Old English language

Old English language

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Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

History



Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence



A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words. This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence



Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology



The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography



Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven (⟨⟩, called a Tironian note), and a symbol for the relative pronoun
Relative pronoun
A relative pronoun is a pronoun that marks a relative clause within a larger sentence. It is called a relative pronoun because it relates the relative clause to the noun that it modifies. In English, the relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, whosever, whosesoever, which, and, in some...

 þæt, a thorn with a crossbar through the ascender (⟨⟩). Macron
Macron
A macron, from the Greek , meaning "long", is a diacritic placed above a vowel . It was originally used to mark a long or heavy syllable in Greco-Roman metrics, but now marks a long vowel...

s ⟨⟩ over vowels were rarely used to indicate long vowels. Also used occasionally were abbreviations for a following m or n. All of the sound descriptions below are given using IPA symbols.

Conventions of modern editions


A number of changes are traditionally made in published modern editions of the original Old English manuscripts. Some of these conventions include the introduction of punctuation and the substitutions of symbols. The symbols ⟨e⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨r⟩, ⟨s⟩ are used in modern editions, although their shapes in the insular script are considerably different. The long s
Long s
The long, medial or descending s is a form of the minuscule letter s formerly used where s occurred in the middle or at the beginning of a word, for example "ſinfulneſs" . The modern letterform was called the terminal, round, or short s.-History:The long s is derived from the old Roman cursive...

 ⟨⟩ is substituted by its modern counterpart ⟨s⟩. Insular ⟨
{{Other uses|Old English (disambiguation)}}
{{tone|date=September 2011}}
{{Use British English|date=August 2011}}
{{Use dmy dates|date=August 2011}}

{{Old English topics}}

Old English (Ænglisc, Anglisc, Englisc) or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the
English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

{{anchor|Early Old English}}{{anchor|Late Old English}}

History


{{See|History of the English language}}
Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence


{{see|Latin influence in English}}
A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words.{{Citation needed|date=October 2010}} This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


{{Old Norse language map}}

The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence


{{main|Brittonicisms in English}}
Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology


{{Main|Old English phonology}}
The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography


{{Main|Anglo-Saxon runes|Old English Latin alphabet}}
Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven (⟨{{unicode|⁊}}⟩, called a Tironian note), and a symbol for the relative pronoun
Relative pronoun
A relative pronoun is a pronoun that marks a relative clause within a larger sentence. It is called a relative pronoun because it relates the relative clause to the noun that it modifies. In English, the relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, whosever, whosesoever, which, and, in some...

 þæt, a thorn with a crossbar through the ascender (⟨{{unicode|ꝥ}}⟩). Macron
Macron
A macron, from the Greek , meaning "long", is a diacritic placed above a vowel . It was originally used to mark a long or heavy syllable in Greco-Roman metrics, but now marks a long vowel...

s ⟨{{unicode|¯}}⟩ over vowels were rarely used to indicate long vowels. Also used occasionally were abbreviations for a following m or n. All of the sound descriptions below are given using IPA symbols.

Conventions of modern editions


A number of changes are traditionally made in published modern editions of the original Old English manuscripts. Some of these conventions include the introduction of punctuation and the substitutions of symbols. The symbols ⟨e⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨r⟩, ⟨s⟩ are used in modern editions, although their shapes in the insular script are considerably different. The long s
Long s
The long, medial or descending s is a form of the minuscule letter s formerly used where s occurred in the middle or at the beginning of a word, for example "ſinfulneſs" . The modern letterform was called the terminal, round, or short s.-History:The long s is derived from the old Roman cursive...

 ⟨{{unicode|ſ}}⟩ is substituted by its modern counterpart ⟨s⟩. Insular ⟨
{{Other uses|Old English (disambiguation)}}
{{tone|date=September 2011}}
{{Use British English|date=August 2011}}
{{Use dmy dates|date=August 2011}}

{{Old English topics}}

Old English (Ænglisc, Anglisc, Englisc) or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the
English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 and their descendants in parts of what are now England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and southeastern Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. What survives through writing represents primarily the literary register of Anglo-Saxon.

It is a West Germanic language and is closely related to Old Frisian
Old Frisian
Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Weser on the European North Sea coast. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland also spoke Old Frisian but no medieval texts of this area are known...

.
Old English had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, and was much closer to modern German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 than modern English in most respects, including its grammar. It was fully inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 with five grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

, and instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

), two grammatical number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

s (singular
Singular
A grammatical number denoting a unit quantity Singular may also refer to:* Gravitational singularity, a location where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

) and three grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s (masculine
Masculine
Masculine or masculinity, normally refer to qualities positively associated with men.Masculine may also refer to:*Masculine , a grammatical gender*Masculine cadence, a final chord occurring on a strong beat in music...

, feminine
Feminine
Feminine, or femininity, normally refers to qualities positively associated with women.Feminine may also refer to:*Feminine , a grammatical gender*Feminine cadence, a final chord falling in a metrically weak position...

, and neuter
Neuter
Neuter is a Latin adjective meaning "neither", and can refer to:* Neutering, the sterilization of an animal* The neuter grammatical gender-See also:*Trap-Neuter-Return , an alternative to euthanasia for managing feral cat and dog populations...

). First and second person personal pronoun
Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. All known languages contain personal pronouns.- English personal pronouns :English in common use today has seven personal pronouns:*first-person singular...

s also had dual forms
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms. The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular; it could typically be replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.

Noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s came in numerous declension
Declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...

s (with deep parallels in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

). Verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s came in nine main conjugation
Conjugation
Conjugation or conjugate may refer to:* Conjugation , the modification of a verb from its basic form* Conjugate , used to rationalize the denominator of a fraction...

s (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" — really tense/aspect combinations — of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

).

Note that gender in noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s was grammatical
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English. That is, the grammatical gender of a given noun did not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

) was masculine, and þat wīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 cognates die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.

