Old English Anglo-Saxon

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					    Old English / Anglo-Saxon
    From the 10th century Anglo-Saxon scribes began to use Caroline Minuscule for Latin
    while continuing to write ... Languages written with the Latin alphabet ... -

    Old English / Anglo-Saxon

    Old English was the Germanic language spoken in the area now known
    as England between the 5th and 11th centuries. Old English began to
    appear in writing during the early 8th century. Most texts were written
    in West Saxon, one of the four main dialects. The other dialects were
    Mercian, Northumbrian and Kentish.
    The Anglo-Saxons adopted the styles of script used by Irish
    missionaries, such as Insular half-uncial, which was used for books in
    Latin. A less formal version of minuscule was used for to write both
    Latin and Old English. From the 10th century Anglo-Saxon scribes
    began to use Caroline Minuscule for Latin while continuing to write Old
    English in Insular minuscule. Thereafter Old English script was
    increasingly influenced by Caroline Minuscule even though it retained a
    number of distinctive Insular letter-forms.

    Notable features

          Long vowels were marked with macrons. These were not written
      originally used in Old English but are a more modern invention to
      distinguish between long and short vowels.
          The alternate forms of g and w (yogh and wynn/wen
      respectively) were based on the letters used at the time of writing
      Old English. Today they can be substituted for g and w in modern
      writing of Old English.
          Yogh originated from an insular form of g and wynn/wen came
      from a runic letter and was used to represent the non-Latin sound of
      [ w ]. The letters g and w were introduced later by French scribes.
      Yogh came to represent [ ç ] or [ x ].
Old English alphabet

Old English pronunciation

Sample text in Old English (Prologue from Beowulf)

Modern English version

LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts:
Most of the information on this page was provided by Niall
    Runic alphabets / Runes / Futhark
    A number of extra letters were added to the Runic alphabet to write Anglo-Saxon/Old
    English. Runes were probably bought to Britain in the 5th century by the ... - 15k

    Runic alphabet


    Little is known about the origins of the Runic alphabet, which is
    traditionally known as futhark after the first six letters. In Old Norse
    the word rune means 'letter', 'text' or 'inscription'. The word also
    means 'mystery' or 'secret' in Old Germanic languages and runes had
    a important role in ritual and magic.
    Here are some theories about the origins of runes:
          The alphabet was probably created independently rather than
      evolving from another alphabet.
          Runic writing was probably first used in southern Europe and
      was carried north by Germanic tribes.
          The Runic alphabet is thought to have been modelled on the
      Latin and/or Etruscan alphabet.
    The earliest known Runic inscriptions date from the 1st century AD,
    but the vast majority of Runic inscriptions date from the 11th century.
    Runic inscriptions have been found throughout Europe from the
    Balkans to Germany, Scandinavia and the British Isles.

    Notable features

          The direction of writing in early Runic inscriptions is variable.
      Later they settled down into a left to right pattern
          Word divisions were not generally recognised in Runic writing,
      although one or more dots were occasionally used for this function.

    Types of runic inscriptions include:
           'Kilroy was here' type inscriptions on cliff walls, large rocks and
           grave stone inscriptions, often with who carved the runes and
     who was buried, and also who made sure the stone was raised.
     (Later grave slabs or stone coffins were sometimes inscribed with
     Christian texts carved in runes)
           religious/magic inscriptions: prayers and curses, formulas on
     charms, etc.
           inscriptions related to trade and politics: There are many
     examples of trade communication: stock orders and descriptions,
     excuses for not having payed on time, trade name tags for bags or
     cases of produce, etc. The trade inscriptions are often carved on
     wooden rune sticks. Political inscriptions are to do with matters of
     the law, historical figures state that they were somewhere hiding
     from the enemy, secret messages to do with the fighting of wars,
           personal letters: love letters, greetings between friends,
     proposals, etc.
           rude messages, similar to modern graffiti or sms today
           Art and craft-signatures: Goldsmiths, blacksmiths, wood carvers,
     church builders, etc., often put their name on what they made.
     Objects also somtimes had names carved onto them – either the
     name of the object itself, or the name of the person who owned it.
    There are a number of different versions of the Runic alphabet
           Elder Futhark
           Gothic Runes
           Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
           Younger Futhork
           Hungarian Runes (Székely Rovásírás)
           Turkic (Orkhon) Runes
           Cirth (Tolkein's Runic-like alphabet)
Elder Futhark

Elder Futhark is thought to be the oldest version of the Runic alphabet,
and was used in the parts of Europe which were home to Germanic
peoples, including Scandinavia. Other versions probably developed
from it. The names of the letters are shown in Common Germanic, the
reconstructed ancestor of all Germanic languages.


The letter k is also called kēnaz (torch) or kanō (skiff). The meaning of
the letter name perþ is unknown.

Gothic runes

Gothic, an extinct east Germanic language, was originally written with
a Runic alphabet about which little is known. One theory of the origins
of runes is that they were invented by the Goths, but this is impossible
to prove as very few inscriptions of writing in Gothic runes survive.
These runes were replaced with a new alphabet in the 4th century AD.

Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
A number of extra letters were added to the Runic alphabet to write
Anglo-Saxon/Old English. Runes were probably bought to Britain in the
5th century by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians (collectively
known as the Anglo-Saxons), and were used until about the 11th
Runic inscriptions are mostly found on jewellery, weapons, stones and
other objects. Very few examples of Runic writing on manuscripts have

Younger Futhork

Younger Futhork or "Normal Runes" gradually evolved Elder Futhark
over a period of many years and stabilized by about 800 A.D., the
beginning of the Viking Age. It was the main alphabet in Norway,
Sweden and Denmark throughout the Viking Age, but was largely
though not completely replaced by the Latin alphabet by about 1200
as a result of the conversion of most of Scandinavia to Christianity.
Three slightly different versions of the alphabet developed in Denmark,
Sweden and Norway:

Danish Futhark

Swedish-Norwegian / Short-twig / Rök Runes
Norwegian Futhark

Gothenburg / Bohuslän Runes

Medieval (Latinised) Futhark

After the arrival of Christianity in Scandinaiva, the Runic alphabet was
Latinised and was used occasionlly, mainly for decoration until 1850.

Thanks to Niklas Dougherty for some of the information on this page.

BBC - h2g2 - Anglo-Saxon (Old English)
The Anglo-Saxon Alphabet. Anglo-Saxon has many of the letters found in Modern
English, ... The Anglo-Saxon alphabet does not include j, q, or v. ... - 75k

Anglo-Saxon is the language that was spoken more than a thousand years ago in the southern
part of what is now England. It is also called Old English and is the mother tongue from which
Modern English is descended. But to speakers of Modern English it looks like an entirely
different language. The following example, the first few lines from the epic poem Beowulf,
will persuade you that we're not talking Shakespeare here:

hwæt we gar-dena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
oft scyld scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc þær ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning!

(A translation of this is given at the end of this entry.)

In this Entry, the language is referred to throughout as Anglo-Saxon, rather than Old English, to
reinforce its difference from Modern English.

Where the Language Came From
The Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes were three groups of people who came to Great Britain
from Northern Germany in the 5th Century. They merged together and became known as the
Anglo-Saxons. Their language was a Germanic one, closely related to Old High German, Frisian,
and Scandinavian. Speakers of modern German or Dutch will see many aspects of Anglo-Saxon
that are familiar to them from their own languages.

At the time the Anglo-Saxons arrived, the inhabitants of England were Britons who spoke a
form of Welsh, a Celtic language.

The Anglo-Saxon Alphabet
Anglo-Saxon has many of the letters found in Modern English, as well as three extra letters.

a b c d e f g h i l m n o p r s t u w x y þðæ

The Anglo-Saxon alphabet does not include j, q, or v. The letters k and z are very rarely used
and are not usually listed as part of the alphabet.

Modern transcriptions of Anglo-Saxon use modern letters, usually all in lower-case. At the time
when Anglo-Saxon was written down, there was not a distinction between upper- and lower-
case letters. If the font does not include the three extra letters, it is normal to use 'th' to
represent both þ and ð, while 'ae' is used for æ.

Anglo-Saxon had two forms of each vowel, long and short. This was not indicated in the
spelling. Modern manuscripts often use the macron (a horizontal bar over the vowel) to show
long vowels. Computerised versions will often use a rising accent, since standard fonts do not
include versions of the vowels with a horizontal bar over them.

Reading Ancient Manuscripts
If you are lucky enough to have access to original manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon, you will find that
many of the letters are unfamiliar looking. The language was written down by monks who used
the Irish alphabet, so most of the the letters used are the same as ancient Irish. To represent
sounds not found in the Irish and Latin languages, the monks had to adapt versions of the Runic
alphabet for the letters w, þ, ð, and æ.

All the following letters are recognisably the same as modern letters:


The following have shapes which are slightly different to modern usage but most are the same
as Ancient Irish letters:


The following letters have completely different shapes from the modern equivalent:


s is represented by a letter like a modern r but with a long descending vertical stroke, like the
one on a p.

r is similar to s but with the curved section replaced by a pointed top like an inverted v

w looks very similar to a p but is narrower and the curved part descends at 45° to meet the
descending stroke.

The three letters þ, ð, and æ are all additional to the modern alphabet.

Ancient manuscripts sometimes put accents on some of the letters, but it is not clear what
they signified. They were not indications of long and short vowels and do not appear to have
affected the pronunciation in any way.

There is no single definitive set of rules for how Anglo-Saxon was pronounced. Firstly,
pronunciation would have varied across England, as it does at the moment. Secondly, scholars
are not completely decided on the exact pronunciation anyway. The following rules give a
rough guideline.


There are seven vowels: a æ e i o u y.

