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I recently came across this article on the inclusion of certain superscript combining characters for use with representing Middle High German in Unicode. From what I understand, scribes and early printers of MHG used superscript letters in places where the umlaut became standard usage later, but there are also a lot of additional superscript combinations whose sounds I simply cannot figure out as written.

I was hoping that someone here who is knowledgeable in these matters may be able to transcribe the complete list of combinations (or even part of it if you are able to) provided in the article linked above into IPA for me (especially the ones that use superscript letters other than “e”, since I already understand that this superscript is equivalent to the later umlaut). Since these signs were used in Middle High German, I expect that the IPA sounds should be the sounds they made in MHG, but I am also interested if any of all of these combinations of letter and superscript have a modern equivalent in Standard (High) German. Thanks!

The list is as follows:

aͨ aͤ aͫ aͦ aͧ aͮ aͯ

cͪ cͥ cͮ

eͣ eͨ eͩ eͥ eͬ

oͣ oͨ oͤ oͦ oͮ

rͦ rͬ

uͨ uͤ uͥ uͦ uͮ

vͤ vͦ

Note: there is a related question on this topic on SX Linguistics, but unfortunately none of the answers cover the ground I am asking about here—only use of superscript “e” as a pre-modern version of the umlaut is discussed, of which I am already aware. I’m interested in what IPA sounds all of the other combinations of letter and superscript represented in Middle High German, and if there are modern analogs today.

Edit: If some of these symbols do not represent single phonemes in IPA, and it isn’t possible to represent it with multiple phonemes or IPA orthography at all for any reason, perhaps you instead indicate which sequence of MHG characters each is used to represent?

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    Keep in mind that “what sound do these diacritics make” does not theoretically make sense since writing doesn’t “make” sounds - people do, and the orthography is just there to abstractly represent that.
    – Graham H.
    May 31, 2023 at 14:50
  • @Graham H. Right, I should have written “which sounds would each of these be represented by in IPA?” I changed the title to something similar.
    – Avana Vana
    Jun 6, 2023 at 4:01
  • @GrahamH. Nobody is interpreting "what sound does writing make" literally, it's a turn of phrase with basically the same meaning as the new title. IMO now the title is overly precise because writing does not map neatly onto IPA sounds (e.g. English orthography across different dialects).
    – awe lotta
    Oct 5, 2023 at 17:10
  • @awelotta I don't think the average person on this site, or really anyone who has though carefully about the relationship between writing and speech, interprets it literally. However, I worry that the turn of phrase of "letters making sounds" can generally mislead people.
    – Graham H.
    Oct 5, 2023 at 18:53
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    @GrahamH. So you're saying that "letters making sounds" reinforces the mistaken perception that orthography precedes spoken language, whereas linguists typically push against that notion. I thought by "theoretically", you meant "technically" or "literally", but you're actually referring to how it stands in relation to the science of language. Is that right?
    – awe lotta
    Oct 6, 2023 at 21:29

1 Answer 1

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Most of the quoted characters do not stand for a single phoneme, they are either just a spelling convention for the sequence of the two characters or a scribal abbreviation whose reading may depend on the context where it occurs. The characters are usually used in so-called diplomatic editions, i.e., editions of medieval manuscripts that preserve some features of the handwriting.

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  • Thank you for that insight. Would it be possible to represent these then as either combinations of phonemes in IPA, or are some impossible to represent in this way, as written? For any such symbols, I suppose I would be satisfied with simply knowing which original sequence of MHG characters each alphabetic diacritic represents.
    – Avana Vana
    Jun 6, 2023 at 4:10
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    It is definitely possible to represent them in an artificial standardised orthography of MIddle High German. IPA phonemes is more challenging, since MIddle High German is dead for some centuries, and it is known to have dialectal and temporal variation. Any phonemic representation is the result of a reconstruction. Jun 6, 2023 at 8:22

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