The Anglish Alphabet

From The Anglish Wiki

This article is an overview of the alphabet and spelling system we argue is fitting for Anglish. The letters, letter positions, and letters names are based on textual evidence from Middle English manuscripts, and inference from other Latin alphabets. The rules of this alphabet conform to what we believe to have been the last dominant native spelling conventions.

This article is the result of collaborative effort and research from the Anglish Discord, most notably the members Hurlebatte, Yose, Eadwine, and Andwlite. For supporting evidence see Spelling Timeline.

The Alphabet

LETTER NAME MAIN SOUNDS NOTES
Aa a ⁘ /eɪ/ /æ/, /ɑ/, /eɪ/ long
Bb bee ⁘ /bi/ /b/, ∅ rare often silent in ⟨mb⟩
Cc cee ⁘ /tʃi/ /k/, /tʃ/
Dd dee ⁘ /di/ /d/
Ee e ⁘ /i/ /ɛ/, /i/ long
Ff eff ⁘ /ɛf/ /f/, [v]
Gg gee ⁘ /ji/ /g/, /j/, /f/ rare, ∅ rare often silent in ⟨aug⟩, ⟨eig⟩, ⟨oug⟩, ⟨uge⟩
Hh hay ⁘ /heɪ/ (?) /h/
Ii i ⁘ /aɪ/ /ɪ/, /aɪ/ long
Jj jee ⁘ /ji/ (?) /j/, /dʒ/, /ʒ/ foreign words only
Kk kay ⁘ /keɪ/ /k/
Ll el ⁘ /ɛl/ /l/
Mm em ⁘ /ɛm/ /m/
Nn en ⁘ /ɛn/ /n/
Oo o ⁘ /oʊ/ /ɑ/, /ɒ/, /oʊ/ long
Pp pee ⁘ /pi/ /p/
Qq que ⁘ /kaʊ/ (?) /k/ foreign words only
Rr ar ⁘ /ɑr/ /ɹ/
Ss ess ⁘ /ɛs/ /s/, [z]
Tt tee ⁘ /ti/ /t/
Uu u ⁘ /aʊ/ /ʊ/, /ʌ/, /aʊ/ long
Vv vee ⁘ /vi/ (?) /v/ foreign words only
Ww wee ⁘ /wi/ (?) /w/ foreign words only
Xx ex ⁘ /ɛks/ /ks/, [gz]
Yy wye ⁘ /waɪ/ /ɪ/, /i/, /aɪ/ long
Zz zet ⁘ /tsɛt/ or /zɛt/ (?) /ts/, /z/ foreign words only
Ƿƿ ƿin ⁘ /wɪn/ /w/
Þþ þorn ⁘ /θɔɹn/ /θ/, /ð/

Since Old English used ⟨q⟩, ⟨z⟩, and "proto ⟨v⟩" (⟨u⟩ as /v/) when writing foreign names, and since other Germanic Latin alphabets have adopted such letters for writing foreign names, it seems fitting that an Anglish Alphabet would also adopt such letters for this limited use.

The positions of ⟨ƿ⟩ and ⟨þ⟩ within the alphabet are based on the positions they take in the manuscripts Stowe MS 57 and Cotton Titus D 18.

Reversions

# FROM TO EXAMPLES
1 ⟨c⟩ as /s/ ⟨s⟩ cinder→sinder ⁘ fleece→flees
2 ⟨ch⟩ & ⟨tch⟩ as /tʃ/ ⟨c⟩ or ⟨ce⟩ chin→cin ⁘ choke→ceoke ⁘ match→mac
3 ⟨dge⟩ as /dʒ/ ⟨cg⟩ sedge→secg
4 ⟨gh⟩ as historical [x~ɣ] ⟨g⟩ high→hige ⁘ night→nigt
5 ⟨ie⟩ as /i/ ⟨ee⟩ field→feeld
6 ⟨le⟩ as /əl/ ⟨el⟩ nettle→nettel
7 ⟨o⟩ as OE ⟨u⟩ ⟨u⟩ son→sun ⁘ some→sum
8 ⟨ou⟩ & ⟨ow⟩ as /aʊ/ ⟨u⟩ or ⟨ue⟩ or ⟨uCe⟩ hound→hund ⁘ sow→sue ⁘ loud→lude
9 ⟨ough⟩ as /aʊ/ & /ʌf/ ⟨uge⟩ plough→pluge ⁘ tough→tuge
10 ⟨qu⟩ as /kw/ ⟨cƿ⟩ queen→cƿeen
11 ⟨sh⟩ as /ʃ/ ⟨sc⟩ ship→scip
12 ⟨th⟩ as /θ/ or /ð/ ⟨þ⟩ the→þe
13 ⟨u⟩ as historical /ju/ ⟨eƿ⟩ hue→heƿ
14 ⟨u⟩ as OE ⟨y⟩ ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ bury→berry ⁘ burden→berden
15 ⟨v⟩ as [v] ⟨f⟩ leave→leaf ⁘ over→ofer
16 ⟨w⟩ ⟨ƿ⟩ water→ƿater
17 ⟨wh⟩ as historical /hw/ ⟨hƿ⟩ whelp→hƿelp
18 ⟨y⟩ as /j/ ⟨g⟩ or ⟨ge⟩ yes→ges ⁘ yore→geore
19 ⟨z⟩ as native [z] ⟨s⟩ graze→grase ⁘ fizzy→fisy

