straat, street.

    • Most English speakers cannot understand Dutch, except for the occasional word or perhaps a short sentence which uses Germanic words with cognates in Modern English.

      In researching and preparing the podcast, I have spent a great deal of time studying Old English words and grammar. I recently came across an audio clip in Dutch, and I was surprised at how familiar it sounded. I still did not understand most of it, but I could certainly pick out words and phrases that I would not have recognized before.

    • In January of 1960 I spent a night in a seamen’s hostel in Amsterdam. The landlady and other guests were Dutch, except for my roommate, a young Danish sailor. It was my first encounter with Dutch. But (1) I had just finished six months of study in Germany, and (2) I had a smattering of Norwegian from my mother, whose grandparents had immigrated to America from Norway. The Dutch, the Dane and I got along quite well.

    • I used to travel frequently on business to the Netherlands, and found I could not understand Dutch no matter how hard I tried. Not even Frisian, which sounds similar to English, but is still not comprehensible to me.

  2. I understand it as German sometimes (that second sentence, for instance). I don’t hear it as English at all, not even the tiniest bit.

    Using your Strasse example, I believe he says in this episode that’s it’s German that evolved during one of the sound shifts. Dutch- to me- is unshifted German.

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