From the 9th century, Old English experienced heavy influence from Old Norse, a member of the related North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 group of language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s.

{{anchor|Early Old English}}{{anchor|Late Old English}}

History


{{See|History of the English language}}
Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

.

Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of common Ingvaeonic or "North-Sea Germanic" from the 5th century.
Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. The oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmon's Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a limited corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries, but the oldest coherent runic texts (notably Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

) date to the 8th century.

The history of Old English can be subdivided in:
  • Prehistoric Old English (c. 450 to 650); for this period, Old English is mostly a reconstructed language as no literary witnesses survive (with the exception of limited epigraphic evidence).
  • Early Old English (ca. 650 to 900), the period of the oldest manuscript traditions, with authors such as Cædmon
    Cædmon
    Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals and was attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch during the abbacy of St. Hilda , he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream,...

    , Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

    , Cynewulf
    Cynewulf
    Cynewulf is one of twelve Anglo-Saxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that...

     and Aldhelm.
  • Late Old English (c. 900 to 1066), the final stage of the language leading up to the Norman conquest of England
    Norman conquest of England
    The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

     and the subsequent transition to Early Middle English.


The Old English period is followed by Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 (12th to 15th century), Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (ca. 1480 to 1650) and finally Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 (after 1650).

Influence of other languages


In the course of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, Old English assimilated some aspects of a few languages with which it came in contact, such as the two dialects of Old Norse from the contact with the Norsemen
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 or "Danes" who by the late 9th century controlled large tracts of land in northern and eastern England which came to be known as the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

.

Latin influence


{{see|Latin influence in English}}
A large percentage of the educated and literate population of the time were competent in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, which was the scholarly and diplomatic lingua franca
Lingua franca
A lingua franca is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both mother tongues.-Characteristics:"Lingua franca" is a functionally defined term, independent of the linguistic...

of Europe at the time. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Angles
Anglian
Anglian may refer to* The Anglian dialects* The Anglic languages* The Anglian Stage * The Anglian automobile* Used in reference to the cultural products and politics of the Angles of Anglo-Saxon England...

 and Saxons left continental Europe for Britain. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. See Latin influence in English: Dark Ages for details.

The third and largest single transfer of Latin-based words happened after the Norman Conquest of 1066
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, when an enormous number of Norman
Norman language
Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

 words began to influence the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 and ultimately from classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced or re-introduced in Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

One of the ways the influence of Latin can be seen is that many Latin words for activities came to also be used to refer to the people engaged in those activities, an idiom carried over from Anglo-Saxon but using Latin words.{{Citation needed|date=October 2010}} This can be seen in words like militia, assembly, movement, and service.

The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic alphabet
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (also known as futhorc
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Futhorc , a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian....

or fuþorc) to the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, which was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Old English words were spelled, more or less, as they were pronounced. Often, the Latin alphabet fell short of being able to adequately represent Anglo-Saxon phonetics. Spellings, therefore, can be thought of as best-attempt approximations of how the language actually sounded. The "silent" letters in many Modern English words were pronounced in Old English: for example, the c and h in cniht, the Old English ancestor of the modern knight, were pronounced. Another side-effect of spelling Old English words phonetically using the Latin alphabet was that spelling was extremely variable. A word's spelling could also reflect differences in the phonetics of the writer's regional dialect. Words also endured idiosyncratic spelling choices of individual authors, some of whom varied spellings between works. Thus, for example, the word and could be spelt either and or ond.

Norse influence


{{Old Norse language map}}

The second major source of loanwords to Old English were the Scandinavian words introduced during the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw
Danelaw
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

).

The Vikings spoke Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language
Mixed language
A mixed language is a language that arises through the fusion of two source languages, normally in situations of thorough bilingualism, so that it is not possible to classify the resulting language as belonging to either of the language families that were its source...

, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English helped accelerate the decline of case endings in Old English.

Apparent confirmation of this is the fact that simplification of the case endings occurred earliest in the north and latest in the southwest, the area farthest away from Viking influence. Regardless of the truth of this theory, the influence of Old Norse on the English language has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as sky, leg, the pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

 they, the verb form are, and hundreds of other words.

Celtic influence


{{main|Brittonicisms in English}}
Traditionally, and following the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 preference prevalent in the nineteenth century, many maintain that the influence of Brythonic Celtic on English has been small, citing the small number of Celtic loanwords taken into the language. The number of Celtic loanwords is of a lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian. However, a more recent and still minority view is that distinctive Celtic traits can be discerned in syntax from the post-Old English period, such as the regular progressive construction and analytic word order in oppostition to the Germanic languages. Why these traits appear to be restricted to syntax and do not include vocabulary is not clear. However many common English words with early attestation in Britain, such as 'dog', 'bird', 'pig', have no apparent cognate in the West Germanic languages, leading some to speculate that their origin lies in the extinct Brythonic dialects of the 'contact' period. Due to the remoteness of the period, etymological attribution in modern dictionaries is generally given simply as 'Old English'.

Dialects


Old English should not be regarded as a single monolithic entity just as Modern English
Modern English
Modern English is the form of the English language spoken since the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.Despite some differences in vocabulary, texts from the early 17th century, such as the works of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible, are considered to be in Modern...

 is also not monolithic. It emerged over time out of the many dialects and languages of the colonising tribes, and it was not until the later Anglo-Saxon period that they fused together into Old English. Even then it continued to exhibit local language variation, the remnants of which continue to be found in dialects of Modern English. Thus it is misleading, for example, to consider Old English as having a single sound system. Rather, there were multiple Old English sound systems. Old English has variation along regional lines as well as variation across different times. For example, the language attested in Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 during the time of Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester
Æthelwold of Winchester , was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England....

