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.

  • 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, 2021 at 19:23
  • but in OE we have 'ie' not 'ea' or the alternative - hyran with 'y' Apr 1, 2021 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, 2021 at 1:02

1 Answer 1


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.


  • 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.

  • Thank you so much for this thorough explanation! Now I get it much thanks, God bless! Apr 7, 2021 at 6:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.