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Wikipedia lists

Paul [pɔl] ('Paul', masculine), vs. Paule [pol] ('Paule', feminine),

as a minimal pair of the two mid rounded back vowels of French.

What I wonder is, how did it happen that the two names came to be distinguished as such? What phonological development might it have been to do such a thing?

What further confuses me is that, if this was a case of irregular umlaut, shouldn't it be the other way around, since Latin Paula features [a], which is the most open of all the vowels?

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    I would need to check the charts to give a full answer, but note that the first syllable in Paul has a coda and the first syllable in Paule did not (back when the e was pronounced).
    – Draconis
    Jun 18, 2023 at 16:25
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    Note that in the Southern half of France (Occitan substrate), both Paul and Paule are generally equally pronounced ['pɔlə].
    – jlliagre
    Jun 18, 2023 at 21:07
  • I’m not sure if it’s a Québec thing, but Marie-Paule is generally pronounced [maripɔl] and not [maripol], even though Paule by itself is indeed pronounced [pɔl]. Nov 11, 2023 at 3:43

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