Q is for WHAT, WHEN, WHERE? The ‘q’ spellings for OE hw-

Roger Lass, Margaret Laing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

There is a wide array of spellings attested in Middle English for initial OE hw- in words such as WHEN, WHERE, WHAT, WHO, WHICH. Those beginning with ‘q’, found mostly in the North (including Scotland) and Northeast Midlands, have long been the subject of scholarly debate. The consensus is that they represented an articulation stronger than [hw], usually assumed to be [xw]. Just a handful of scholars have suggested that the articulation could have been [kw], but there is so far little detailed argument for this position. We propose that at least a subset of reflexes of OE hw- words came at least variably to be pronounced with initial [kw]. We suggest that this strengthened pronunciation existed alongside [xw], and lenited [hw] and [w], as well as simple [h] with the [w] deleted. We link (as some other scholars have) the history of these spellings with that of northern lenition of original initial [kw] to [xw]/[hw]/[w]. We approach the problem from a strongly variationist perspective, presenting (in
accompanying appendices) detailed information on the ‘q’ spellings accessible from LAEME and eLALME. We review all the data, from the earliest attested forms through to modern dialect surveys, including place-name evidence, and we assess previous arguments on the topic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-110
Number of pages50
JournalFolia Linguistica Historica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • OE hw-
  • ‘q’-spellings
  • Middle English
  • fortition
  • lenition


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