Episode 96: From Alpha to Omega

During the early Middle English period, the long vowel sound represented by letter A started to shift to a new sound represented by letter O.  In this episode, we explore this early vowel shift, and we also explore the dispute between King John and Pope Innocent III over the selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury.

9 thoughts on “Episode 96: From Alpha to Omega

  1. You mentioned a book on the Bible. It’s called Revelation, not Revelations.

    Phlippians is addressed to the churches in Philippi. Galatians, to those in Galatia. Revelation, to those in seven cities in Asia Minor, none of them named Revelatia. It’s a pet peeve of mine. 🙂

    Before I listened to this I was listening to Old Blind Dogs, which sings mostly in Scots.

    “He’s ta’en the fiddle intae baith his hands
    And brak it o’er a stane.” -MacPhersons Rant

    Keep up the good work. Blessings

    • “He has taken the fiddle intO bOth his hands
      and brOk it over a stOne.”
      In Danish:
      “Han har taget fiolen i baegge sine haender
      og braekket den over en sten”
      quite alike… 🙂
      …Aha, so even the word stone was pronounced with an ”aa”: ”staan”.
      In German it is “Stein” pronounced “shtaain”.
      In Danish it is “sten” pronounced like English “stain” (spot).

      // Helge (Helyae)

  2. I started listening to The History of English podcast more than a year ago, and I finally caught up! So now get it in gear; I need more episodes!

    I supported the podcast through Patreon for a while, then had to suspend, but I just resigned up. Great, great stuff. Thank you so much for doing this.

  3. Took me a while to get around to listening to this, but it was completely fascinating! Had me wondering about the exceptions – the internet says “name” is from OE “nama”, but we don’t pronounce it “nome”. Does your research indicate why some words were subject to this shift and not others?

    Keep up the good work, Kevin!

    • Thanks for the question. This is actually a reply to both Rootboy and Michael Grant below regarding the exceptions to the A-O sound change. First of all, this is one of the big challenges with any discussion of English vowel changes. There are always LOTS of exceptions.

      As I noted in the episode, the sound change occurred with the ‘long’ A sound. It didn’t occur with the ‘short’ A sound. So that accounts for some of the exceptions. I think that ‘name’ (nama) and ‘make’ (macian’) had short A sounds in Old English (at least according to my resources). That probably explains why those words didn’t become ‘nome’ and ‘moke’ in Modern English. Presumably, the short vowels in ‘nama’ and ‘macian’ were elongated in Middle English, and then changed again with the Great Vowel Shift to their modern /ay/ sound. I haven’t researched the history of those words in any detail, so those are just my quick thoughts.

      Words like ‘father’ and ‘what’ are exceptions because they also had a different vowel sound in Old English. Both had the /æ/ sound found in modern words like ‘hat’ and ‘bat.’ ‘Father’ was typically spelled as ‘fæder,’ and ‘what’ was typically spelled as ‘hwæt.’ Again, this sound shifted to the /ah/ sound in later periods of English.

  4. Fascinating stuff. But I too was left wondering over the words with an A that didn’t make that transition; the ones that immediately occurred to me were “father” and “make”.

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