, which is named Late West Saxon (or Æthelwoldian Saxon), is considerably different from the language attested in Wessex during the time of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's court, which is named Early West Saxon (or Classical West Saxon or Alfredian Saxon). Furthermore, the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon is of such a nature that Late West Saxon is not directly descended from Early West Saxon (despite what the similarity in name implies).

The four main dialectal forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon
West Saxon (Old English)
West Saxon, primarily spoken in Wessex, was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian ....

. Each of those dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 and most of Mercia
Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia that was successfully defended and all of Kent
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of Middle and Modern English dialects later on, and by common sense—people do not spontaneously adopt another dialect when there is a sudden change of political power.

However, the bulk of the surviving documents from the Anglo-Saxon period are written in the dialect of Wessex, Alfred's kingdom. It seems likely that with consolidation of power, it became necessary to standardise the language of government to reduce the difficulty of administering the more remote areas of the kingdom. As a result, documents were written in the West Saxon dialect. Not only this, but Alfred was passionate about the spread of the vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

, and brought many scribes to his region from Mercia to record previously unwritten texts.

The Church
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 was affected likewise, especially since Alfred initiated an ambitious programme to translate religious materials into English. To retain his patronage and ensure the widest circulation of the translated materials, the monks and priests engaged in the programme worked in his dialect. Alfred himself seems to have translated books out of Latin and into English, notably Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I , better known in English as Gregory the Great, was pope from 3 September 590 until his death...

's treatise on administration, Pastoral Care
Pastoral Care
Liber Regulae Pastoralis or Regula Pastoralis is a treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy written by Pope Gregory I around the year 590, shortly after his papal inauguration...

.

Because of the centralisation of power and the Viking invasions, there is little or no written evidence for the development of non-Wessex dialects after Alfred's unification.

Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect.

Phonology


{{Main|Old English phonology}}
The inventory of classical Old English (i.e. Late West Saxon) surface phones, as usually reconstructed, is as follows.
  Bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Postalveolar
Postalveolar consonant
Postalveolar consonants are consonants articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, further back in the mouth than the alveolar consonants, which are at the ridge itself, but not as far back as the hard palate...

Palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Stop
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p  b     t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate
Affricate consonant
Affricates are consonants that begin as stops but release as a fricative rather than directly into the following vowel.- Samples :...

        tʃ  (dʒ)      
Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m     n     (ŋ)  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

  f  (v) θ  (ð) s  (z) ʃ (ç) (x)  (ɣ) h
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

      r   j w  
Lateral approximant
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

      l        


The sounds marked in parentheses in the chart above are allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s: is an allophone of /j/ occurring after /n/ and when geminated
Gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....

 is an allophone of /n/ occurring before /k/ and /ɡ/ are allophones of /f, θ, s/ respectively, occurring between vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s or voiced consonants are allophones of /h/ occurring in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position after front and back vowels respectively is an allophone of /ɡ/ occurring after a vowel, and, at an earlier stage of the language, in the syllable onset.
Monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s
Short
Vowel length
In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may etymologically be one, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in...

Long
Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

Front Back
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i  y u iː  yː
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e  (ø) o eː  (øː)
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

æ ɑ æː ɑː


The front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

 mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

 rounded vowels /ø(ː)/ occur in some dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s of Old English, but not in the best attested Late West Saxon dialect.
Diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s
Short (monomoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Long (bimoraic)
First element is close iy iːy
Both elements are mid eo eːo
Both elements are open æɑ æːɑ

Morphology


Unlike modern English, Old English is a language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

 rich with morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 diversity. It maintains several distinct cases: the nominative
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

, accusative
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

, genitive
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

, dative
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and (vestigially) instrumental
Instrumental case
The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

. The only remnants of this system in modern English are in a few pronouns.

Syntax


Old English syntax was similar in many ways to that of modern English. However, there were some important differences. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection — e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:
  • The default word order
    Word order
    In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...

     was verb-second and more like modern German
    German language
    German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

     than modern English.
  • There was no do-support
    Do-support
    In English grammar do-support or do-insertion refers to the use of the auxiliary verb do in negative or interrogative clauses that do not contain other auxiliaries....

     in questions and negatives.
  • Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence, and intensified each other (negative concord).
  • Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "When X, Y" did not use a wh-type word for the conjunction, but rather used interrogative pronouns as a word related to "when", but a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. þā X, þā Y in place of "When X, Y").

Orthography


{{Main|Anglo-Saxon runes|Old English Latin alphabet}}
Old English was first written in runes
Runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...

 (futhorc) but shifted to a (minuscule) half-uncial script of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 introduced by Irish Christian missionaries from around the 9th century. This was replaced by insular script
Insular script
Insular script was a medieval script system originally used in Ireland, then Great Britain, that spread to continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. Irish missionaries also took the script to continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were...

, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian minuscule
Carolingian or Caroline minuscule is a script developed as a writing standard in Europe so that the Roman alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in Charlemagne's empire between approximately 800 and 1200...

 (also known as Caroline) replaced the insular.

The letter ðæt ⟨ð⟩ (called eth or edh in modern English) was an alteration of Latin ⟨d⟩, and the runic letters thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ and wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

 ⟨ƿ⟩ are borrowings from futhorc. Also used was a symbol for the conjunction
Grammatical conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...

 and, a character similar to the number seven (⟨{{unicode|⁊}}⟩, called a Tironian note), and a symbol for the relative pronoun
Relative pronoun
A relative pronoun is a pronoun that marks a relative clause within a larger sentence. It is called a relative pronoun because it relates the relative clause to the noun that it modifies. In English, the relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, whosever, whosesoever, which, and, in some...

 þæt, a thorn with a crossbar through the ascender (⟨{{unicode|ꝥ}}⟩). Macron
Macron
A macron, from the Greek , meaning "long", is a diacritic placed above a vowel . It was originally used to mark a long or heavy syllable in Greco-Roman metrics, but now marks a long vowel...

s ⟨{{unicode|¯}}⟩ over vowels were rarely used to indicate long vowels. Also used occasionally were abbreviations for a following m or n. All of the sound descriptions below are given using IPA symbols.