1 ⟨c⟩ for /s/ came into regular English spelling from French, so we revert it. ⁘ Initial ⟨c⟩ with the value of /s/ is to be changed to ⟨s⟩ ('cinder' to 'sinder'). Final ⟨ce⟩ is changed to ⟨s⟩ or ⟨se⟩ depending on circumstances, because sometimes ⟨e⟩ must be kept to mark vowel length ('lice' to 'lise'), otherwise it is dropped ('fleece' to 'flees'). A case like 'once' is a bit more complex because the spelling should retain a magic-E for etymological reasons, which results in 'ones' (this spelling is well attested in Middle English).

2 ⟨ch⟩ for /tʃ/ came into regular English spelling from French, so we revert it. ⁘ ⟨ch⟩ for /tʃ/ appears early in English in the Ormulum, a manuscript from the 1100s. Before ⟨ch⟩ was borrowed, English scribes had two ways to cut down on ambiguity. First, some scribes used ⟨k⟩ when ⟨c⟩ would be ambiguous. Second, some scribes would insert a silent ⟨e⟩ or a silent ⟨i⟩ after ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ to "trigger" their palatalised values. We recommend this "⟨e⟩ insertion" convention to fight ambiguity.

"Anglo-Saxon scribes sometimes clarified the pronunciation of c using two devices. . . one device was to show the /tʃ/ value where it might otherwise not be apparent by inserting an E or I after the C; thus þencan could also be written þencean. The other device was to replace C by K to show its /k/ value before a front vowel: cyn 'kin', cyning 'king', cycen 'kitchen' were sometimes written kin (so contrasting with palatalized c in cin 'cin'), kyning, kicen. Likewise the genitive case of folk 'people' could be either folces or folkes 'of the people'." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

3 ⟨dg⟩ seems to be a modification of, or a less ambiguous replacement for, ⟨gg⟩. For this reason we link it to the Norman Invasion. Before 1066, ⟨cg⟩ was dominant, with ⟨gc⟩ being an alternative. Shortly after 1066 ⟨gg⟩/⟨ȝȝ⟩ spiked in popularity, and was the norm by 1200.

4 ⟨gh⟩ for /x/, ⟨y⟩ for /j/, and ⟨th⟩ for /θ/ are all suspected to be part of the same spelling reform wherein letters not deemed Latin enough were purged from the English Latin alphabet. We suspect this because ⟨þ⟩ and Insular ⟨g⟩ were dropped roughly simultaneously around 1390-1430. ⁘ ⟨gh⟩ seems to be based on the many French or French-inspired digraphs found in Middle English spelling. The mainstream way of writing [x~ɣ] before the introduction of ⟨gh⟩ was Insular ⟨g⟩. Contrary to some people's assumptions, Insular ⟨g⟩ does not seem to have been given the job of [x~ɣ] by the Normans, instead, Insular ⟨g⟩ had been standing for [ɣ] since Old English times, and around 1250-1300 (long after the first waves of French influence) it became popular to use Insular ⟨g⟩ for [x] as well (previously, [x] had usually been written with ⟨h⟩), perhaps as a result of the two sounds merging.

5 ⟨ie⟩ standing for /eː/ (pronounced /i(ː)/ today) seems to have rubbed off onto English from French loanwords like 'piece' and 'siege'. We recommend reverting ⟨ie⟩ to ⟨ee⟩, including in words like 'field'. Although 'feeld' may seem like a strange spelling at first, note that it follows the same format as words like 'roost', which consist of a doubled vowel followed by two consonants. A magic-E spelling like 'felde' would violate the prohibition against attaching magic-E to ⟨ld⟩ (we write 'mild' and 'wild' not 'milde' and 'wilde').

