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The Old English period: brief outline and main features

Dates: 7th–11th centuries AD. This earliest period begins with the migration of certain Germanic tribes from the continent to Britain in the fifth century A. D., though no records of their language survive from before the seventh century, and it continues until the end of the eleventh century or a bit later. By that time Latin, Old Norse (the language of the Viking invaders), and especially the Anglo-Norman French of the dominant class after the Norman Conquest in 1066 had begun to have a substantial impact on the lexicon, and the well-developed inflectional system that typifies the grammar of Old English had begun to break down.

Main features the period in the language development:

1) After the English scholar Henry Sweet, this period is called the period of full endings. This means that any vowel may be found in an unstressed ending.

2) Spelling was phonetic, i.e. all the letters were pronounced.

3) The alphabet included some letters we do not use now : Þ (thorn),ð (eth) and æ (ash) The Anglo-Saxons didn’t use v and j.

4) There were long and short vowels and long and short consonants (geminates). Some sound do not exist now.

5) OE was an inflected language, whose words showed their grammatical function in the sentence by changes in the word itself. The word order was free.

6) The noun had 2 numbers, three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), 4 cases (Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative) and several types of declension according to the stem-suffix.

7) There were two types of adjective declension, strong and weak (after pronouns).

8) The verbs were divided in two main groups: strong and weak. Strong verbs formed their preterite and Participle II by change of the root-vowel; weak verbs formed these forms by addition of the suffix –d(e) The verb had only two tenses – Present and Past.

9) There was no article, his function was performed by the demonstrative pronoun seō (that)

Major authors and literary works:

· Beowulf is a mythological poem which is written the West Saxon dialect of Old English. The author combined the floating legends of those times into one epic whole. The poem consists of 3 major stories, which tell of the battles of the most famous of all heroes (Beowulf) with the monster (Grendel), Grendel’s mother (a water-troll) and a dragon. In the last battle Beowulf received a fatal wound.

Beowulf maÞelode, bearn EaƺÞeower

(Beowulf spoke, Eagtheow’s son)

Ne sorƺa, snotor ƺuma; sēlre biÞ āƺhwǣm

(Sorrow not, sage man; better it is for every one)

Þæt ē his frēond wrecce, Þonne hē fela murne.

(htat he his frien avenge, than that he greatly mourn.)


· The Anglo-Saxon Chornicle, a year-for-year account of the events in English history, starting in 787.

· Some works and translations by King Alfred: Orosius, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Cura Pastoralis.

· The Exeter Book, also known as the Codex Exoniensis, is a tenth century book (or, as some prefer, a codex) of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Read funny, metaphorical and ribald riddles from the Exeter Book with parallel translations in Modern English. The answers to some riddles have not been found yet! http://www2.kenyon.edu/AngloSaxonRiddles/texts.htm


Date: 2015-01-29; view: 1884

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