The Anglo-Saxon alphabet and Pronunciation

The Anglo-Saxon alphabet is somewhat different from the modern alphabet in that there are letters which today are not used, mostly thanks to the advent of the printing press. There are also letters in the modern alphabet which didn't exist in Anglo-Saxon:

The modern English alphabet: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The Anglo-Saxon alphabet in modern sort order: a æ b c d ð e f g h i l m n o p r s t þ u w x y

The alphabet can be divided into:

Vowels

a æ e i o u y

as you can see, 'y' is considered as a vowel. Vowels have both a long and short pronunciation in Old English, which are denoted with a line above the vowel in modern texts. Long vowels were not distinguished with an accent in Old English.

In addition to the vowels, there were also three vowel dipthongs: ea eo, ia and ie which also had long and short pronunciations:

Vowel 
Short Pronunciation 
Long Pronunciation
a Before nasals, represents a vowel somewhat between an 'a' and an 'o'. The same sound as the 'a' in modern 'father'
æ The same sound as the 'a' in modern 'cat' Sounds like the 'ea' in modern 'clean'
e Similar to the 'e' in modern 'set' This sound does not occur in modern English but is roughly like the 'e' in modern 'set' lengthened.
i Sounds like 'i' in modern 'sit' Sounds like 'i' in 'machine'
o Sounds like the 'o' in modern 'not' Sounds like the 'o' in 'stone' but lengthened. Sounding somewhat like 'ow'.
u Sounds like the 'u' in modern 'put' Sounds like the 'u' in modern 'rule'
y sounds like the 'u' in French 'tu' Sounds like the 'u' in French 'lune'
ea Has the sound of 'æ', followed by a weak 'a' Has the sound of a long 'æ' followed by a weak 'a'
eo Has the sound of the short 'e' and 'o' together, eg 'heofon' Has the sound of a long 'e' followed by a short 'o', eg 'deop'
ie Has the sound of short 'i' and 'e' together, eg 'shield' Has the sound of a long 'i' and short 'e' together, eg 'hieran'

 

 

 

Consonants

b c d ð f g h l m n p r s t þ w x

In addition to the consonants, there are several consonantial dipthongs: sc, cw, cg, ng and st

Consonant 
Pronunciation
b The same as in modern English
c

i)  Next to original front vowels and sometimes after 'n' or 'l' and finally medially after vowels, is affected by i-mutation and pronounced 'ch'. eg. 'Ciric' is pronounced 'Chirich'.

ii) Elsewhere is pronounced like the 'c' in modern English 'cool'

d The same as in modern English
ð  Pronounced as the 'th' in modern 'then'
f

i) In most positions, unvoiced as 'f' in modern 'father'.

ii) In some positions, is voiced as 'v' in 'violin'

g

i) Initially, before a consonant, or back vowel, or 'y' or 'æ' and sometimes before 'e', pronounced like 'g' in 'good'.

ii) Next to front vowels, is usually pronounced like 'y' as Modern 'yellow'.

iii) After or between back vowels is pronounced  like 'g' in North German 'sagen', that is a 'g' which almost sounds like the 'ch' in Scottish 'loch'

h

i) Initially sounds the same as the 'h' in modern 'horse'.

ii) Medially or finally, after a back vowel or consonant, pronounced like the 'ch' in Scottish 'loch'.

iii) Medially, or finally, after a front vowel, pronounced like the 'ch' in German 'nicht'

l The same as in modern English
m The same as in modern English
n The same as in modern English
p The same as in modern English
r

i) Initially, this letter is trilled like it is in Scottish and Welsh. eg. 'rinnan' (to run).

ii) Finally, or before a consonant, sounds like the modern English 'r' eg. 'rude'

s

i) In some positions, is voiced as 'z' in modern 'zebra',

ii) In other position is is unvoiced as 's' as modern 'sing'

t The same as in modern English
þ Pronounced as the 'th' in modern 'thin'
w The same as in modern English
x The same as in modern English (or 'cs')
Dipthongs 
sc Is pronounced as modern English 'sh' eg. 'scip' = modern 'ship'
cw Is pronounced as modern 'qu' eg. 'cwen' (queen)
cg represents a double 'g' which is pronounced like the 'dg' of modern 'edge'. Eg. 'brycg' (bridge)
ng

i) Sometimes sounds like the 'ng' in modern 'finger', with a hard, gutteral 'g' sound ending.

ii) Otherwise, sounds like the 'ng' in 'sing' with no gutteral 'g' ending.

st The same as in modern English

 

Alphabet Order

The modern sort order given above is a modern artifice based on the sort order of the latin writing system. The alphabetic order of most Germanic languages, Old English included, was based on a diferent system, eeconstructed here:

 

f u þ o r c g w h n i p x s t b e m i d a æ y ð

 

The germanic alphabetic forms, although following a similar pattern, were highly regional and are based on the order of the earlier writing system, called runic. This alphabetic reconstruction is based on the  'Thames Scramasax' order, which is rougly contemporary with the Beowulf manuscript:

 

Name feoh ur þorn os rad cen
Meaning wealth cattle thorn ox ride torch
Pronunciation  f u
th
o (short)
r (i)
 c (ii)
Saxon f u þ o r c
Rune

 

 

           
Name giefu wynn hægl nyd is gear
Meaning gift joy hail need ice year
Pronunciation g (i) w h (i) n i (short) g (ii)
Saxon g w h n i g
 Rune  ᚷ  ᚹ  ᚺ
 ᛁ

 

 

           
Name eoh peorð eolcsecg sigel tyr beorc
Meaning yew game elk-sedge sun tyr (god) birch
Pronunciation eo (short) p 'cs'=x s (ii) t b
Saxon eo p x s t b
Rune  ᛇ  ᛈ  ᛉ  ᛋ  ᛏ

 

 

           
Name eoh
man
lagu
ing
œðel dæg
Meaning horse man lake ing estate day
Pronunciation e
m
l
ng
œ d
Saxon e
m
l
ng
œ d
Rune  ᛖ  ᛗ

 ᛟ  ᛞ

 

 

           
Name ac
æsc
yr
ear
iar
calc
Meaning oak ash bow earth serpent chalice
Pronunciation a
æ
y (short)
ea
ia
c (i)
Saxon a
æ
y
ea
ia
c
Rune  ᚪ
 ᛡ

 

 

           
Name gar
cweorþ
stan


 
Meaning spear fire stone      
Pronunciation g (iii)
cw (q)
st


 
Saxon g
cw
st


 
Rune

 ᛜ  
 

 

 

           

Since the original alphabetic order is based on the earlier 'runic' writing' system, certain dipthongs appear in the alphabet, due to their sound being represented by a single rune.