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English 121 09/15. Introduction to Old English.

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English 121 09 15 l.jpg

English 12109/15

Introduction to Old English

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“Around 2000 years ago there was a place in what is now the north of England which the Celtic Britons named Caer Ebruac. Then the Romans came and named it Eboracum. About 400 years after that the Anglo-Saxons came and named it Eoforwic. And about 400 years after that, the Vikings came, and named it Jorvik. From this, we have today’s form…”

From “The Origins of English” by D. Leith in English: history, diversity, and change”

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Caer Ebruac now the north of England which the Celtic Britons named  Eboracum Eoforwic Jorvik York

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Time Overview of Old English now the north of England which the Celtic Britons named

  • Pre-English Period (? –c. 450)

    • Local languages are Celtic. After Roman invasion (c. 55 BC) Latin becomes the dominant language of government. It is likely that many communities in Britain were bilingual Celtic—Latin.

  • Early Old English (450- c. 850)

    • Anglo-Saxon invasion after Romans leave and bring with them a variety of German dialects. First English Literature appears.

  • Later Old English (c. 850-1100)

    • Extensive invasion from Scandinavia strongly influence dialect in the north. King Alfred arranges for Latin texts to be translated .

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The participants in the history of Old English--Contact now the north of England which the Celtic Britons named

Celtic Britons

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Romans now the north of England which the Celtic Britons named

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Anglo Saxon Warriors now the north of England which the Celtic Britons named

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Anglo-Saxon Farmers now the north of England which the Celtic Britons named

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Vikings now the north of England which the Celtic Britons named

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Influence from all of these groups are found in English Today

  • Celtic words—bin, cross, crag, combe (valley)

  • Latin Words—castra (camp) weall (wall), ceap (bargain, cheap), win (wine)

  • Anglo-Saxon words—halig (holy), moder, fæder

  • Vikings—again, crook, gap, want, Thursday

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From Runes to Old English writing Today

Around 597, Roman missionaries, lead by Augustine, built monastic centers in modern-day England. These centers produced many religious texts and eventually led to Old English manuscripts, mostly from oral tales passed down through the centuries. The most famous of these is…

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Beowulf Today

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Scriptoriums cost a lot of money Today

  • Training of Scribes

  • A nice working environment

  • Money for materials

  • Work is slow—four pages per day, less in the winter


  • Different centers and different scribes led to little uniformity in script and spelling

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What Does Old English Look Like? Today

Old English does not really look like modern day English

  • At that time, a mixture of Celtic, Latin, a number of Anglo-Saxon dialects, Scandinavian

  • Runic alphabet and Latin alphabet combined to form Old English.

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Old English (c. 1000) Today

Fæder ure þuþe 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.

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Middle English (c. 1380) Today

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 dounin 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.

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Early Modern English (from King James Bible, 1611) Today

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. Amen.

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Some basics of Old English Today

1. The woman saw the man.

  • The man saw the woman

    Old English

    the (nom) woman saw the (acc.) man

  • Seo cwen gesah Þone guman

    the (nom) man saw the (acc.) woman

    2. Se guma gesah Þa cwen.

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Modern English uses word order; OE uses word endings Today

‘The woman saw the man.’

a. Seo cwen gesah Þone guman


b. Þone guman gesah seo cwen

‘The man saw the woman.’

Se guma gesah Þa cwen.


Þa cwen gesah se guma

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Tuesday 9/20 Today

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