Old English

Formerly spoken in




Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Saxon rarely (proper name: Ænglisc ), is the oldest written testified language level of the English language and was written and spoken by the middle of the 12th century. The Old English was created when the fishing, Jutes and Saxons settled in Britain from about 450. For speakers of modern English this language is no longer intelligible without targeted learning. It is a closely related to the Frisian and Low German West Germanic language and belongs to the group of the Germanic languages ​​, a major branch of the Indo-European language family.

  • 4.1 The alphabet
  • 8.1 launches
  • 8.2 grammars
  • 8.3 dictionaries
  • 8.4 Literature
  • 8.5 Phonology


The Anglo-Saxon language seceded from the 5th century from the continental West Germanic, as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in Britain settled ( Battle of Mons Badonicus ). From the 8th century on it is busy writing and achieved by 1000 a high degree of standardization ( Late West Saxon dialect of the "School of Winchester "). From the previously spoken on the island of Celtic languages, the Anglo-Saxon took over very few loanwords. However, sometimes the opinion is expressed that these languages ​​have had a certain influence on the syntax of the late Anglo-Saxon. Due to the Danish and Norwegian immigration from the 8th century, the English language against the old Saxon language has integrated numerous Scandinavian elements, however, appear only in the Middle English texts in greater numbers, including next few hundred other words so central terms such as sky, leg and the modern pronoun They. Even more than in the Lower Saxon language and elements of the Latin language were included, particularly in the area of religious vocabulary. At the time of Old English, the English formed a dialect continuum with the West Germanic languages ​​on the mainland. The dialect speakers on the mainland and the island could together agree, but since then, the languages ​​have on both sides of the Channel, sponsored by the geographical separation and the Norman influence, so far diverged that this former dialect continuum no longer exists.

After the union of several Anglo-Saxon kingdoms by Alfred the Great in the year 878 the importance of regional dialects fell sharply, as it raised the dialect of Wessex language of administration in order to simplify the administration of the country. For this reason, the tradition is largely dominated West Saxon.

With the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066 the French language through the French influence from Normandy was changed so much that they called from that date as Middle English language.

Old English Literature

The Beowulf to 1000 written down, but probably older, a Germanic epic poem in stab rhyming lines long, is one of the most famous pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Furthermore, the Christian religious poems of Cynewulf written in Old English.

The Caedmon manuscript with religious seals to Old Testament themes, the Exeter Book ( see also: Exeter) to religious with seals and secular subjects, the Codex Vercellensis with sermons and smaller seals, as well as in the prose of various legal texts since the 7th century and documents that were written in old English language since the 8th century, are other sources from which the Anglo-Saxon is known as a literary language.

Phonetics and phonology

→ Main article: Old English phonetics


The vowels / ø ( ː ) / occur in some dialects of Old English, but not in the best documented late West Saxon dialect.


The bracketed sounds are allophones:

  • [ dʒ ] is an allophone of / j / occurring after / n / and gemination.
  • [ ŋ ] is an allophone of / n /, the before / k / and / g / occurs.
  • [v, ð, z] are allophones of / f, θ, s / occurring between vowels and / or voiced consonants.
  • [ ç, x] are allophones of / h /, which occur in Silbenauslaut, [ ç ] after front vowel and [ x] after back vowel.
  • [ ɣ ] is an allophone of / g /, which occurs between vowels and / or voiced consonants.


Old English was originally written with runes, took over after his conversion to Christianity, however, the Latin alphabet, the one who added a few characters. For example, the letter yogh was taken from the Irish, the letter ð (eth ) was a modification of the Latin d, and the letters þ ( thorn ) and Ƿ ( wynn ) come from the Fuþorc ( the Anglo- Frisian variant of the common Germanic runic row, the elder futhark ). All According to descriptions in the following list to use IPA characters.

