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I’ve always wondered what the correct or considered correct pronunciation of the old Saxon word hele is. The Oxford English Dictionary states it should be pronounced as /hiːl/ and that’s what I’ve always used –


Pronunciation: /hiːl/

To hide, conceal; to keep secret.

I’ve also heard it pronounced as /heɪl/ and whenever I’ve questioned that pronunciation, I’ve always been told that it is correct or that is the preferred way of pronunciation.

So which is it /hiːl/ or /heɪl/?

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The Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary gives it as /hele/, and that's how I would have read it. – Robusto Dec 27 '12 at 17:10
@Robusto Is the pronunciation changing depending on the implied meaning? – spiceyokooko Dec 27 '12 at 17:11
Honestly, I couldn't say. The definition given ("a covering ?") appears to be only a conjecture, as often happens in dead languages. – Robusto Dec 27 '12 at 17:16
@Robusto I've never heard of the word being used as a covering hence my query. Obviously some word pronunciations do change depending on meaning, August meaning month and August meaning venerable are obvious examples, I'm just wondering if this word is similar. – spiceyokooko Dec 27 '12 at 17:20
It's an Old Saxon word. Nobody speaks Old Saxon any more. The only information we have about how it was pronounced is its spelling (which at that time was used to indicate pronunciation, unlike Modern English spelling). So @Robusto has it exactly right. If you're not dealing with a modern English word, you usually can pronounce it as if it were IPA, i.e, [hele]. – John Lawler Dec 27 '12 at 17:29
up vote 4 down vote accepted

It depends really on whether you're using it as a Modern English word or as an Old English word.

OE pronunciation would have been /helə/, which would probably be realized in casual use by modern students of OE as /heɪlə/; so if one of these gets snotty with you you may correct his pronunciation to one with a short e and a schwa ending.

And then you may explain that you are not employing the OE verb helan (make sure you include the infinitive ending to put your interlocutor more firmly in his place) but the ModE dialect verb hele, which has undergone the ME Great Vowel Shift and loss of ending and is accordingly pronounced, as the OED tells us, /hiːl/.

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As it's being used in modern English /hiːl/ should be the correct pronunciation. Ta very much me old mucker! Very much appreciated. – spiceyokooko Dec 27 '12 at 17:36
@spiceyokooko But please don't go out of your way to provoke correction until after the Christmas Truce! – StoneyB Dec 27 '12 at 17:37
Would I do such a thing? It's been a long running bone of contention with me, I shall raise it with the guilty parties in due course. Many thanks. – spiceyokooko Dec 27 '12 at 17:40

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