Voicing and Unvoicing of Fricatives.
In OE voiceless fricative surrounded by voiced sounds becomes voiced, and a voiced fricative when final is unvoiced. OE spelling does not distinguish between voiced and voiced and voiceless fricatives, so that the two cases are indistinguishable. Thus the word wīf ‘woman’ has voiced second consonant in the genitive and dative singular and plural, where the consonant is surrounded by vowels (wīfes, wīfe, wīfa, and wīfum, respectively), but it is voiceless in the nominative and accusative singular and plural (all sounding wīf, without ending). A similar position is found in the word hof ‘courtyard’, where the forms hofes, hofe, hofu, hofa, and hofum have a voiced second consonant, while the form hof has a voiceless one. However, facts of the German language show that the origin of this state is different in the two words: cf. German Weib, genitive Weibes, and Hof, genitive Hofes. A similar alternation of voiced and voiceless fricatives concerns the consonants [θ] and [ð]. For example, the infinitive of class III strong verb weorþan ‘become’ has the voiced fricative, while in the past singular form wearþ it is voiceless. Things are less clear with velar consonants. It may be that the spelling does not always truly represent the pronunciation. For instance, the past singular of the class II strong verb flēo an ‘fly’ spelt flēah, where the letter h clearly points to voiceless pronunciation. But in all forms of the word dæ ‘day’ the letter used is , whether it is followed by a vowel or not. Alternation resulting from this process sometimes blur the results of Verner’s law.
At a very early time the consonant c before a front vowel, as in cild ‘child’, and occasionally in other conditions as well, became palatalized and approached the affricate [t∫]. It may even have reached the stage of [t∫] in Late OE. In a similar way, the cluster sc, as in scip ‘ship’, became palatalized and approached [∫], and it may even have reached the stage of [∫] in Late OE. An analogous development affected and c before a front vowel and when final becoming palatalized, they approached and may have reached [d ], as in sen ean ‘single’, bryc ‘bridge’, wec ‘wedge’.
Other Changes and Loss of Consonants.
OE shows the results of a common Germanic phonetic process, which may be expressed by the following formula:
Any velar consonant + t > ht
Any labial consonant + t > ft
Any dental consonant + t > ss
For example: *sōcte > sōhte ‘sought’ (past tense of sēcan), * esceapt > esceaft ‘creature’ (cf. scippan ‘create’); *witte > wisse knew’ (past tense of witan).
n was lost before the fricatives h, f, s, p. The preceding vowel became lengthened and nasalized, but the nasalization eventually vanished. n was lost before h in order Germanic languages as well. Examples: *bronhte > brōhte ‘brought’ (past tense of brin an), (cp. Germ. Bringen – brachte), þohte ‘thought’ (past tense of þencan), *sonfte > sōfte ‘soft’ (cp. Germ. Sanft), *finf > fīf ‘five’ (cp. Germ. Fünf), * ons> ōs ‘goose’ (cp. Germ. Gans), uns > ūs ‘us’ (cp. Germ. Uns), *onþer > ōþer (cp. Germ. Ander), *dunst > dūst ‘dust’ (cp. Germ. Dunst), *munþ > muþ ‘mouth’ (cp. Germ. Mund).
The cluster fn often becomes mn by assimilation. This is especially frequent in Late OE texts. Examples: efn > emn ‘even’ (adj.), stefn > stemn ‘voice’. A similar change fm > mn occurred in the word wifman > wimman ‘woman’.
The consonant d becomes voiceless t when follow or preceded by a voiceless consonant. This happens in the 2nd person singular present indicative of some verbs: bindst > bintst ‘bindest’, stendst > stentst ‘standest’.
The cluster dþ is changed into t in the 3rd person singular present indicative of some verbs: bindþ > bint, stendþ > stent.
h is lost between vowels: *tīhan > tēon ‘accuse’, *fonhan > fōhan > fōan > fōn ‘catch.
Palatal is occasionally dropped before d and n, the preceding vowel is lengthened, mæ den > mæden ‘maide’, sæde ‘said’, fri nan > frīnan ‘ask’.
Metathesis is a phonetic change which consists in two sounds exchanging their places. It most frequently affects the consonant r and the vowel in the following words: þridda > þirda ‘third’, rinnan > irnan, iernan ‘run’. The process seems to have developed in this way: first the vowel disappears, so that the r becomes syllabic: *þrda, *rnan, etc.; eventually the vowel reappears other sounds as well, e.g. āscian > āxian ‘ask’, wascan > waxan ‘wash’. The mechanism of the change in these cases remains obscure.