The alphabet

The alphabet is different from the modern English alphabet. It consists of:

  • A: / ɑ / ( spelling variants such as country / lond "land" suggest the presence of a rounded allophone [ ɒ ] before [n ] in some cases close )
  • ā: / ɑ ː /
  • æ: / æ /
  • ǣ: / æ ː /
  • B: / b /
  • C (except in the digraphs sc and cg ): either / tʃ / or / k /. The pronunciation as / tʃ / is usually marked today by a diacritical mark: mostly ċ, sometimes č or ç. Before a consonant, the letter is always pronounced as / k /; at the end of a word after i always as / tʃ /. In other cases, one must know the etymological origins of a word to be able to pronounce it correctly.
  • Cg: [ ddʒ ]; occasionally also for / gg /
  • D: / d /
  • E: / e /
  • ē: / e ː /
  • Ea: / æɑ / ​​; by C and G sometimes / æ / or / ɑ /
  • EA: / æ ː ɑ /; by C and G sometimes / æ ː /
  • Eo: / eo /; by C and G sometimes / o / or / u /
  • EO: / e ː o /
  • F: / f / and its allophone [v ]
  • G: / g / and its allophone [ ɣ ]; / j / and its allophone [ dʒ ] ( after n ). The pronunciation as / j / and [ dʒ ] is now often written as ġ. Before a consonant it is always as [g ] ( letters ) or [ ɣ ] pronounced ( after a vowel ). At the end of a word it is always after i / j /. In other cases, one must know the etymological origins of a word to be able to pronounce it correctly.
  • H: / h / and its allophones [ ç, x]. In the combinations hl, hr, hn and hw the second consonant was always voiceless.
  • I: / i /
  • ī: / i ː /
  • Ie: / iy /; by C and G sometimes / e /
  • IE: / i ː y /; by C and G sometimes / e ː /
  • K: / k / (rarely used)
  • L: / l /; may velarized in Silbenauslaut as in modern English
  • M: / m /
  • N: / n / and its allophone [ ŋ ]
  • O: / o /
  • ō: / o ː /
  • Oe: / ø / (in some dialects )
  • Oe: / ø ː / (in some dialects )
  • P: / p /
  • Q: / k / - u used before a consonant the / w / representative, but rarely. Old English preferred cƿ or, in modern spelling, cw.
  • R: / r /. The exact nature of the Old English r is unknown. It could be an alveolar approximant [ ɹ ] have been, as in most modern English dialects, an alveolar tap [ ɾ ], or an alveolar Vibrant [r ]. In this article, we use the symbol / r / for this sound, without wishing to make a statement about its nature.
  • S: / s / and its allophone [z ]
  • Sc: / ʃ / or occasionally / sk /
  • T: / t /
  • ð / þ: / θ / and its allophone [ ð ]. Both characters were more or less interchangeable (although there was a tendency ð not to use word-initially, but this was not always the case). Many modern editions retain the character in the way they are used in the ancient manuscripts, but some try him in any way according to certain rules to align, for example by using only þ.
  • U: / u /
  • ū: / u ː /
  • Ƿ ( Wynn ): / w /, in modern notation replaced by w, to avoid confusion with p.
  • X: / ks / (but according to some authors [ xs ~ cs] )
  • Y: / y /
  • ȳ: / y ː /
  • Z: / ts /. Rarely used, instead one normally used ts, for example bezt vs. betst "the best", pronounced / betst /.

Double consonants are pronounced lengthened; the lengthened fricatives dD / þþ, ff and ss are always voiceless.


Like other West Germanic languages ​​this time was an Old English inflectional language with five case ( nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and instrumental, which is, however, usually coincided with the dative ), a personal pronoun in the 1st and 2nd person still preserved Dual in addition to singular and plural and grammatical gender for all nouns, eg Seo sunne (the Sun ) and se Mona (the moon) ( gender comply with German ).

Text sample

The Lord's Prayer in Old English (West Saxon ):

Fäder Ure Thu þe eart on heofonum sī thin nama gehālgod tōbecume Thin rīce gewurþe thin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum urn gedæghwāmlīcan hlaf syle U.S. to Daeg and forgyf U.S. Ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfað Urum gyltendum and ne gelǣd Thu Us on cost nunge ac al ȳ s U.S. of yfele. Sōþlīce.

Our Father, who art in heaven thou the, Be thy name made ​​holy. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as in heaven. Our daily bread Give us this day And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive our debtors. And do not you lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.