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Old English

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Old English
Spoken by: Evolved into Middle then Modern English
Spoken in: The British Isles,
Language family: (West) Germanic; Indo-European


Phonology Edit

Late west Saxon reconstructed pronunciation:

  Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p     t     k  
Affricate         tʃ;(dʒ)      
Nasal m     n     ŋ  
Fricative   f;(v) θ;(ð) s;(z) ʃ (ç) (x);(ɣ) h
Approximant       r   j w  
Lateral approximant       l        


Monophthongs Short Long
Front Back Front Back
Close i;y u iː; yː
Mid e;(ø) o eː;(øː)
Open æ ɑ æː ɑː


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

Grammar Edit

Old English grammar is quite complex and is typically that of a archaic Indo-European language, and if you know other archaic Germanic languages (or, to a lesser extent, German, or, to a lesser extent again, other modern Germanic languages) you will find it much easier to learn.

Orthography Edit

Old English is a highly phonetic language, and the spelling can almost always be fully predicted from the pronunciation (with the rare exception of a double letter in the spelling, which only makes a difference in the pronunciation if it is a double plosive/stop), and vice-verse (with the rare exception of a certain letter being pronounced several ways).

Common difficulties Edit

Old English retains four (and in the earliest period five) grammatical cases, and also has several declensions, the main two of which are the strong declension and the weak declension.

Old English was spoken at a time before dictionaries, so spelling varied from dialect to dialect (the main 4 being Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon). Also there were variations depending on the style of the writing, i.e. prose, poetry, or colloquial texts. This fact may be a point of confusion for speakers of modern English who are used to little spelling variation over the entire language.

There are far more strong verbs in Old English than there are in Modern English.

Resources Edit

Old English Wiki

The Electronic Introduction to Old English

Some Old English texts

Learning Old English

The English companions

Beowulf in hypertext

Old English course at the university of Calgary

OEME - Old English dictionary

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