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English 121 09/15. Introduction to Old English.

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english 121 09 15

English 12109/15

Introduction to Old English

“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”

time overview of old english
Time Overview of Old English
  • 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 .
influence from all of these groups are found in english today
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
from runes to old english writing
From Runes to Old English writing

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…

scriptoriums cost a lot of money
Scriptoriums cost a lot of money
  • 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
what does old english look like
What Does Old English Look Like?

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.
old english c 1000
Old English (c. 1000)

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.

middle english c 1380
Middle English (c. 1380)

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.

early modern english from king james bible 1611
Early Modern English (from King James Bible, 1611)

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.

some basics of old english
Some basics of Old English

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.

modern english uses word order oe uses word endings
Modern English uses word order; OE uses word endings

‘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

Tuesday 9/20

SOE Chapter 2