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I have read the following question and all the answers, and they do not answer my question, so it is not a duplicate:

Why are the vowels in Christ and Christmas different? (and other strange diphthong behaviour)


From wikitionary:

From Middle English Crist, from Old English Crist

  • Middle English Crist: /kriːst/, /krist/
  • Old English: /krist/

The vowel in Old English was a short vowel /i/ but in Middle English, it became /i:/.

I read Homorganic Lengthening in this excellent answer by Janus Bahs Jacquet according to which vowels were lengthened before /mb nd ld rd ŋg/, but /st/ is voiceless.

Were vowels also lengthened before voiceless pairs? Why is this change in "christ"?

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  • See also: quora.com/…
    – user 66974
    Jan 22, 2021 at 12:28
  • The title-question looks near-identical; are you saying that you find the answer/s there inadequate? If so, it is correct procedure to add a bonus say at the original. // Note that saying that 'this is an example of homorganic lengthening' say doesn't really address the issue of why such changes have taken place, merely that they were wholesale. Jan 22, 2021 at 12:45
  • @EdwinAshworth My bad. I have clarified it now. Thanks for letting me know.
    – user387044
    Jan 23, 2021 at 7:47
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks for the correction below. I have always been writing "old" and "middle" with small initial letters.
    – user387044
    Jan 24, 2021 at 6:54

1 Answer 1

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Long and short vowels were written the same way in Old English (macrons, the lines marking long vowels, are a modern convention). Given the current pronunciation of Christ, I’d guess it had a long and not a short vowel in Old English. But I’m not sure. If it did have a long vowel, the reason might be because Latin Chrīstus apparently had a long vowel.

The Ormulum (early Middle English) uses the spelling Crist (where the non-doubled s indicates a long i) alongside Crisstene and Crisstenndom.

If the word really did have a short vowel in Old English, French influence could possibly be a reason for the pronunciation with a long vowel in Middle English. Monosyllabic words ending in /st/ taken from French, like coast, toast, feast, fairly often have long vowels for some reason.


I looked at the Oxford English Dictionary entry for Christ, and it says the length of the vowel in Old English is "uncertain".


It isn't a case of homorganic lengthening of the type found in child: that lengthening process was an early sound change that only regularly applied before consonant clusters ending in a voiced consonant, not ones like /st/ ending in a voiceless consonant.

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    Given the fact that Old and Middle English were both collections of variegated dialects, it's almost certain that it was a short vowel sometimes and a long vowel sometimes, and we've reified those changes by changing the pronunciations in the standard. Why one or the other won out in individual words is often a lost story. Jan 22, 2021 at 20:49
  • Thanks for this answer. You seem to know much about old and middle English, would you mind if I asked you to attempt to answer my another question I asked a few days ago? Here it is: english.stackexchange.com/q/557651/387044 there is already an answer but I'm not satisfied with that answer yet.
    – user387044
    Jan 23, 2021 at 7:47

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