In Modern English, y is sometimes a vowel and sometimes a consonant. It was always a vowel in

The general pronunciation of the vowels is the same as most modern European languages, but
different from Modern English:

       a as in path (North of England open 'ah' sound)
        e as in pet
        é as in pay
        i as in pit
        í as in peat
        o as in pot
        ó as in pole
        u as in put
        ú as in pool
        æ as American pronunciation of man
        y as in French tu or German für

The long versions of a, æ, and y (with an accent or macron) are the same but held for a longer


A diphthong is where a vowel is pronounced and then the sound is modified into another vowel.
This is done smoothly and quickly, so that the whole thing counts as one syllable rather than
two. For example, in modern English, the sounds in 'tune', 'pain', and 'sole' are all diphthongs:
tee-oon, pay-een, and so-ull.

There were six diphthongs in Anglo-Saxon: ea, éa, eo, éo, ie, and íe. For modern speakers, the
easiest way is just to say the two vowels without a break between them, one after the other,
putting the emphasis on the first. So:

ea = eh - ah
éa = ay - ah
eo = eh - o (short o like in pot)
éo = ay - o (short o like in pot)
ie = ih - eh
íe = ee - eh


Most consonants were pronounced as in English. Ones which were different are given in the
following table:

letter         position                                pronunciation
         at start or end of
f                                   f
         in middle of word          v
         beside unvoiced
         doubled                    f
         at start or end of
s                                   s
         in middle of word          z
         beside unvoiced
         doubled                 s
sc                               usually sh
         at start or end of
þ or ð                           th as in thin
         in middle of word       th as in that
         beside unvoiced
                                 th as in thin
         doubled                 th as in thin
         at start or end of
h                                h
         in middle of word       ch as in Loch
c        in general              k
         before e, before i,
                                 ch as in church
         after i
g        in general              g as in garden
         before e, before i,
                                 y as in yellow
         after i
         in middle of word       gh as Modern Greek ghamma or voiced version of ch in Loch
cg                               usually j sound as in bridge
                                 with hard g as in finger, linger, not like in singer, even when at
                                 the end of a word

The two letters þ and ð were interchangeable. Modern scholars often try to use þ for the
unvoiced 'th as in thin' sound and ð for the voiced 'th as in this' sound, but this was not the
practice of the ancient scribes.

Exceptions: sc in ascian (to ask) is pronounced sk. The gy- prefix at start of some words is
sometimes an alternative spelling of the prefix gie. In this case, it is pronounced with a y
sound. The cg in docg (dog) is pronounced with a hard g.

Like in Italian and Finnish, doubled letters sound longer than single letters.

All letters are pronounced. So g at start of gnæt (gnat) is pronounced, as are h at start of hwæt
(what) and e at end of sunne (sun).

Some Words
Many Anglo-Saxon words will be familiar to Modern English speakers, particularly when you've
figured out the pronunciation:

an                             one
twa                            two
þreo                           three
feower                         four
fif                                 five
siex or syx                         six
seofan                              seven
eahta                               eight
nigon                               nine
tyn                                 ten
twentig                             twenty
hundred                             hundred
fif hundred þreo ond twentig five hundred and twenty-three
hwæt                                what
hwær                                where
hlaf                                bread (loaf)
cese                                cheese
scyld                               shield
reod                                red
grene                               green
geolu                               yellow
man                                 human
wifman                              woman
modor                               mother
fæder                               father
dohtor                              daughter
sunu                                son
hors                                horse
cu                                  cow
bridd                               bird
werwulf                             werewolf
gast                                ghost
dæg                                 day
nihte                               night
middæg                              midday

Some will sound archaic:

þu            you (singular) thou
abidian       to await      abide
dæl           valley        dale
tunece        dress         tunic
waegn         wagon         wain
æfansang evening            evensong
wendan    to go              wend
bearn     child              bairn
ær        before             ere
wyrd      fate               weird

Others will sound completely strange, as the word has changed in usage or has been replaced in
Modern English by a word from a different language.

werman       man
beorscipe feast
migan        to urinate
sweorcian to darken
wrecan       to recite
siþ          journey
þrowian      to suffer
læne         temporary

Some phrases

wes þu hal         hello (be you hale)
god þe mid sie goodbye
hu gæþ hit         how are you? (how goes it)
hit gæþ god        I'm well (it goes good)
ic þancie þe       I thank you

What Ever Happened to Anglo-Saxon?
Anglo-Saxon was spoken until the Norman Invasion in 1066. Norman French then became the
language of the ruling classes. Anglo-Saxon continued to be spoken by the ordinary people, but
the language evolved very quickly, adopting many words and phrases from French and
eventually becoming what is known as Middle English, the language of Chaucer and the
Canterbury Tales. This process continued, becoming Modern English at about the time of

JRR Tolkien taught Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. It was a required subject for students of
English at the time. Tolkien used the Anglo-Saxons as a model for his people of Rohan in The
Lord of the Rings, giving them Anglo-Saxon names, customs, and poetry. Although Tolkien gave
detailed instructions on how to pronounce the Elvish language used for most of the names in
the book, he never explained how to pronounce the Rohirric names, perhaps because he
thought it was obvious! You can use this Entry to decipher those peculiar words such as Éowyn,
Folcwine and Simbelmyne.

Translation of Beowulf Lines
The lines of Anglo-Saxon given at the start of this Entry are translated into slightly archaic
Modern English here:

Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honour the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay,
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts: a good king he!

Translation by Francis Gummere (1910).

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