How is it explained that the sound sequence /uːx/ -ough has developed so differently in different words?
Not-dipthongized in through, shortened and unrounded and retained fricative in tough, lowered in though, as you would expect in plough. (also a bit different in ought)

Are there regular sound shifts, do they stem from different dialects?

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  • You know more about this than I do. Look at Ger. doch "though", and *durch "through*, it seems that the lowering as you say was present at the root. I could see borough vs Ger. Bereich belong together; from a Frank or AnglSax root? barracks? trough is far from "Traufe", I lexicalize it close to Truhe "case" instead; Trog is of course closer, silly me. What about Docht "wick (of candle)", does that have anything to do with tough, wicked? cp. dough vs "Teig", opposed to Teich "pond" /ç/ and day vs "Tag", LowGer. Tach /x/ (never /ç/ after /a/). cp. Sw. ok, och.
    – vectory
    Dec 31 '18 at 21:19
  • I mean they plainly couldn't spell in ye olde times. I suspect it was always different diphtongs and velars, if I compare the ambiguous state of German ch across the dialects. But I haven't studied old English.
    – vectory
    Dec 31 '18 at 21:22
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    When the [x] allophone of final /h/ was being lost, some people said it and others didn't. And some people heard it and others heard something else. If you don't have a velar fricative in your language, what do you hear when somebody else does? Often enough people heard labial fricatives, and other times people heard an /h/, which they didn't pronounce any more. And not all long vowels shifted as ordered.
    – jlawler
    Jan 1 '19 at 5:01
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    (again) @vectory "I mean they plainly couldn't spell in ye olde times." That's a good hint. Whilst this specific spelling came up relatively late, there are often several phonemes in these old languages that weren't distinguished in writing. After looking at the link above, I've come to the conclusion that at least some ough spellings must have always been distinct in pronunciation because they come from different vowels in Old English. It seems that many words with ough have never rhymed and that I just erroneously assumed that they were the same in Middle English. Jan 1 '19 at 15:02

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