Conventions of modern editions


A number of changes are traditionally made in published modern editions of the original Old English manuscripts. Some of these conventions include the introduction of punctuation and the substitutions of symbols. The symbols ⟨e⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨r⟩, ⟨s⟩ are used in modern editions, although their shapes in the insular script are considerably different. The long s
Long s
The long, medial or descending s is a form of the minuscule letter s formerly used where s occurred in the middle or at the beginning of a word, for example "ſinfulneſs" . The modern letterform was called the terminal, round, or short s.-History:The long s is derived from the old Roman cursive...

 ⟨{{unicode|ſ}}⟩ is substituted by its modern counterpart ⟨s⟩. Insular ⟨{{unicode
Insular G
Insular G is a form of the letter g somewhat resembling a tailed z or lowercase delta, used in Britain and Ireland. It was first used by the Irish, passed into Old English, and developed into the Middle English letter yogh...

 is usually substituted with its modern counterpart ⟨g⟩ (which is ultimately a Carolingian symbol).

Additionally, modern editions often distinguish between a velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

 and palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

 ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ with diacritic dots above the putative palatals: ⟨{{unicode|ċ}}⟩, ⟨{{unicode|ġ}}⟩. The wynn symbol ⟨{{unicode|ƿ}}⟩ is usually substituted with ⟨w⟩. Macrons are usually found in modern editions to indicate putative long vowels, while they are usually lacking in the originals. In older printed editions of Old English works, an acute accent
Acute accent
The acute accent is a diacritic used in many modern written languages with alphabets based on the Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek scripts.-Apex:An early precursor of the acute accent was the apex, used in Latin inscriptions to mark long vowels.-Greek:...

 mark was used to maintain cohesion between Old English and Old Norse printing.

The alphabetical symbols found in Old English writings and their substitute symbols found in modern editions are listed below:
Symbol Description and notes
a Short /ɑ/. Spelling variations like ⟨land⟩ ~ ⟨lond⟩ "land" suggest it may have had a rounded allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

 [ɒ] before [n] in some cases)
ā Long /ɑː/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨a⟩ in modern editions.
æ Short /æ/. Before 800 the digraph ⟨ae⟩ is often found instead of ⟨æ⟩. During the 8th century ⟨æ⟩ began to be used more frequently was standard after 800. In 9th century Kentish manuscripts, a form of ⟨æ⟩ that was missing the upper hook of the ⟨a⟩ part was used. Kentish ⟨æ⟩ may be either /æ/ or /e/ although this is difficult to determine.
ǣ}} Long /æː/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨æ⟩ in modern editions.
b Represented /b/. Also represented [v] in early texts before 800. For example, the word "sheaves" is spelled ⟨scēabas⟩ in an early text but later (and more commonly) as ⟨scēafas⟩.
c Except in the digraphs
Digraph (orthography)
A digraph or digram is a pair of characters used to write one phoneme or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined...

 ⟨sc⟩, ⟨cg⟩, either /tʃ/ or /k/. The /tʃ/ pronunciation is sometimes written with a diacritic
Diacritic
A diacritic is a glyph added to a letter, or basic glyph. The term derives from the Greek διακριτικός . Diacritic is both an adjective and a noun, whereas diacritical is only an adjective. Some diacritical marks, such as the acute and grave are often called accents...

 by modern editors: most commonly ⟨{{unicode|ċ}}⟩, sometimes ⟨č⟩ or ⟨ç⟩. Before a consonant letter the pronunciation is always /k/; word-finally after ⟨i⟩ it is always /tʃ/. Otherwise, a knowledge of the historical linguistics
Historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...

 of the word is needed to predict which pronunciation is needed. (See The distribution of velars and palatals in Old English for details.)
cg [ddʒ] (the surface pronunciation of geminate /jj/); occasionally also for /ɡɡ/
d Represented /d/. In the earliest texts, it also represented /θ/ but was soon replaced by ⟨ð⟩ and ⟨þ⟩. For example, the word meaning "thought" (lit. mood-i-think, with -i- as in "handiwork") was written ⟨mōdgidanc⟩ in a Northumbrian text dated 737, but later as ⟨mōdgeþanc⟩ in a 10th century West Saxon text.
ð Represented /θ/ and its allophone [ð]. Called ðæt in Old English (now called eth in Modern English), ⟨ð⟩ is found in alternation with thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 ⟨þ⟩ (both representing the same sound) although it is more common in texts dating before Alfred. Together with ⟨þ⟩ it replaced earlier ⟨d⟩ and ⟨th⟩. First attested (in definitely dated materials) in the 7th century. After the beginning of Alfred
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's time, ⟨ð⟩ was used more frequently for medial and final positions while ⟨þ⟩ became increasingly used in initial positions, although both still varied. Some modern editions attempt to regularise the variation between ⟨þ⟩ and ⟨ð⟩ by using only ⟨þ⟩.
e Short /e/.
ę}} Either Kentish /æ/ or /e/ although this is difficult to determine. A modern editorial substitution for a form of ⟨æ⟩ missing the upper hook of the ⟨a⟩ found in 9th century texts.
ē Long /eː/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨e⟩ in modern editions.
ea Short /æɑ/; after ⟨{{unicode|ċ⟩, ⟨ġ}}⟩, sometimes /æ/ or /ɑ/.
ēa Long /æːɑ/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨ea⟩ in modern editions. After ⟨{{unicode|ċ⟩, ⟨ġ}}⟩, sometimes /æː/.
eo Short /eo/; after ⟨{{unicode|ċ⟩, ⟨ġ}}⟩, sometimes /o/
ēo Long /eːo/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨eo⟩ in modern editions.
f /f/ and its allophone [v]
g /ɡ/ and its allophone [ɣ]; /j/ and its allophone [dʒ] (when after ⟨n⟩). In Old English manuscripts, this letter usually took its insular form
Insular G
Insular G is a form of the letter g somewhat resembling a tailed z or lowercase delta, used in Britain and Ireland. It was first used by the Irish, passed into Old English, and developed into the Middle English letter yogh...

