標記の語のように現代英語で -<ow> をもつ語は，中英語では -<we> で綴られるのが普通である．古英語では見出し語形は folgian, sceadu, sorg のように様々だが，中英語にかけて語幹末に半子音 /w/ が発達した (cf. 「#194. shadow と shade」 ([2009-11-07-1])) ．中英語の -<we> 以降の綴字と発音の発達について関心があったので，調べてみた．
まず Jespersen (192) によると，問題の -<we> に表わされる半子音 /w/ が /u/ へと母音化する音韻変化を経た．この /u/ はときに長音化して /uː/ となり，長短の間でしばらく揺れを示した．おそらく，この長音化した音を表わすのに <ow> の綴字が採用されたのではないかという．一方で，/o/ や /oʊ/ をもつ異形も現われていたようで，<ow> はこの後者を直接したものとも考えられる．同時に，問題の母音が弱化した /ə/ も現われ，現代英語の非標準的な発音としては引き継がれている．
. . . /wə/ became syllabic /w/, that is /u/, thus ME folwe, shadwe, sorwe, medwe, etc. became /folu, ʃadu/, etc. This pronunciation is often found in the old orthoepists; thus H 1569 has /felu/ and /feluˑ/ by the side of /felo/, /folu/ by the side of /folo/, and /halu/, for fellow, follow, hallow.
M 1582 says that -ow in the ending of bellow, mellow, yallow is = "u quick". H 1662 likewise -ow = u: hollow hollu, tallow tallu, etc.; J 1701 has "oo" in follow. This pronunciation is continued in vg [ə]:[fɔlə, gæləs], and the spelling -ow adopted in all these words was probably at first intended for the sound /u/ or possibly /uˑ/. But we soon find another pronunciation cropping up; H 1569, besides /u/ as mentioned, has also /boro/ and /borou/ borrow. G 1621 does not seem to know /u/, but has /oˑu/ in follow, shadow, bellow, hollow. J 1764 says that -ow in follow, etc. = "o", but if another vowel follows, it is "ow". Now [o(ˑ)u] is the established pronunciation.
Dobson Vol. 2 (866--67) に当たってみると，問題の /w/ の前にわたり音 (glide) として /o/ が発達したのではないかという見解だ．だが，Dobson は Jespersen よりも複雑な変異を想定しているようだ．半子音 /w/ が関与する音節には，いかに多くの variants が発達しうるかを示す好例ではないだろうか．
(2) Variation between late ME ou and ŭ from ME -we
§295. In words such as folwe(n) 'follow' there were variant developments in ME: either a glide-vowel o developed before the w, which then vocalized to [u], giving the diphthong ou; or the w, after final ĕ had become silent in late ME, vocalized to [u], which was identified with ME ŭ. PresE has regularly [o(:)] < ME ou, but formerly [ʊ] (or, by reduction, [ə]) < ME ŭ was common in follow, narrow, sparrow, borrow, morrow, yellow, &c. ME ou (or sounds developed from it) is shown by Hart (who has boro, &c. with [o] < [o:] < ou and felō with [o:] < ou; in all six forms < ME ou, against more than twice as many < ME ŭ), Laneham (folo, &c., but also ŭ), Bullokar, Robinson, Gil (who has both [ou] and [o:] < ME ou), Butler, Hodges, Newton, Lye, Lodwick, Cocker, Brown, and the shorthand-writers T. Shelton, Everardt, Bridges, Heath, and Hopkins. The pronunciations [ʊ] and [u:] (by lengthening of [ʊ]) < ME ŭ are shown by Salesbury, Hart (commonly), Laneham (yelloo 'yellow'), Mulcaster, Jonson (apparently; he says o loses its sound in willow and billow), Howell (1662), Price, Richardson, and WSC-RS. Gil gives fula, in which the a must represent [ə] (probably < ME ŭ) as a Northern form of follow. In the seventeenth century these words also had pronunciations with [ə] and perhaps with [ɪ] . . ., which are likely to be derived from the ME ŭ rather than the ME ou variant.
・ Jespersen, Otto. A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles. Part 1. Sounds and Spellings. 1954. London: Routledge, 2007.
・ Dobson, E. J. English Pronunciation 1500--1700. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Oxford: OUP, 1968.
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