Journal of Linguistics


An account of Old English stress1

C. B. McCullya1 and R. M. Hogga1

a1 Department of English Language and Literature, Manchester University


The phenomenon of stress in Old English (OE) has been the subject of thorough and extensive study for well over a century. Indeed the foundation for any modern study remains the work of Eduard Sievers (1885, 1893a, b), well summarized in Campbell (1959). The present paper is not concerned with a revision of the ‘facts’ of Sievers' account, although we shall note below instances where we disagree with those facts, but rather with a linguistic explanation of those facts. Sievers' account is essentially a statistical presentation of varying stress patterns, and he made little attempt to provide explanations of either frequent patterns, or non-existent ones. The framework in which we shall operate is that of lexicalist metrical phonology. Within that framework we shall attempt to demonstrate that Old English stress was organized in a way very different from that in Modern English. Most particularly we shall suggest that there is a central rule (the Old English Stress Rule = OESR) which, in contrast to the central rule for present-day English (PDE), operated from left-to-right. This, we shall suggest, has direct implications for the operation of other features of stress derivations, such as Destressing. Further, we shall argue that it is probable that level-ordering has no role to play in the stress phonology of Old English.

(Received March 09 1989)

(Revised November 30 1989)