 ⟨{{unicode|ᵹ}}⟩. The /j/ and [dʒ] pronunciations are sometimes written ⟨{{unicode|ġ}}⟩ by modern editors. Before a consonant letter the pronunciation is always [ɡ] (word-initially) or [ɣ] (after a vowel). Word-finally after ⟨i⟩ it is always /j/. Otherwise a knowledge of the historical linguistics
Historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...

 of the word in question is needed to predict which pronunciation is needed. (See The distribution of velars and palatals in Old English for details.)
h /h/ and its allophones [ç, x]. In the combinations ⟨hl⟩, ⟨hr⟩, ⟨hn⟩, ⟨hw⟩, the second consonant was certainly voiceless.
i Short /i/.
ī Long /iː/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨i⟩ in modern editions.
ie Short /iy/; after ⟨{{unicode|ċ⟩, ⟨ġ}}⟩, sometimes /e/.
īe Long /iːy/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨ie⟩ in modern editions. After ⟨{{unicode|ċ⟩, ⟨ġ}}⟩, sometimes /eː/.
k /k/ (rarely used)
l /l/; probably velarised (as in Modern English) when in coda
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

 position.
m /m/
n /n/ and its allophone [ŋ]
o Short /o/.
ō Long /oː/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨o⟩ in modern editions.
oe Short /ø/ (in dialects with this sound).
ōe Long /øː/ (in dialects with this sound). Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨oe⟩ in modern editions.
p /p/
qu A rare spelling of /kw/, which was usually written as ⟨{{unicode|cƿ}}⟩ (= ⟨cw⟩ in modern editions).
r /r/; the exact nature of /r/ is not known. It may have been an alveolar approximant [ɹ] as in most modern accents, an alveolar flap [ɾ], or an alveolar trill
Alveolar trill
The alveolar trill is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents dental, alveolar, and postalveolar trills is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is r. It is commonly called the rolled R, rolling R, or trilled R...

 [r].
s /s/ and its allophone [z].
sc /ʃ/ or occasionally /sk/.
t /t/
th Represented /θ/ in the earliest texts but was soon replaced by ⟨ð⟩ and ⟨þ⟩. For example, the word meaning "thought" was written ⟨mōdgithanc⟩ in an 8th century Northumbrian text, but later as ⟨mōdgeþanc⟩ in a 10th century West Saxon text.
þ An alternate symbol called thorn
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

 used instead of ⟨ð⟩. Represents /θ/ and its allophone [ð]. Together with ⟨ð⟩ it replaced the earlier ⟨d⟩ and ⟨th⟩. First attested (in definitely dated materials) in the 8th century. Less common than ⟨ð⟩ before Alfred
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to 899.Alfred is noted for his defence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of southern England against the Vikings, becoming the only English monarch still to be accorded the epithet "the Great". Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to style himself...

's time, from then onward ⟨þ⟩ was used increasingly more frequently than ⟨ð⟩ at the beginning of words while its occurrence at the end and in the middle of words was rare. Some modern editions attempt to regularise the variation between ⟨þ⟩ and ⟨ð⟩ by using only ⟨þ⟩.
u /u/ and /w/ in early texts of continental scribes. The /w/ ⟨u⟩ was eventually replaced by ⟨{{unicode|ƿ}}⟩ outside of the north of the island.
uu /w/ in early texts of continental scribes. Outside of the north, it was generally replaced by ⟨{{unicode|ƿ}}⟩.
ū Long /uː/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨u⟩ in modern editions.
w /w/. A modern substitution for ⟨{{unicode|ƿ}}⟩.
ƿ}} Runic wynn
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

. Represents /w/, replaced in modern print by ⟨w⟩ to prevent confusion with ⟨p⟩.
x /ks/ (but according to some authors, [xs ~ çs])
y Short /y/.
ȳ}} Long /yː/. Rarely found in manuscripts, but usually distinguished from short ⟨y⟩ in modern editions.
z /ts/. A rare spelling for ⟨ts⟩. Example: /betst/ "best" is rarely spelled ⟨bezt⟩ for more common ⟨betst⟩.


Doubled consonants are geminated; the geminate fricatives ⟨ðð⟩/⟨þþ⟩, ⟨ff⟩ and ⟨ss⟩ cannot be voiced.

Literature


{{Main|Anglo-Saxon literature}}

Old English literature, though more abundant than literature of the continent before AD
Anno Domini
and Before Christ are designations used to label or number years used with the Julian and Gregorian calendars....

 1000, is nonetheless scant. In his supplementary article to the 1935 posthumous edition of Bright's Anglo-Saxon Reader, Dr. James Hulbert writes:

In such historical conditions, an incalculable amount of the writings of the Anglo-Saxon period perished. What they contained, how important they were for an understanding of literature before the Conquest, we have no means of knowing: the scant catalogs of monastic libraries do not help us, and there are no references in extant works to other compositions....How incomplete our materials are can be illustrated by the well-known fact that, with few and relatively unimportant exceptions, all extant Anglo-Saxon poetry is preserved in four manuscripts.


Some of the most important surviving works of Old English literature are Beowulf
Beowulf
Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

, an epic poem; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great...

, a record of early English history; the Franks Casket
Franks Casket
The Franks Casket is a small Anglo-Saxon whalebone chest from the seventh century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes...

, an early whalebone artefact; and Caedmon's Hymn, a Christian religious poem. There are also a number of extant prose works, such as sermons and saints' lives, biblical translations, and translated Latin works of the early Church Fathers, legal documents, such as laws and wills, and practical works on grammar, medicine, and geography. Still, poetry is considered the heart of Old English literature. Nearly all Anglo-Saxon authors are anonymous, with a few exceptions, such as Bede
Bede
Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

 and Caedmon.

