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Old English

An exploration of the origin and evolution of the language of the Anglo Saxons
by

Jose Fiallos

on 2 August 2010

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Transcript of Old English

Old English A Language Overview The Enemy of my
Enemy is my Friend England through successive invasions Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an Early form of
English spoken by the Anglo-Saxons in regions
England and Scotland.

The language is thought to have developed in the
mid fifth century, and was in use until the mid twelfth
century.
The Anglo-Saxons arrived in England in the mid fifth century.

Prior to their arrival, England was inhabited by other groups including Celtic tribes such as the Picts and Scots, and various other groups in southern England who were united under the rule of the Roman Empire. The final garrisons of Roman troops were recalled from the British Isles in 410 c.e., leaving the Britons to face the incoming attacks from the Picts, Scots, and Germanic raiders.

The Britons hired Germanic mercenaries, including Angles, Saxons, and Jutes to fight against the Celtic tribes.

The Celts were quickly defeated, and the Germanic mercenaries turned on their employers beginning a decades-long conquest of England, pushing the Celtic tribes into the outlying regions of Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. Over time, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes mixed their Germanic Dialects to form what is now called Old English.

The Celtic languages spoke by those tribes who lived in England prior to the Roman and subsequent Anglo-Saxon rules had very little effect on the evolution of English.

An Anglo-Saxon inscription dated between 450 and 480 c.e. is the earliest example of English. Catholic missionaries led by St. Augustine arrived in England in 597 c.e. and began converting the ruling Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

By this time, four dialects of Old English had developed: Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon and Kentish.

Latin, the spoken language of the church and Lingua Franca of European trade and commerce became the first major contributer of words to the English language. Between 789 and 878 Anglo-Saxon England came under attack by the Vikings, Danes and Norsemen.

These invasions ended the Northumbrian dominance, and also marked the overthrow of Mercia. By the tenth century, the West Saxon Dialect became the official language of Brittain.

Anglo-Saxon rulers use the Language to instill a sense of national unity amongst the English against the invading vikings. Much of the literature written in Old English can be tied to this period, when England was under one central rule, and a single dialect dominated .

Much of the writing was centered on Christian themes and existed in both prose and verse forms. The Norman conquest of England in 1066 c.e. marks the end of Anglo-Saxon/Old English as the dominant language of the ruling classes.

The Norman aristocracy spoke French, and all legal documents were written in that languge, and continued as such for 300 years. Literature also became dominated by French. The Church and many scholars still used Latin.

English was still spoken by the commoners in their Everyday lives, but the new influx of French and Norse words, as well as the constant influence of Latin mark the end of the Old English era. The Written Word Old English was first written using a form of runic alphabet, and was brought into England by the Anglo-Saxons. But through the influence of Latin-speaking missionaries, Anglo-Saxon came to be written using a form of the latin alphabet, with changes made to accomodate different sounds native to the varying dialects.

Because of these variations, and despite attempts by Anglo-Saxon rulers to standardize the language and its rules, variations from region to region were normal. English and Old English are within the Lower Germanic subgroup of the larger Germanic group of the Indo-European language family tree.

While they can be viewed as separate languages, Modern English and Old English represent an evolution of the language over centuries.

Over fifty percent of the thousand most common Old English words still exist in the language today. The phonetics of Old English are firmly rooted in the common structures of other Germanic languages.

Vowels could be short or long as seen in contemporary Germanic languages and in modern English and German.

Anglo-Saxon scribes added two consonants to the Latin alphabet to render the th sounds: first the runic thorn (þ), and later eth (ð), in addition to other alphabet to accomodate specific regional sounds.

Old English contains no silent letters, so everything is pronounced. And although there was no persisten standardized language, because it is spelled and pronounced phonetically, all dialects can be read once the alphabets and accompanying sounds are learned. Old English could be called a synthetic language, meaning that inflectional endings implied the grammar of the sentence, similar to the written structure of Latin. This means that the words could appear in any order within the sentence. This is in contrast to analytic languages, such as Modern English, where word order is much more constrained.

Although this is the case, word order in Old English is usually not that much different from what is written today, with common differences being verbs at the end of phrases for emphasis.

However, reading Old English in verse makes deducing syntax though inflection and word meaning more difficult as words may appear in any order to enhance the sound of the writing.

Much of this inflection has been lost in Modern English. Necessary to understanding Old English is a grasp of the inflections of the language, the conjugation of the verbs and the declension of the nouns.

Nouns, adjectives, and pronouns are declined according to their case (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative), their number (singular or plural), and their gender (maculine, feminine, and neutral). Verbs are conjugated according to person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), number (singular or plural), tense (present or past), mood (indicative, imperative, and subjunctive ) Within this construct are numerous irregulars and stresses to emphasize meaning through inflection.
Anglo-Saxons were producing literary works in their native language as early as the seventh century. Although the arrival of Christian missionaries saw Latin become the dominant wirtten language as it was spoken by many educated and wealthy Anglo-Saxons, numerous works were written in the vernacular. Anglo-Saxon was one of the first vernacular languages to be written down.

Although there are examples of the written language, samples of Old English in their original form are scant. Beowulf, an Epic poem originating between the 8th and 11th centuries, is one of the most famous examples. Other pieces include religious texts including biblical translations and hymns, legal documents, and works written in verse.

Poetry appears to have been central to Anglo-Saxon literature. Interestingly, almost all Anglo-Saxon authors wrote anonymously. The Lord's Prayer in Old English
Matthew 6:9-13

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum
Si þin nama gehalgod
to becume þin rice
gewurþe ðin willa
on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg
and forgyf us ure gyltas
swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum
and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge
ac alys us of yfele soþlice


Father our thou that art in heavens
be thy name hallowed
come thy kingdom
be done thy will
on earth as in heavens
our daily bread give us today
and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who have sinned against us
and not lead thou us into temptation
but deliver us from evil truly A brief introduction to Old English Introduction of Beowulf - A Sample of Old English Presented by Group Beowulf 1:

Diana Birdsong
Allison Kibbey
Stacy Ward
Kim Mayer
Paco Fiallos Thoughts and Conclusions:

Examining the period of Anglo-Saxon dominance of England has revealed somevery interesting things about the evolution of the English language. It places the form of English currently standard within a family similar languages that all began from common roots. The different periods that English is broken into, Old, Middle, Modern, etc. are only useful in examining that evolution in a historical context. The reality of the language is that it is an organic structure that has developed over centuries, taking on various features of the other languages its speakers are exposed to. Just as cultures are marked by major conflicts and shifts of power, so is language.

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