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Up to the end of the 18th century, it was common in literary French to use the -oi- diphthong for the imperfect singular, writing e.g. “il regardoit” instead of the modern “il regardait”. How is one supposed to read the old ending nowadays? What was the contemporary mode of pronunciation?

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  • Apart from my answer and the cited question, it is of note the following FSE question: french.stackexchange.com/questions/42814/…
    – Dimitris
    Jan 23 at 12:35
  • To complement the existing answer to your question you can have more historical details in this academic paper (p.73), the modification of the spelling from oi to ai was made to match the spelling to the pronunciation.
    – None
    Jan 23 at 12:42

1 Answer 1

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  1. English version:

The current pronunciation would likely be /wa/ for the -oi ending. Regarding the old pronunciation, certainty is elusive; for a more in-depth response, please refer to the question and responses to it found here. Note that historical phonetics is often a subject of debate among linguists because it relies on indirect evidence such as poetry, rhymes, and other written sources.

EDIT (merci @None)

There's no elusiveness (and no debate among linguists) about the pronunciation of the oi diphthong in Old French. It was pronounced [wɛ] and the spelling officially changed to ai in 1835 by the Académie. And this to order to match the spelling with the pronunciation [ε]. In this academic paper you can have more historical details (p.73), regarding this modification.


  1. Version française :

La prononciation actuelle serait probablement /wa/ pour la terminaison en -oi. En ce qui concerne la prononciation ancienne, la certitude est évasive ; pour une réponse plus approfondie, veuillez vous référer à la question et à ses réponses ici. Notons que la phonétique historique est souvent sujette à des débats parmi les linguistes, car elle repose sur des indices indirects tels que la poésie, les rimes, et d'autres sources écrites.

EDIT (merci @None)

Il n'y a aucune équivoque (et aucun débat parmi les linguistes) concernant la prononciation du diphtongue oi en ancien français. Il était prononcé [wɛ], et l'orthographe a été officiellement modifiée en ai en 1835 par l'Académie. Cela a été fait afin d'harmoniser l'orthographe avec la prononciation [ɛ]. Dans cet article académique, vous pouvez trouver plus de détails historiques (page 73) concernant cette modification.

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    There's no elusiveness (and no debate among linguists) about the pronunciation of the oi diphthong in Old French. It was pronounced [wɛ] and the spelling officially changed to ai in 1835 by the Académie. And this to order to match the spelling with the pronunciation.
    – None
    Jan 23 at 12:34
  • @None Thanks for taking the the time to read my answer ; I've just modified it. I hope it is better now.
    – Dimitris
    Jan 23 at 12:43
  • @None I've added also the article you mentioned in your comment (citing you in my answer).
    – Dimitris
    Jan 23 at 12:51
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    Attention quand même, telle qu'écrite actuellement, la réponse implique que le changement de graphie de oi vers ai voulait refléter la prononciation [wɛ], plutôt que la prononciation [ɛ] (réelle raison du changement). Jan 23 at 13:06
  • @Eauquidort Merci ! Je viens de prendre en compte ton commentaire. Est-il ok maintenant ?
    – Dimitris
    Jan 23 at 14:43

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