Beowulf


The first example is taken from the opening lines of the epic poem Beowulf
Beowulf
Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

. This passage describes how Hrothgar's legendary ancestor Scyld
Scyld
Scyld Scefing is the legendary ancestor of the Danish royal lineage known as the Scyldings. He is the counterpart of the Skioldus or Skjöldr of Danish and Icelandic sources....

 was found as a baby, washed ashore, and adopted by a noble family. The translation is literal and represents the original poetic word order. As such, it is not typical of Old English prose. The modern cognates of original words have been used whenever practical to give a close approximation of the feel of the original poem. The words in brackets are implied in the Old English by noun case and the bold words in parentheses are explanations of words that have slightly different meanings in a modern context. Notice how what is used by the poet where a word like lo or behold would be expected. This usage is similar to what-ho!, both an expression of surprise and a call to attention.
Line Original Translation
[1] Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in ġeār-dagum, What! We of Gare-Danes (lit. Spear-Danes) in yore-days,
[2] þēod-cyninga, þrym ġefrūnon, of thede(nation/people)-kings, did thrum (glory) frayne (learn about by asking),
[3] hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon. how those athelings (noblemen) did ellen (fortitude/courage/zeal) freme (promote).
[4] Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum, Oft did Scyld Scefing of scather threats (troops),
[5] monegum mǣġþum, meodosetla oftēah, of many maegths (clans; cf. Irish cognate Mac-), of mead-settlements atee (deprive),
[6] egsode eorlas. Syððan ǣrest wearð [and] ugg (induce loathing in, terrify; related to "ugly") earls. Sith (since, as of when) erst (first) [he] worthed (became)
[7] fēasceaft funden, hē þæs frōfre ġebād, [in] fewship (destitute) found, he of this frover (comfort) aboded,
[8] wēox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þāh, [and] waxed under welkin (firmament/clouds), [and amid] worthmint (honour/worship) threed (thrived/prospered)
[9] oðþæt him ǣġhwylc þāra ymbsittendra oth that (until that) him each of those umsitters (those "sitting" or dwelling roundabout)
[10] ofer hronrāde hȳran scolde, over whale-road (kenning
Kenning
A kenning is a type of literary trope, specifically circumlocution, in the form of a compound that employs figurative language in place of a more concrete single-word noun. Kennings are strongly associated with Old Norse and later Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon poetry...

for "sea")
hear should,
[11] gomban gyldan. Þæt wæs gōd cyning! [and] yeme (heed/obedience; related to "gormless") yield. That was [a] good king!


A semi-fluent translation in Modern English would be:

Lo! We have heard of majesty of the Spear-Danes, of those nation-kings in the days of yore, and how those noblemen promoted zeal. Scyld Scefing took away mead-benches from bands of enemies, from many tribes; he terrified earls. Since he was first found destitute (he gained consolation for that) he grew under the heavens, prospered in honours, until each of those who lived around him over the sea had to obey him, give him tribute. That was a good king!

The Lord's Prayer


This text of the Lord's Prayer
Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer is a central prayer in Christianity. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, it appears in two forms: in the Gospel of Matthew as part of the discourse on ostentation in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus being approached by "one of his...

 is presented in the standardised West Saxon literary dialect.
Line Original Translation
[1] Fæder ūre þū þe eart on heofonum, Father of ours, thou who art in heaven,
[2] Sī þīn nama ġehālgod. Be thy name hallowed.
[3] Tōbecume þīn rīċe, Come thy riche (kingdom),
[4] ġewurþe þīn willa, on eorðan swā swā on heofonum. Worth (manifest) thy will, on earth as also in heaven.
[5] Ūre ġedæġhwāmlīcan hlāf syle ūs tō dæġ, Our daily loaf do sell (give) to us today,
[6] and forgyf ūs ūre gyltas, swā swā wē forgyfað ūrum gyltendum. And forgive us of our guilts as also we forgive our guilty
[7] And ne ġelǣd þū ūs on costnunge, ac ālȳs ūs of yfele. And do not lead thou us into temptation, but alese (release/deliver) us of (from) evil.
[8] Sōþlīċe. Soothly.

Charter of Cnut


This is a proclamation from King Cnut the Great to his earl
Earl
An earl is a member of the nobility. The title is Anglo-Saxon, akin to the Scandinavian form jarl, and meant "chieftain", particularly a chieftain set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced with duke...

 Thorkell the Tall and the English people written in AD 1020. Unlike the previous two examples, this text is prose rather than poetry. For ease of reading, the passage has been divided into sentences while the pilcrow
Pilcrow
The pilcrow , also called the paragraph mark, paragraph sign, paraph, alinea , or blind P, is a typographical character commonly used to denote individual paragraphs...

s represent the original division.
Original Translation
¶ Cnut cyning gret his arcebiscopas and his leod-biscopas and Þurcyl eorl and ealle his eorlas and ealne his þeodscype, twelfhynde and twyhynde, gehadode and læwede, on Englalande freondlice. ¶ Cnut, king, greets his archbishops and his lede'(people's)'-bishops and Thorkell, earl, and all his earls and all his peopleship, greater (having a 1200 shilling
Shilling
The shilling is a unit of currency used in some current and former British Commonwealth countries. The word shilling comes from scilling, an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. The word is thought to derive...

 weregild
Weregild
Weregild was a value placed on every human being and every piece of property in the Salic Code...

