Anglo-Saxon Period The English Language
Angles and Saxons arrive middle of fifth century from northern Europe • Drove some Celts into the west (Welsh today)=little influence on English language • Other Celts (Irish today) later sent missionaries to Angles • Latin from Romans greatly influenced Anglo-Saxons: knew some Latin from the Continent and borrowed more as people were converted
Old English=Anglo-Saxon • An Indo-European language • A Germanic tongue • Grammar different from ours in number of ways
Nouns • One of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter • Grammatical gender of noun might have little to do with sex. For example, three words for “woman”: wifmann=masculine hlaefdige=feminine wif=neuter
Adjectives • Different forms depending on gender, number, and case of nouns they modified. paet tile wif se tila wifmann Both phrases mean “the good woman.”
Verbs • Four forms in the present tense: ic ride=“I ride” pu ridest=“you ride” he ridep=“he rides” we ridon=“we ride”
Old English used endings on words to show how they relate to one another and how they are used in a sentence (like some other Indo-European languages). • Today we rely on word order to show grammatical differences, rather than a different form for a word if it is a subject rather than the object of the verb.
Anglo-Saxon Writing • Scribes wrote in a script learned from Celtic missionaries—a pleasant-looking, rounded style of writing. • For special purposes, Old English writers used a totally different alphabet called futhorc or futhark composed of letters called runes, probably brought from the Continent. Runes—straight, angular letters often carved on wood—were used by early pagan English for magic and for monuments.
Writing was considered important business, so it was usually used for Latin: language of the church, books, education,and contact with other nations. To know Latin was to be learned, so to not know it was to be illiterate. Therefore, Latin came to have a greater and more lasting influence on English than any other language.
Our basic vocabulary today comes from Old English: • Words like heart, foot, head, day, year, earth, father, mother, son, daughter, name, east, full, hound, tooth, eat, weave, sew. • Noun plural ending s and possessive ending ‘s • Regular endings for past tense and past participle of our verbs • Vowel changes in verbs like sing, sang, sung
Although we have lost most of the endings from Old English and have borrowed far more words from other languages than we have kept from Old English times, the heart of our speech is still the same. This bolded sentence consists entirely of words from Old English, and its grammar would have been understood by an English speaker in 700 A.D.