Old English

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Old English is an early form of the English language that was spoken in England around 1000 years ago. It is sometimes called Anglo-Saxon as it was mainly derived from the tongue of the Saxons. The language spoken in England is considered Old English 450 AD until some time after the Norman invasion of England (around 1066 AD), when it becomes Middle English. Most Old English texts are now transliterated rather than being produced in period typefaces.

Major differences from modern English

  • Extra letters (such as "þ" and "ð")
  • Different sound values for letters.
  • Different grammar (including cases: nominative, dative, genitive and accusative.)

Samples of Old English

Beowulf (circa 900 AD)

Beowulf is a traditional heroic epic poem in Old English alliterative verse. At 3182 lines, it is far more substantial than any similar work in the language, representing about 10% of the extant Anglo-Saxon corpus. The poem is untitled in the manuscript, but has been known as Beowulf since the early 19th century.

An e-text of Beowulf can be found at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/beo/index.htm An e-text in the original Anglo-Saxon/Old English can be found at http://free.hostdepartment.com/R/Ridan/BeowulfAS.htm

The Lord's Prayer (showing change over time)

Many early examples of Old English (and other period languages) are of a religious nature. The Lord's Prayer is a good example of the change in English over time.

Dated 1611 AD.

Our father which art in heauen,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heauen.
Giue us this day our daily bread.
And forgiue us our debts as we forgiue our debters.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliuer us from euill.

Most modern English speakers should be able to understand this version of the Lord's Prayer. Note the use of "u" in place of "v". It is not until fairly recently that "u" an "v" have been considered separate letters (a good example of this can be seen in the glossary of the Forme of Cury).

Dated 1384 AD.

Oure fadir þat art in heuenes halwid be þi name;
Þi reume or kyngdom come to be.
Be þi wille don in herþe as it is doun in heuene.
yeue to us today oure eche dayes bred.
And foryeue to us oure dettis þat is oure synnys as we foryeuen to oure dettouris þat is to men þat han synned in us.
And lede us not into temptacion but delyuere us from euyl.

Most modern English speakers should be able to understand some of this version of the Lord's Prayer when written. Spoken it would sound a great deal different; for instance, "ou" is pronounced like "oo" and in general the vowels have their continental value ("oorra fahderr thut arrt in ai(r)venas ulwid bai(r) thee nahma", with trilled "rr"). Note the use of the letter "þ", this has essentially the same value as "th" in modern English.

Dated circa 1000 AD.

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

This version of the Lord's Prayer probably isn't recognizable by the majority of modern English speakers. 1000 AD is before the Norman invasion of England and therefore many of the words in Modern English that were taken from French are not yet present in the language.

Other Examples

Manuscripts written in Old English

See Also

External Links