History of the English Language

Old English

Old English is a West Germanic language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons between the 5th and 11th centuries in the southern part of the Britain island. The language had several influences, including Latin, Norse, and Celt. There are several letters used in Old English that are not used anymore in modern English.  Like in modern English, the stress usually fell on the first syllable. The language was inflected and included four cases known as: nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative. Every noun was also given the label of being either feminine or masculine. Verbs in old English are divided into strong and weak verbs according to their past tense. For example, singan, which is “to sing” is a strong verb, whereas seglan, which is “to sail” is a weak verb when changing to the past tense. The word order was subject-verb-object in declarative sentences and verb-subject-object in interrogative clauses. 

Why don't we start by taking a look at the origins of Old English and an Introduction to Old English?       

There were six vowels in Old English a, æ, i, o, u and y.
a --is pronounced [ɑ], as in Modern English father. Examples: macian 'make', bāt 'boat'.
æ--is pronounced [æ], as in Modern English cat. Bæc 'back', rǣdan 'read'.
e--is pronounced [e], as in Modern English fate; that is, it is like the e of a continental European language, not like the "long" or "short" e of Modern English (actually [i] or [ɛ]). Helpan 'help', fēdan 'feed'.

i--is pronounced [i], as in Modern English feet; that is, it is like the i of a continental European language, not like the "long" or "short" i of Modern English (actually [ʌɪ] or [ɪ]). Sittan 'sit', līf 'life'.
o--is pronounced [o], as in Modern English boat. God 'God', gōd 'good'.
u--is pronounced [u], as in Modern English tool; it is never pronounced [ʌ] as in Modern English but. Full 'full', fūl 'foul'.
y--is pronounced [y], like the ü in German über or Füße, or like the u in French tu or dur. Make it by positioning the tongue as you do to say feet while rounding the lips as you do to say tool. Cyning 'king', brȳd 'bride'.

*Note this procunciation guide is taken directly from the website: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/pronunciation.html

Want to see how words have changed since the Old English period? Take a look at the Old English to Modern English Dictionary. 

Ready to watch some movies? Lets take a look at some Old English readings.        


So, what was written during the Old English period anyway? One of the most famous texts from this time was Beowulf. To view the full text visit:

An excerpt of Beowulf from http://gentlyhewstone.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/beowulf1.jpg
Want to view additional texts? Browse Old English texts at the following sites:

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