)
and lesser (200 shilling weregild), hooded(ordained to priesthood) and lewd(lay), in England friendly.
And ic cyðe eow, þæt ic wylle beon hold hlaford and unswicende to godes gerihtum and to rihtre woroldlage. And I kithe(make known/couth to) you, that I will be [a] hold(civilised) lord and unswiking(uncheating) to God's rights(laws) and to [the] rights(laws) worldly.
¶ Ic nam me to gemynde þa gewritu and þa word, þe se arcebiscop Lyfing me fram þam papan brohte of Rome, þæt ic scolde æghwær godes lof upp aræran and unriht alecgan and full frið wyrcean be ðære mihte, þe me god syllan wolde. ¶ I nam(took) me to mind the writs and the word that the Archbishop Lyfing me from the Pope brought of Rome, that I should ayewhere(everywhere) God's love(praise) uprear(promote), and unright(outlaw) lies, and full frith(peace) work(bring about) by the might that me God would(wished) [to] sell'(give).
¶ Nu ne wandode ic na minum sceattum, þa hwile þe eow unfrið on handa stod: nu ic mid godes fultume þæt totwæmde mid minum scattum. ¶ Now, ne went(withdrew/changed) I not my shot(financial contribution, cf. Norse cognate in scot-free) the while that you stood(endured) unfrith(turmoil) on-hand: now I, mid(with) God's support, that [unfrith] totwemed(separated/dispelled) mid(with) my shot(financial contribution).
Þa cydde man me, þæt us mara hearm to fundode, þonne us wel licode: and þa for ic me sylf mid þam mannum þe me mid foron into Denmearcon, þe eow mæst hearm of com: and þæt hæbbe mid godes fultume forene forfangen, þæt eow næfre heonon forð þanon nan unfrið to ne cymð, þa hwile þe ge me rihtlice healdað and min lif byð. Tho(then) [a] man kithed(made known/couth to) me that us more harm had found(come upon) than us well liked(equalled): and tho(then) fore(travelled) I, meself, mid(with) those men that mid(with) me fore(travelled), into Denmark that [to] you most harm came of(from): and that[harm] have [I], mid(with) God's support, afore(previously) forefangen(forestalled) that to you never henceforth thence none unfrith(breach of peace) ne come the while that ye me rightly hold(behold as king) and my life beeth.

See also

  • Anglo-Frisian nasal spirant law
    Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law
    In historical linguistics, the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law is a description of a phonological development in some dialects of West Germanic, which is attested in Old English, Old Frisian, and Old Saxon...

  • Anglo-Saxon literature
    Anglo-Saxon literature
    Old English literature encompasses literature written in Old English in Anglo-Saxon England, in the period from the 7th century to the Norman Conquest of 1066. These works include genres such as epic poetry, hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles, and others...

  • Beowulf
    Beowulf
    Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

  • Dictionary of Old English
    Dictionary of Old English
    The Dictionary of Old English is a dictionary published by the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto under the direction of Angus Cameron , Ashley Crandell Amos , and Antonette diPaolo Healey. It "defines the vocabulary of the first six centuries of the English language, using...

  • Exeter Book
    Exeter Book
    The Exeter Book, Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, also known as the Codex Exoniensis, is a tenth-century book or codex which is an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is one of the four major Anglo-Saxon literature codices. The book was donated to the library of Exeter Cathedral by Leofric, the...

  • Go (verb)
    Go (verb)
    Go is an irregular English verb whose basic definition is "to move from one place to another". Be and go are the only English verbs with a suppletive past tense.-Principal parts:...

  • History of the English language
    History of the English language
    English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the Netherlands. Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the...

  • History of the Scots language
    History of the Scots language
    The history of the Scots language refers to how Anglic varieties spoken in parts of Scotland developed into modern Scots.-Origins:Speakers of Northumbrian Old English settled in south eastern Scotland in the 7th century, at which time Celtic Brythonic was spoken in the south of Scotland to a little...

  • I-mutation
    I-mutation
    I-mutation is an important type of sound change, more precisely a category of regressive metaphony, in which a back vowel is fronted, and/or a front vowel is raised, if the following syllable contains /i/, /ī/ or /j/ I-mutation (also known as umlaut, front mutation, i-umlaut, i/j-mutation or...

  • List of generic forms in British place names
  • List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents
  • Old English grammar
    Old English grammar
    The grammar of Old English is quite different from that of Modern English, predominantly by being much more highly inflected, similar to Latin...


Sources

  • Whitelock, Dorothy (ed.) (1955) English Historical Documents; vol. I: c. 500–1042. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode

General

  • Baugh, Albert C; & Cable, Thomas. (1993). A History of the English Language (4th ed.). London: Routledge. (Reissue of one of 4 eds. 1877–1902)
  • Hogg, Richard M. (ed.). (1992). The Cambridge History of the English Language: (Vol 1): the Beginnings to 1066. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hogg, Richard; & Denison, David (eds.) (2006) A History of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jespersen, Otto
    Otto Jespersen
    Jens Otto Harry Jespersen or Otto Jespersen was a Danish linguist who specialized in the grammar of the English language.He was born in Randers in northern Jutland and attended Copenhagen University, earning degrees in English, French, and Latin...

     (1909–1949) A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles. 7 vols. Heidelberg: C. Winter & Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard
  • Lass, Roger (1987) The Shape of English: structure and history. London: J. M. Dent & Sons
  • Quirk, Randolph; & Wrenn, C. L. (1957). An Old English Grammar (2nd ed.) London: Methuen.
  • Strang, Barbara M. H. (1970) A History of English. London: Methuen.

External history

  • Bremmer Jr, Rolf H. (2009). An Introduction to Old Frisian. History, Grammar, Reader, Glossary. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Stenton, F. M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Orthography/Palaeography

  • Bourcier, Georges. (1978). L'orthographie de l'anglais: Histoire et situation actuelle. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Campbell, A.
    Alistair Campbell (academic)
    Alistair Campbell was a British academic who was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, from October 1963 until his death...

     (1959). Old English Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Elliott, Ralph W. V.
    Ralph Warren Victor Elliott
    Ralph Warren Victor Elliott AM is a German-born Australian professor of English, and a runologist.-Biography:...

