Episode 89: ‘I Before E’ and All That

During the Middle English period, scribes developed a variety of spelling innovations to distinguish the sound of the various vowels. Some of those innovations were borrowed from French, and some were native to English.  In this episode, we explore those spelling techniques, many of which still survive in Modern English.

9 thoughts on “Episode 89: ‘I Before E’ and All That

    • Hi Gavriel,

      I tried to limit the discussion in this episode to developments that occurred during the Middle English period. I will have more to say about the vowels when we get to Modern English. I will also cover Noah Webster’s spelling reforms in some detail at that point.

  1. Something I would have liked to hear about is words ending in -ire, like “fire” and “ire”, since their pronunciation isn’t like other words with the i-consonant-e combination. Was their pronunciation or spelling different in Middle English?

    • Hi Gil,

      “Fire” was “fyr” in Old English. “Ire” comes from French and retains its original spelling. I think that both words follow the standard convention for ‘silent E’ in Modern English. Both words have a silent E on the end, and that E indicates that the letter I is pronounced as a long vowel. Of course, the pronunciation of ‘-ire’ can vary in Modern English. For example, “shire” has a long vowel, but “Hampshire” has a short vowel.

  2. Just wanted to say that History of English is a fantastic podcast. It has so much learning and to combine history and language just make for amazing storytelling and ties it down into something that is concrete and real to all of us. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *