22 Facts About Old English


Old English developed from a set of Anglo-Frisian or Ingvaeonic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes traditionally known as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

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Old English had four main dialects, associated with particular Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish and West Saxon.

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Old English is one of the West Germanic languages, and its closest relatives are Old Frisian and Old Saxon.

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The oldest Old English inscriptions were written using a runic system, but from about the 8th century this was replaced by a version of the Latin alphabet.

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Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion.

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Old English is a West Germanic language, and developed out of Ingvaeonic dialects from the 5th century.

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Old English literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century.

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The oldest surviving work of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, which was composed between 658 and 680 but not written down until the early 8th century.

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Old English contained a certain number of loanwords from Latin, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca of Western Europe.

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Norse borrowings are relatively rare in Old English literature, being mostly terms relating to government and administration.

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Strength of the Viking influence on Old English appears from the fact that the indispensable elements of the language – pronouns, modals, comparatives, pronominal adverbs, conjunctions and prepositions – show the most marked Danish influence; the best evidence of Scandinavian influence appears in the extensive word borrowings for, as Jespersen indicates, no texts exist in either Scandinavia or in Northern England from this time to give certain evidence of an influence on syntax.

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The effect of Old Norse on Old English was substantive, pervasive, and of a democratic character.

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Old Norse and Old English resembled each other closely like cousins and with some words in common, they roughly understood each other; in time the inflections melted away and the analytic pattern emerged.

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Old English nouns had grammatical gender, while modern English has only natural gender.

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Old English was first written in runes, using the futhorc—a rune set derived from the Germanic 24-character elder futhark, extended by five more runes used to represent Anglo-Saxon vowel sounds and sometimes by several more additional characters.

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In contrast with Modern English orthography, that of Old English was reasonably regular, with a mostly predictable correspondence between letters and phonemes.

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Corpus of Old English literature is small but still significant, with some 400 surviving manuscripts.

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Some most important surviving works of Old English literature are Beowulf, an epic poem; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a record of early English history; the Franks Casket, an inscribed early whalebone artefact; and Cædmon's Hymn, a Christian religious poem.

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Cædmon, the earliest Old English poet known by name, served as a lay brother in the monastery at Whitby.

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Old English lexicography was revived in the early modern period, drawing heavily on Anglo-Saxons' own glossaries.

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The next substantial Old English dictionary was Joseph Bosworth's Anglo-Saxon Dictionary of 1838.

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However, one investigation found that many Neo-Old English texts published online bear little resemblance to the historical language and have many basic grammatical mistakes.

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