Hi E-Ching,
and thank you for a very clear exposition! It is the logic behind it
that is the most interesting, and I think your example from Old English
displays the kind of logic that one uses to arrive at such conclusions
very clearly.

I also see that one of my remarks was not as precise as it could have been.
(see below)

>Hi Keth,
>>One thing that I have difficulty with, for example, is that the modern
>>Icelandic pronounciation of "æ" (= a-e ligature) no longer corresponds
>>to the way this letter was pronounced in Medieval Latin, where it was
>>known from such words as "Cæsar" etc. I am sure the monks who first
>>used the Latin letters to describe the sounds of Old Norse, did pick
>>the Latin letters that corresponded most closely to the actual sounds
>>Thus we can expect that the Old Norse "æ" was prononced in approximately
>>the same way as the "æ" in Cæsar was pronounced.

Here I meant, of course, that I think the Old Norse "æ" was pronounced
the way monks used to pronounce "cæsar" in the 12th century, when Old Norse
was first represented in writing by means of Latin letters.

A difficulty with my example is that we now know that at Cæsar's time
the Romans raher DID pronounce the æ (=ae) as a diphtong. At least,
that is what Wheelock is saying, (3rd edition, page xxxii)
who has the 'ae' in 'carae' and 'sapae' as the "ai" in "aisle".
But it is my impression that by the 12th century the diptong
had disappeared, and become replaced by the monophtong "æ".
This is, however, something I do not know, only something I assume.
But it must have changed some time, since the Latin taught in
19th century schools used the "æ" as monophtong.

Incidentally, Wheelock also has a nice table that shows how the Latin
vowel-set a, e, i, o, u is to be pronounced:

a: as in father: das, cara a: as in Dinah: dat, casa
e: as in they: me, sedes e: as in pet: et, sed
i: as in machine: hic sica i: as in pin: hic, sicca
o: as in clover o: as in orb, off: os, mora
u: as in rude: tu, sumo u: as in put: tum, sum

At least to me, such tables are extremely helpful, since I do not
remember the exact meaning of Sampa or Pot(?) -- I just don't use it
often enough for that. (But I will look at it Óskar, if I only had
some book that lists the symbols)

With all due qualifications, it is my opinion that the above scheme
holds for 12th century Latin too; and is therefore relevant to the
pronounciation of the Old Norse vowels as well!

The qualifications might be that you'd have to ask where the monks
who first wrote Norse with Latin letters were from. Or better: where
(or from whom) did they learn their Latin? In England, Germany or France?
(which may or may not be relevant - certainly less relevant than today
when the vowels have had a chance to diverge for another 8 centuries)

Inspection of standard works on Old Norse grammar show that the authors
spend quite a bit of space on questions of pronounciation. Much more
than I generally care to read, or learn by heart. But it does show
that the question has occupied the minds of the scholars a great deal.
I also think that local pronounciation is sometimes expressed by the
different ways of spelling Old Norse that existed at the time.

Óskar's example of the V before an R at the beginning of a word was
very interesting, and I had just happened to read something about that,
in connection with the first line of Þrymskvíða, where the Codex Regius

Reiðr var þá Vingþórr, er hann vaknaði oc síns hamars um saknaði;
(Angry was then Vingþorr, as he awoke and missed his hammer;)

But a whole host of authors have here added a V in front of Reiðr, to

" Vreiðr var þá Vingþórr, er hann vaknaði oc síns hamars um saknaði ",

since the alliteration is thereby improved. (3 times V)
Egilsson/Jónsson comments that the form "vreiðr" is used in Þórsdrápa
as well as in Haustl@..., and some other places, where the second
rhyme word is "vega" and that "her synes å foreligge en gammel forstenet
forbindelse, som har holdt seg lenge etter at vreiðr ellers uttales
uten v" (It appears that we here have an old petrified connection,
which has remained long after vreiðr was otherwise pronounced without
the initial v). (cf. Lok 15, 18, 27; Fáfn 7, 17, 30; Sigrdr 27).

Note that Finnur Jónsson himself also writes it with 'v':

Vreiðr stóð Vr@... bróðir, (Angry stood Vroska's brother;)
vá gagn faðir Magna; (Magni's father won victory;)
skelfra Þórs né Þjálfa (neither Thor's nor Thjalfi's)
þróttar steinn við ótta. (heart quivered with fear.)
(Þórsdrápa 21)

(idem in Haustl@... 11)

* The word vá is past tense of "vega", here in the meaning "erkämpfen"
(sich den Sieg erkämpfen - don't know how erkämpfen is translated to
English with a single word: to gain or win through struggle)

>I can only speak for Old English, :-) but it used "æ" the same way Old
>Norse does, to represent the vowel in "ash", not the vowel in "ice", which
>is what it represented in Latin. What Old English scholars think is that
>the Old English monks realised that Old English didn't have the Latin "æ"
>sound, so they put this useless symbol to work, to represent a sound that
>Latin didn't have.

Those are very good examples.
It shows that these sounds ARE in English.
When we don't like something, we often say "æsj!"
That is the same pronounciation as "ash".
The ashtree we call "ask" and pronounce the 'a' as the a in "Dinah".
( a short a)

>When I was studying Old English and history of English, my question was,
>how do we know that? Like Oskar said, nobody can be 100% sure, but when
>you start doing historical reconstruction, eventually you do get convinced
>that there are some things we can be at least 90% sure of, and a lot of
>other things that we're approximating to various degrees of accuracy. :-)
>For instance, we're 100% sure that at some time during Old English, the "c"
>sounds in changed to "ch" before "i" and "e" (and in a few other places
>too), even though they're always spelled just "c" until 1066. We know they
>were "c" originally because that's the Latin letter which Old English
>scribes chose for this sound, and that's the letter which they used to
>spell the words that they borrowed from Latin, and that's the sound which
>appears in the Old Norse words (mjök for much, bekkr for bench). We know
>some "c"s became "ch" because we say the words that way now, and as soon as
>the Normans invaded England the Norman scribes spelled the "ch" words
>differently from the "c" words, and also because late Old English poets
>didn't alliterate "c" words with "ch" words. What we really can't answer
>properly is, when did the change take place? It's very likely that for a
>long time, the Old English poets went on alliterating "c" and "ch" though
>they were saying them differently. Like nowadays we would alliterate
>"tummy" and "train" although they don't have quite the same sound. Most
>Old English teachers will make you learn to pronounce the two "c"s
>differently so that you know there can be a difference; luckily Old Norse
>doesn't seem to have this kind of exception built into the system.
>I'm sorry I didn't know how to talk about this in terms of Old Norse, :-)
>my training is all in Old English.
Thank you for the examples, as well as the topic!