"After the Conquest, French scribes introduced some new spellings. . . IE was used to represent /eː/. . ." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

6 ⟨le⟩ at the end of words seems to have rubbed off onto English from French loanwords like 'people'.

"The development of people offers a good paradigm for many words ending in -LE: Lat populum > OFr poeple > ME peple > people. The final syllable of people and similar words was commonly spelt in ME with a wide variety of vowel letters, as -EL, -IL, -UL, -YL, etc. In EModE, printers showed a growing tendency to prefer the Fr -LE spelling in many words of both Franco-Lat and OE descent." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

7 ⟨o⟩ in Middle English taking the place of ⟨u⟩ is linked to French, and is reverted in this system. Relevant words include: 'come'; 'some'; 'son'; 'wone'; 'love'; 'above'; 'dove'; 'shove'; 'honey'; 'wonder'; 'wolf'; 'wort'; 'worse'; 'worry'. The Latin loans 'monk' and 'ton' were also affected by this.

"The convention of using o for earlier u begins in late Latin and is extended first to French and then to English." - Venezky, Richard L. Visible Language; Detroit, Michigan etc. Volume 10, Issue 4, pages 351-365
"In the handwriting of the ME period much more than in that of the OE, the letters i (and j), u (and v), n, m, and w tended to be made simply by one, two, or three short upright strokes (technically called minims) without horizontal connecting strokes at the top of bottom between minims forming parts of the same letter, and sometimes without a dot over the single minim standing for i (or j). The result was that any word containing two or more of these letters in sequence became difficult to read, a succession of, say, four minims being interpretable as nu, un, mi, wi ,im ,iw, ini, iui (ivi), nii, uii (vii), iin, or iiu (iiv). In some contemporary French dialects, o had come, in certain phonetic situations, to indicate the same sound as u; French scribes were not slow to substitute o very generally for u whenever u was etymologically called for in the neighborhood of other letters made up of minims. This practice came to be widely imitated in writing English, and hence ME sone, which was easier to read than sune. . ." - Early English: An Introduction to Old and Middle English, Clark, page 122

8 ⟨ou⟩ standing for /uː/ was borrowed from French. Beforehand, early Middle English represented /uː/ with ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩, depending on the writer and the circumstances. Some instances of ⟨ou⟩ are native, having arisen through vowel breaking; words ending in ⟨-ough⟩ which rhyme with 'dough' and 'trough' have the "English ⟨ou⟩" and should retain ⟨ou⟩.

9 In cases where /uːx/ became /aʊ/ or /ʌf/ (like the words 'plough' and 'rough'), it should be written ⟨uge⟩. Some instances of ⟨ou⟩ are native, having arisen through vowel breaking; words ending in ⟨-ough⟩ which rhyme with 'dough' and 'trough' have the "English ⟨ou⟩" and should retain ⟨ou⟩. Modern spelling conventions do not allow magic-E to occur after ⟨nd⟩, so a word like 'ground' should go to 'grund' not 'grunde'. Although 'should', 'would', and 'could' had short vowels, they seem to have been caught up in the French influenced shift to ⟨ou⟩. We propose changing them to 'sculd', 'wuld', and 'culd', but other possibilities exist, such as 'woold' and 'cud'.

10 ⟨q⟩ was borrowed into regular usage under influence from French. It seems to have become common in the 1200s. We chose ⟨cƿ⟩ over ⟨kƿ⟩ because it seems to have remained the most common spelling before the introduction of ⟨q⟩.

11 ⟨sh⟩ seems to be a shortening of ⟨sch⟩ which was almost certainly modelled on ⟨ch⟩. Before ⟨sh/sch⟩, English used ⟨sc⟩ for /ʃ/.

12 ⟨th⟩ for /θ/, ⟨y⟩ for /j/, ⟨gh⟩ for /x/ and are all suspected to be part of the same spelling reform wherein letters not deemed Latin enough were purged from the English Latin alphabet. We suspect this because ⟨þ⟩ and Insular ⟨g⟩ were dropped roughly simultaneously around 1390-1430. ⁘ Although ⟨th⟩ had been used in Old English by some writers, it fell out of use for hundreds of years before being reintroduced. For this reason we do not link the early use with the modern use.

