Home Random Page



The Old English Period

The Old English Period (449 - 1066) - the Period of Full Endings:

- The Early OE - pre-written period;

- The Written OE - Anglo-Saxon period (since the 8th c.).

Orthograpy and Phonology Upon introducing Christianity (597 A.D.) Latin alphabet was adopted in Enlish. Some OE sounds had no counterparts in I .at in, so 3 signs developed from Runes. They are:/? (joy), <) (thorn), and ligature ce (ash) being used as transcription symbols now.

The graphs & q were not used (folc "folk", cwen^'queen"). The letter reperesented both fk], as in nacod "naked" & [t J ]. as in cild "child". The letter g represented a glide [j] initially before certain front vowels, and finally after them: geard "yard", halig "holy". The sequence sc (.Englisc, scip) represents NE sh [j],

OE pennitted certain consonant clusters which are now prohibited, as in Mud "loud", hring "ring", cniht "-boy" (the latter survives orthographically in knight, cfi: knee, know, knot).

Three pairs of sounds whose members are now distinct phonemes were then allophones of single phonemes: [fj & [v], [0] & [5], [s] & [z], cf.: wj/[wi:f] "woman" & wlfes [wi:es] "woman".

OE had systematic long & short vowels, plus diphthongs. Short vowels remained relatively stable over the centuries, and many words containing them are pronounced today as in OE: him, fisc, glsa, ecg "edge".

Long vowels underwent great changes called the vowel shift. All long vowels were systematically raised and the highest were diphthonized.

The length of vowels was a phonetic quality. The words having long and short vowels differed in meaning, e.g.: j od (god) - 3 od (good).



OE nouns carried 3 grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neutral) and inflections for 5 cases (nominative (), genetive (), dative (), accusative (), instrumental ()); nominative & accusative forms were identical, as were dative & instrumental.

There existed several types of declensions () denoted by the last sound of the stem-building suffix: o-stem, S-stem, i-stem, u- stem (strong declensions); n-stem (weak declension); root-stem, r-stem, s-stem (minor declensions).



From o-stem declension came the only productive noun inflexions, with pL& possessive sing, in -s.

The paradigm of u-stem declension survives in uniflccted plural in words, like deer & sheep.

Root-stem declension has yielded foot / feet, goose / geese, tooth / teeth, mouse / mice, man / men.

T he words of the weak n-stem declension had the ending -an as a word-building suffix. The modern English plural ending -en in oxen derived from OE -an in oxan (OE sing. nom. Oxa, gen./ dat./ acc. axon). This ending was further extended to some nouns of other declensions: children, brethren.

Adjectives were inflected for gender, number & case in agreemnet with nouns.

OE exhibits 2 types of verbs: weak, with [d] or [t] in past-tense, as in love - loved; & strong, with gradation (ablaut), as in ring- rang - rung. Verbs were inflected for present & past tenses, indicative & subjunctive moods, had 3 persons & 2 numbers.


OE personal pronouns of the 1 * & 2nd persons had 3 numbers: singular, dual, & plural.


Exccpt for the loss of the dual number most pronouns have been preserved in modem English, though the forms thou, thine, thee (sing.),&_ye (pi.) are archaic.


The vocabulary of OE was small (20,000 - 30,000 words). However, it readily formed new words by combining old ones. It was rich in prefixes & suffixes with which the words could be changed for new ones. The words were almost entirely native. Aside from a small number of geographical names, like Kent, Avon, Devon, Thames. possibly London, & some everyday words, like clan, kilt, dun, clay, number of Celtic words was negligible. Some OE words mostly of religious character were borrowed from Latin: monk, abby, monastery, bishop, cloister, candle, also silk, beet, mat. box, school, theatre. OE was also influenced by Dannish due to a series of attacks upon Britain (from the 8th c. till 1040). From the language of Danes OE acquired many common words now in use; sky. skirt, skill, skin, scrape, band, bank, egg, race, call, raise, give as well as place names: Grimsby, Derby, Lowestoft.


OE relied on inflexions to mark grammatical relations, thus word order was more flexible than in NE. OE does not exhibit a preference for SPO word order in main and subordinate clauses. In subclauses there existed direct (SP), inverted (PS),and "framing structure" (S...P) word order - subject at the beginning of the clause, predicate at the end, all secondary parts being inserted between them.

The subject was frequently unexpressed in OE sentence: Bugon to bence. "[They] bent to the bench".

In OE there were some impersonal types of sentences not traced now: pincp me (cf. methinks).

Multiple negation was normal: Mis cwicra nan. "[There] isn't now alive no one". Negation was shown by negative partici le ne before the verb.

Interrogative pronouns hwsct (what), hwile (which) & hwa (who) were not used as relative ones. Relative clauses were introduced by J)e.

The word order of elements in noun phrases was usually determiner+A+N: se goda rnann - "that good man"; genetives preceded nouns pxs lundes folc - "that land's people"; prepositions preceded nouns but often folowed pronouns: him id - "to him"; adjectives preceded head noun: / sumum side - "at a certain time".

There were 3 moods in OE: the indicative, subjunctive & imperative. The subjunctive mood was used much more frequently than now. The category of number was more developed and distinguished not only in the indicative but also in the subjunctive & inmepative moods. OE verbs distinguished two tenses by inflexions: the present & the past. Iliere was no future tense, a future action being denoted by the present tense. Analytical forms derived OE verbal phrases: sculan (shall) + infinitive & willan (will) + infinitive. When futurity was bound up with compulsion, the verb sculan with the meaning "must" or "ought" was used: tfwas/ sceal ic sing an? (What must I sing?). When futurity was bound up with desire, the verb willan was used.

The modern passive voice derived from verbal phrases:

habban (have) + PII of a transitive verb, bean / wesan + Pll of an intransitive verb; continuous form developed on the basis of the pattern: beon / wesan + PI..



Date: 2015-04-20; view: 1588

<== previous page | next page ==>
The principle notions of stylistics. Functional styles. | Thc Middle English Period
doclecture.net - lectures - 2014-2023 year. Copyright infringement or personal data (0.013 sec.)