THE SOUNDS OF GOTHIC
The Gothic alphabet, invented by the fourth century bishop Wulfila, contains the following letters:
A B G D Ē Q Z H Þ I K L M N J U P Ч R S T W F X Ƕ Ō ↑
The letters Ч and ↑ are not used in writing words, and function strictly as numerals. The other letters are in most cases pronounced
according to the following IPA symbols:
A and U are short vowels most of the time, but occasionally are long. When pronounced as long /a:/, /u:/, they are shown in this guide
with a macron: Ā, Ū.
The digraph AI has three possible pronunciations. AI written without an accent on either letter occurs before vowels and represents the
long vowel sound /ε:/. AÍ occurs before H, Ƕ, R, and represents a short /ε/ sound. ÁI originally represented the old Germanic diphthong
*ai, reconstructed as */aɪ/, but by Wulfilas' time had already begun to merge with the long /ε:/ sound.
A parallel system to AI exists for AU: before vowels, AU with no accent represents long /ɔ:/; before H, Ƕ, R, AÚ represents short /ɔ/,
and the digraph written ÁU once stood for the diphthong /aʊ/ but subsequently merged into /ɔ:/.
When B, G, D are placed between vowels, they soften to /v/, /ɣ/, /ð/. At the end of a word, G is pronounced /x/ (B and D usually change
spelling to F, Þ to reflect a similar sound change). This sound change also happens before S or T. When G occurs before K, Q, or another
G, its sound changes to /ŋ/.
DDJ might be a geminated voiced palatal stop /ɟ:/. However, since it only occurs in a few words, it seems unlikely that it would have
its own distinctive sound.
EI represents the long /i:/ sound. Ē was occasionally mistaken for EI by scribes, indicating that the two sounds are rather close
together in tongue position and formant frequencies. The same is true of Ō and long Ū. Confusion of Ē or Ō with ÁI or ÁU is extremely
uncommon, so these sets of sounds are certainly quite different from each other.
H does not "soften" other consonants; in the few words where SH occurs, it is pronounced as two distinct sounds /sh/,
not **/ʃ/. H between vowels is
occasionally confused with G, indicating that the letter H may stand for a "harder" sound approaching /x/, and/or might become voiced
L is likely a "clear" L, as is heard today in German, not the "dark" L of words such as English "full".
R is probably tapped or trilled. It is occasionally geminated, so the distinction of tapped vs. rolled, like what is heard today in
Spanish, is a definite possibility.
W is usually a consonant, with originally the same phonetic value as it has in English, but beginning to change to /v/ by Wulfila's
time. Occasionally this letter occurs as a vowel; its pronunciation in such positions is most likely a short vowel sound similar to
that of the short U.
X is not used for writing native Gothic words. It is used to transliterate the Greek letter chi, as in pasxa (πάσχα, feast of passover),
Xristus (Χριστός, anointed one). Since pasxa occurs in free variation with paska, we can infer the pronunciation of /k/ for X.
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