13 ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩ standing for /ju/ developed from French influence. English borrowed French loanwords which contained /y/, and writers chose to represent this sound with ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩. Previously these spellings stood for English's native /uː/, but that phoneme began to be spelled in the French manner with ⟨ou⟩, leaving ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩ open to being repurposed. Making matters more complicated, this French /y/ merged with English's native /iu/, resulting in words with /iu/ sometimes being respelled with ⟨u⟩, ⟨ue⟩, and ⟨uCe⟩. Because of this we write 'hue' not 'hew'.

14 ⟨u⟩ taking the place of what was once Old English ⟨y⟩ is linked to French. Although /y/ had merged with /e/ or /i/ for many English speakers by 1066, some people in the Southwest and the West Midlands retained /y/. This native /y/ was then rendered as ⟨u⟩ in the French manner. Due to this, we recommend changing: 'burden' to 'birden' or 'berden'; 'buy' to 'bye'; 'bury' to 'bery'; 'busy' to 'bisy'; 'cudgel' to 'kicgel'; 'crutch' to 'cric'; 'shuttle' to 'scittel'.

Already in OE times (around 900), ⟨y⟩, ⟨'ý⟩' (phonetic value: /y/, /yː/) had become /e/, /eː/ in Kent and Surrey, Essex and Suffolk. It remained /y/, /yː/ in the South West and the West Midlands, where it was spelled ⟨u⟩ according to French custom. In the East Midlands and throughout the north, however, it was unrounded to /i/, /iː/. The position of London explains how all three developments can be found with Chaucer.
Translated into English from the original German:

"Bereits in ae. Zeit (um 900) war in Kent und Surrey, Essex und Suffolk y, ý (Lautwert: y, y:) zu e, e: geworden. Es blieb y, y: im Südwesten und im westlichen Mittelland, wo es nach frz. Gewohnheit u geschrieben wurde. Im östlichen Mittelland und im ganzen Norden wurde es hingegen zu i, i: entrundet. Aus der Lage Londons erklärte es sich, daß sich bei Chaucer alle drei Entwicklungen belegen lassen." – Bähr, Dieter (1997). Einführung ins Mittelenglische. UTB, Stuttgart.

15 ⟨v⟩, or more accurately the practice of using ⟨u⟩ for /v/, seems to have caught on in England under Norman Influence. While English manuscripts before 1066 did sometimes use ⟨u⟩ for /v/, this was mostly reserved for foreign names. After 1066 the practice seems to have spread to native English words.

16 ⟨w⟩ seems to have entered English with the Norman Invasion (although Anglo-Saxon writers had been familiar with the practice of using ⟨uu⟩ in Latin to render Germanic /w/). ⟨w⟩ was used in Norman French in the 12th century (Bodleian Library MS. Douce 320), and judging by the shape of this character when it appears in English texts from the 12th century (Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 636) it was apparently borrowed directly from French.

17 ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ is deemed French influence. While we have considered that the loss of ⟨hl⟩ and ⟨hr⟩ could have pressured ⟨hƿ⟩ to change to ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ to match ⟨wl/ƿl⟩ and ⟨wr/ƿr⟩, the lack of manuscripts with ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ but not ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨sch/sh⟩ is too striking to not conclude there is a link between ⟨wh/ƿh⟩ and the Norman Invasion. Possibly related is 'rhedmonath', a Latinized spelling of 'hrædmonað/hredmonaþ/hreðmonaþ' wherein ⟨hr⟩ was changed to ⟨rh⟩, indicating a general Latinate preference for putting ⟨h⟩ after consonants and not before.

". . . the E is always retained after V, since the lack of clear distinction in spelling between the sounds values of V and U/W before the 17th century led writers to mark final /v/ with a following E. . ." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

18 ⟨y⟩ for /j/, ⟨th⟩ for /θ/, and ⟨gh⟩ for /x/ are all suspected to be part of the same spelling reform wherein letters not deemed Latin enough were purged from the English Latin alphabet. We suspect this because ⟨þ⟩ and Insular ⟨g⟩ were dropped roughly simultaneously around 1390-1430. ⁘ Some scribes would insert a silent ⟨e⟩ or a silent ⟨i⟩ after ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ to "trigger" their palatalised values. We recommend this "⟨e⟩ insertion" convention to fight ambiguity. Note that the shift from spellings like 'daȝ' to 'day/dai' predate this purge, and in all likelihood came about naturally because ⟨ay/ai⟩ better reflected the actual pronunciation by the 1300s.

19 ⟨z⟩ was rarely used in Old English, and virtually never in native words (apparently when it did it stood for /ts/, like in German today). The letter began to appear in native words after English had taken in many French loanwords which contained it.

