The Anglo-Saxon Language/Alphabet

English comes from the language of the Germanic tribes who arrived in England in the 5th and 6th centuries. These were Jutes, Saxons, and Angles. They organized themselves into kingdoms (such as the West Saxons, South Saxons, East Saxons, and East Angles). Once they settled in England, their language developed seperately from the various forms found in what is now Germany. The West Germanic language spoken in the area now known as England between the 5th and 11th centuries was called Old English; the language was also spoken at least between the mid-5th and mid-11th centuries. Speakers of Old English called their language ├ćnglisc, Anglisc, or Englisc; themselves Angle, Engla, Angelcynn, or Angelfolc; and their home Angelcynn or Englalond. It was heavily influenced by Old Norse of the North Germanic languages and 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 three were Mercian, Northumbrian and Kentish.

Old English/Anglo-Saxon was sometimes written with a version of the Runic alphabet, brought to Britain by the Anglo-Saxons until about the 11th century. Runic inscriptions are mostly found on jewelry, weapons, stones, and other objects. Very few examples of Runic writing on manuscripts have survived. Here is what it looked like:

If you want, you can try to try to use the runes to write your name. Once you get the hang of it you can even write sentences. Here is something slightly easier, the Old English Alphabet:

Old English alphabet
Old English alphabet

A few words in the Old English language were even identical to their modern equivalents today, such as he, of, him, for, and, on.

Now here is a sample text in Old English from Beowulf and its translation:

Old English sample text (Prologue from Beowulf)
Old English sample text (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

external image Development-of-the-English-Language.jpg

Changes In Words

Many words used in modern English have changed their meaning over the years. This is shown in the table below.
Original Meaning
deserving of awe
cowardice (as in bravado)
legitimate copy
young person of either sex
take aim
sinful self indulgence
parcel of land (as in neck of the woods)
injury, harm
alive (as in quicksilver)
to count (as in bank teller)
The Present Day
´╗┐In the present day the runes used by the Anglo-Saxons are still used in many ways; some use it to tell the future or in supernatural practices. Some modern day pagans (Wiccans) use them in their religious practices. Most of the time it is just used to decode the messages left on items found from that time period. It is put on jewelry now as well, and some games even have them as part of the experience.rr002.jpg Runes.jpg3824670930_3c33f7c930.jpg