     (1959). Runes: An introduction. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Keller, Wolfgang. (1906). Angelsächsische Paleographie, I: Einleitung. Berlin: Mayer & Müller.
  • Ker, N. R. (1957). A Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Ker, N. R. (1957: 1990). A Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon; with supplement prepared by Neil Ker originally published in Anglo-Saxon England; 5, 1957. Oxford: Clarendon Press ISBN 0198112513
  • Page, R. I. (1973). An Introduction to English Runes. London: Methuen.
  • Scragg, Donald G. (1974). A History of English Spelling. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Phonology

  • Anderson, John M; & Jones, Charles. (1977). Phonological structure and the history of English. North-Holland linguistics series (No. 33). Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  • Brunner, Karl. (1965). Altenglische Grammatik (nach der angelsächsischen Grammatik von Eduard Sievers neubearbeitet) (3rd ed.). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
  • Campbell, A. (1959). Old English Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Cercignani, Fausto
    Fausto Cercignani
    Fausto Cercignani is an Italian scholar, essayist and poet.- Biography :Born to Tuscan parents, Fausto Cercignani studied in Milan, where he graduated in foreign languages and literatures with a dissertation dealing with English at Shakespeare’s time...

     (1983). "The Development of */k/ and */sk/ in Old English". Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 82 (3): 313–323.
  • Girvan, Ritchie. (1931). Angelsaksisch Handboek; E. L. Deuschle (transl.). (Oudgermaansche Handboeken; No. 4). Haarlem: Tjeenk Willink.
  • Halle, Morris; & Keyser, Samuel J. (1971). English Stress: its form, its growth, and its role in verse. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Hogg, Richard M. (1992). A Grammar of Old English, I: Phonology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Kuhn, Sherman M. (1970). "On the consonantal phonemes of Old English". In: J. L. Rosier (ed.) Philological Essays: studies in Old and Middle English language and literature in honour of Herbert Dean Merritt (pp. 16–49). The Hague: Mouton.
  • Lass, Roger; & Anderson, John M. (1975). Old English Phonology. (Cambridge studies in linguistics; No. 14). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Luick, Karl. (1914–1940). Historische Grammatik der englischen Sprache. Stuttgart: Bernhard Tauchnitz.
  • Moulton, W. G. (1972). "The Proto-Germanic non-syllabics (consonants)". In: F. van Coetsem
    Frans Van Coetsem
    Frans Van Coetsem was a Belgian linguist. After an academic career in Flanders and the Netherlands he was appointed professor at Cornell University in 1968, and consequently he emigrated to the USA, where, after a few years, he chose to become a naturalized American citizen.-Life:Frans Van...

     & H. L. Kufner (Eds.), Toward a Grammar of Proto-Germanic (pp. 141–173). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
  • Sievers, Eduard (1893). Altgermanische Metrik. Halle: Max Niemeyer.
  • Wagner, Karl Heinz (1969). Generative Grammatical Studies in the Old English language. Heidelberg: Julius Groos.

Morphology

  • Brunner, Karl. (1965). Altenglische Grammatik (nach der angelsächsischen Grammatik von Eduard Sievers neubearbeitet) (3rd ed.). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
  • Campbell, A. (1959). Old English grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Wagner, Karl Heinz. (1969). Generative grammatical studies in the Old English language. Heidelberg: Julius Groos.

Syntax

  • Brunner, Karl. (1962). Die englische Sprache: ihre geschichtliche Entwicklung (Vol. II). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
  • Kemenade, Ans van. (1982). Syntactic Case and Morphological Case in the History of English. Dordrecht: Foris.
  • MacLaughlin, John C. (1983). Old English Syntax: a handbook. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
  • Mitchell, Bruce. (1985). Old English Syntax (Vols. 1–2). Oxford: Clarendon Press (no more published)
    • Vol.1: Concord, the parts of speech and the sentence
    • Vol.2: Subordination, independent elements, and element order
  • Mitchell, Bruce. (1990) A Critical Bibliography of Old English Syntax to the end of 1984, including addenda and corrigenda to "Old English Syntax" . Oxford: Blackwell
  • Timofeeva, Olga. (2010) Non-finite Constructions in Old English, with Special Reference to Syntactic Borrowing from Latin, PhD dissertation, Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki, vol. LXXX, Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.
  • Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. (1972). A History of English Syntax: a transformational approach to the history of English sentence structure. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  • Visser, F. Th. (1963–1973). An Historical Syntax of the English Language (Vols. 1–3). Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Lexicons


Bosworth-Toller
  • Bosworth, J; & Toller, T. Northcote. (1898). An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary
    An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary
    An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary is a dictionary of Old English, a language that was previously known as Anglo-Saxon. Four editions of the dictionary were published. It has often been considered the definitive lexicon for Old English...

    . Oxford: Clarendon Press. (Based on Bosworth's 1838 dictionary, his papers & additions by Toller)
  • Toller, T. Northcote. (1921). An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: Supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Campbell, A. (1972). An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: Enlarged addenda and corrigenda. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Clark Hall-Merritt
  • Clark Hall, J. R; & Merritt, H. D. (1969). A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (4th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Toronto
  • Cameron, Angus, et al. (ed.) (1983) Dictionary of Old English
    Dictionary of Old English
    The Dictionary of Old English is a dictionary published by the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto under the direction of Angus Cameron , Ashley Crandell Amos , and Antonette diPaolo Healey. It "defines the vocabulary of the first six centuries of the English language, using...

    . Toronto: Published for the Dictionary of Old English Project, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1983/1994. (Issued on microfiche and subsequently as a CD-ROM and on the World Wide Web.)

External links


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{{Wiktionary category|type=Old English|category=Old English language}}
{{Wikisource|Bright's Anglo-Saxon Reader/An Outline of Anglo-Saxon Grammar}}
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{{History of English}}
{{Germanic philology}}