"It was probably pronounced /ts/, as implied by the variant OE spellings 'milze', 'miltse' 'mildness'." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson
"In OFr. . . Z served a variety of functions and under Fr influence it came into ever wider, though inconsistent, use in Eng through the ME and EModE periods." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

Misc Reversions

Some consonants were doubled under Latin influence. We recommend reverting: ‘accursed’ to ‘acursed’; ‘allay’ to ‘alay’; ‘afford’ to ‘aford’; ‘affright’ to ‘afright’; ‘anneal’ to ‘aneal’.

"The form anneal, however, derives from OE anælan; spellings of this word with NN are first attested in the 17th century, by analogy with Latinate forms such as annex (compare similar doubling of C, F, L in accursed, afford, allay)." - The History of English Spelling, Upward & Davidson

Because French pronounced ⟨g⟩ as /dʒ/ in some instances, it became desirable in some cases to distinguish ⟨g⟩ making /dʒ/ from ⟨g⟩ making /g/. That is the origin of the ⟨gue⟩ and ⟨gui⟩ spellings. That being so, we recommend reverting: guest to gest; guess to gess; guild to gild.

Here are some random recommendations: 'ache' to 'ake'; 'ghost' to 'goast'; 'harbour' to 'harbor'; 'island' to 'iland'; 'mould' (meaning: 'loose earth') to 'mold'; 'Rhine' to 'Rine'; 'rhyme' to 'rime'; 'sailor' to 'sailer'; 'scythe' to 'sithe'; 'tongue' to 'tung'; 'acre' to 'aker'.

Alternative Reversions

⟨aa⟩ for long A was not selected to be a recommended reversion because it was never particularly popular.

⟨ck⟩ was not reverted to ⟨k⟩/⟨kk⟩ because we have not linked the former to French influence.

⟨h⟩ for historical [x~ɣ] was not revived because ⟨g⟩ was more popular.

⟨ii⟩ for long I was not revived because it was never particularly popular.

⟨kƿ⟩ was not revived because ⟨cƿ⟩ seems to have been the more dominant spelling convention around when ⟨qu⟩ was borrowed.

⟨x⟩ for /ʃ/ was not revived because it was never particularly popular.

⟨æ⟩ was not revived because it seems to have died a natural death when its short value merged with the short value of ⟨a⟩, and its long value merged with the long value of ⟨ea⟩. As an aside, some scribes around the year 1200 preferred to use ⟨æ⟩ instead of ⟨ea⟩ for the merged phoneme, which yielded spellings like ‘læd’ in contrast with Old English and Modern English ‘lead’.

⟨ȝ⟩ was not revived because it being a separate letter from Insular ⟨g⟩ is a result of French influence. The recommendation is to use ⟨g⟩, not ⟨ȝ⟩, but to give ⟨g⟩ an Insular appearance when possible.

⟨ð⟩ was not revived because we have not linked its death to French influence. We can see that writers shifted towards using ⟨þ⟩ exclusively, but we do not know why. We assume it was deemed redundant and dropped.

A Demonstration of Anglish Spelling

The following is an Anglish translation of 'The North Wind and the Sun.' Grounded on the English language version published in the 1999 IPA Handbook, and translated into Anglish by users on the Anglish Discord.

Usual Spelling

The North Wind and the Sun were fliting which was the stronger, when a wayfarer came along wrapped in a warm shroud. They settled that the one who first overcame in making the wayfarer take his shroud off should be thought stronger than the other. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew, the more tightly did the wayfarer fold his shroud about him; and at last the North Wind gave up the bid. Then the Sun shone out warmly, and at once the wayfarer took off his shroud. And so the North Wind was bound to acknowledge that the Sun was the stronger of the two.

Anglish Spelling

Þe Norþ Ƿind and þe Sun ƿere fliting hƿic ƿas þe stronger, hƿen a ƿayfarer came along ƿrapped in a ƿarm scrude. Þey setteled þat þe one hƿo first ofercame in making þe ƿayfarer take his scrude off sculd be þougt stronger þan þe oþer. Þen þe Norþ Ƿind bleƿ as hard as he culd, but þe more he bleƿ, þe more tigtly did þe ƿayfarer fold his scrude abute him; and at last þe Norþ Ƿind gafe up þe bid. Þen þe Sun scone ute ƿarmly, and at ones þe ƿayfarer took off his scrude. And so þe Norþ Ƿind ƿas bund to acknoƿlecg þat þe Sun ƿas þe stronger of þe tƿo.