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My question is: comparing the words for the verb "hear" in Gothic(hausjan) and Old English(hieran), I became curious as to how did the diphthong 'au' came to be 'ie' in OE. I tried explaining it through the process of breaking or i-mutation but I don't think it's correct. Any help and clarity over this matter are greatly appreciated.

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  • au was monophthongized to /o/ in West Germanic and was probably pronounced /o/ in Gothic as well, and the diphthongization /o/->/ea/ was common in Old English, cp. German Brot, tot vs. English bread, dead (originally both pronounced /ea/), etc. Apr 1 at 19:23
  • but in OE we have 'ie' not 'ea' or the alternative - hyran with 'y' Apr 1 at 20:21
  • @TheThinWhistler the Germanic dipthong /au/ did not monophthongize to /o/ in the dialects that became OE, except in unstressed syllables. It remained a dipthong but raised to something spelled "ea", but still a diphthong.
    – siride
    Apr 6 at 1:02
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The Germanic diphthong /au/ became /æa/ (spelled "ea") in stressed syllables. This dipthong was further subject to i-mutation. In the West Saxon dialects, i-mutation of "ea" was <ie> and then later /i/ or /y/ depending on the dialect. The pronunciation of "ie" is disputed. The best proposal I've seen is /iy/, which could easily simplify to /i/ or /y/. The non-West Saxon dialects umlauted "ea" to "e" (/e/). This is the source of the Modern English pronunciation, after the Great Vowel Shift.

Summary:

  • Proto-Germanic /hauzijaną/
  • West Germanic /haurian/ (change of Verner's Law consonant, loss of final non-high vowels)
  • Pre-OE /hæurian/ (Anglo-Frisian brightening)
  • Early OE /heyrian/ (i-mutation;l, intermediate stage of diphthong is conjecture)
  • Early WS /hiyran/ (equal height diphthongs, syncopation of medial vowel)
  • Later WS /hyran/ or /hiran/ (simplification of diphthong)
  • Non-WS /høran/ > /heran/ (different resolution of the diphthong and then unrounding)

This is a simplification of the timeline you'll find in Campbell and Ringe, among others. I made some editorial decisions based on my own interpretations.

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  • Thank you so much for this thorough explanation! Now I get it much thanks, God bless! Apr 7 at 6:28

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