Why does OE endleofan have "d"?

  • 2
    Is there a particular reason why it shouldn't?
    – Draconis
    Jun 19, 2020 at 22:56
  • 1
    @Draconis as far as I know the first part means one, OE an
    – user44264
    Jun 19, 2020 at 23:11
  • 1
    Ah, so you're asking why there's a /d/ in there, when it's a compound of two roots that don't contain /d/? That's entirely answerable, but I'd suggest editing that into your question.
    – Draconis
    Jun 20, 2020 at 1:59
  • Should be asked at English Language & Usage instead.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 20, 2020 at 4:03
  • 2
    @curiousdannii Does ELU handle Old English questions? I thought they were mostly focused on Modern English, and the /d/ has disappeared in the modern language.
    – Draconis
    Jun 20, 2020 at 4:44

1 Answer 1


It's only a partial answer : I'm not sure about the why but I can give some details about the history of endleofan.

You're right when you say the /d/ is recent:

"[In Proto-Germanic] 'eleven' and 'twelve' were compounds *aina-lif- [...] and *twa-lif- [...the] litteral meanings must originally have been *'one left over', *'two left over', but even the etymology of the second part is unclear"

(Don Ringe, 2008, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, p. 205 (chapter 3, §3.4.5.ii))

The /d/ appeared in some dialects (e.g. in West-Saxon), not in all Old English dialects:

"11. en(d)lefan, endleofan; Ru.¹ enlefan; Li. once ællef [...]"

Campbell, 1974, Old English Grammar, §478 (p.282, chapter XVI)

Ru.¹ stands for a Mercian text (Rushworth Gospels)

Li stands for the Lindisfarne Gospels, circa +715

The /d/ consonant is an epenthetic consonant which facilitates the pronunciation of /nl/. This sound transformation belongs to the so-called "intrusion of consonants":

"Intrusion of consonants occurs in a few forms only."

"ml > mbl:" [...]

"mt > mpt:" [...]

"nl > ndl: W-S endleofan [...] beside enlefan"

"nr > ndr:"

"sl > stl:" [...]

"sn > stn:" [...]

"ls > lts:" [...]

(Campbell, 1974, Old English Grammar, §478 (p.192, chapter IX))

But why was this sound added?

I'm not 100% sure but I can quote what Gaston Zink explained about the appearance of a /b/ in the Latin word 'núm(e)rum' > French 'nombre' (my translation);

"The energetic articulation required by this unusual sequence on both side of the syllabic border [i.e. in numrum] then leads to a break in the plosive consonant: by anticipating the tension necessary for /r/, the finale of /m/ becomes stronger instead of weaker and becomes de-nasalized (under effort, the uvula rises again); the segmentation produces a /b/ that, with /r/, forms an explosive sequence."

(Gastin Zink, 1986, Phonétique historique du français, pp. 45-46, text slightly modified)

[original text : see note a]

For endleofan, please notice that /n/ and /d/ are both dental consonants. The same reasoning applies to this word.

[note a]

"L'articulation énergique que requiert cet enchaînement insolite de part et d'autre de la frontière syllabique [numrum] entraîne alors une brisure de la consonne implosive : par anticipation de la tension nécessaire pour le /r/, la finale de /m/ se renforce au lieu de s'atténuer et se désanalise (sous l'effort, la luette se relève); la segmentation produit un /b/ propre à former avec /r/ une suite explosive."

(Gastin Zink, 1986, Phonétique historique du français, pp. 45-46; text slightly modified)

  • Why do you think it's partial though? You addressed the most important issues, "The /d/ consonant is an epenthetic consonant which facilitates the pronunciation of /nl/" and "The /d/ appeared in some dialects (e.g. in West-Saxon), not in all Old English dialects" - and that's all that matters.
    – Alex B.
    Jun 20, 2020 at 16:08
  • @AlexB. : this sound change appears in a certain context, for example related to the position of the tonic accent. I don't know the exact phonetic value of the word endleofan, hence my cautious remark. Feel free to complete my answer!
    – suizokukan
    Jun 20, 2020 at 16:35

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