6. The Words and Sounds of Old English

1. Explain why the structural similarity of OE and ON could hasten the reduction and loss of inflectional endings.

Vikings from modern-day Norway and Denmark began to raid parts of Britain from the late 8th century onward. In 865, however, a major invasion was launched by what the Anglo-Saxons called the Great Heathen Army, which eventually brought large parts of northern and eastern England (the Danelaw) under Scandinavian control. Most of these areas were retaken by the English under Edward the Elder in the early 10th century, although York and Northumbria were not permanently regained until the death of Eric Bloodaxe in 954. Scandinavian raids resumed in the late 10th century during the reign of Æthelred the Unready, and Sweyn Forkbeard eventually succeeded in briefly being declared king of England in 1013, followed by the longer reign of his son Cnut from 1016 to 1035, and Cnut's sons Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut until 1042.The Scandinavians, or Norsemen, spoke dialects of a North Germanic language known as Old Norse. The Anglo-Saxons and the Scandinavians thus spoke related languages from different branches (West and North) of the Germanic family; many of their lexical roots were the same or similar, although their grammatical systems were more divergent. Probably significant numbers of Old Norse speakers settled in the Danelaw during the period of Scandinavian control. Many place-names in those areas are of Scandinavian provenance (those ending in -by, for example); it is believed that the settlers often established new communities in places that had not previously been developed by the Anglo-Saxons. The extensive contact between Old English and Old Norse speakers, including the possibility of intermarriage that resulted from the acceptance of Christianity by the Danes in 878, undoubtedly influenced the varieties of those languages spoken in the areas of contact. Some scholars even believe that Old English and Old Norse underwent a kind of fusion, and that the resulting English language might be described as a mixed language or creole. When Danish rule ended, and particularly after the Norman Conquest, the status of the minority Norse language presumably declined relative to that of English, and its remaining speakers assimilated to English in a process involving language shift and language death. The widespread bilingualism that must have existed during this process possibly contributed to the rate of borrowings from Norse into English.Therefore, to conclude, the two languages were structurally simillar and were in close contact in the area of Danelaw, OE had a minor status in the area where ON was spoken. Therefore, the inflections disappeared more extensively and earlier in the North. If we look at comparison of some words in OE and in ON, we can see that the ON ones don’t have the inflectional endings: due to the narrow contact between ON and OE, due to the fact that the words were very similar and people might confuse them sometimes, the unnecessary endings started disappearing:Ex. beran (to bear, OE) x bera (ON), bítan (to bite, OE) x bíta (ON), habban (to have, OE) x hafa (ON), draegeth (pulls, OE) x dregr (ON)

3. Summarize the basic stages of borrowings from Latin.

1) Before 449 CE

• Took place when the Germanic tribes came into contact with Latin speakers, e.g. Roman merchants, on the continent of Europe (before 449 CE). Approximately 200 words entered the language at this time

• Romans – a higher standard of living, more refinements than the Germanic people, the contact btw them was intimate

• The loan words generally refer to commonplace concrete objects; are familiar rather than formal

• The borrowings were popular and oral rather than learned and written

• The words borrowed in this period appear in Old High German & Old English

• These loan words were later subject to all sound changes in OE and OhG – because the words underwent these changes => they are dated as early borrowings

Some of the borrowed vocabulary: Plante “plant” (< Lat. planta), cese ‘cheese’ (< Lat. cciseus), belt ‘belt’ (< Lat. balteus), camp ‘camp’ (< Lat. campus), mynster ‘minster’ (< Lat. monasterium)

2) The Celtic period

• may have been borrowed from Latin by the British Celts and then borrowed by the Anglo-Saxons from the Celts, but it is also possible that Celtic and Old English took the words independently from Latin

Some examples: port ‘harbor, gate, town’ (< Lat. portus), munt ‘mountain’ (< Lat. montus), and torr ‘tower, rock’ (< Lat. turris).

3) The Christian period

• Followed Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons in 597 CE by Roman missionaries

• Latin the language of the Church -> used in manuscripts and artifacts in Anglo-Saxon England

• Usually learned borrowings concerning religion and scholarship (the Church largely responsible for literacy, learning)

• Fully assimilated, came to be inflected as if they were OE words and combined with elements of native origin (like all loan words)

Some examples: accent ‘accent’ (< Lat. accentus) capitol(a) ‘chapter’ (< Lat. capitolum) notere ‘notary’ (< Lat. notarius) tempel ‘temple’ (< Lat. templum) organe ‘organ’ (< Lat. origanum)

The borrowings of this period end to fall into two groups

a) The early; entering by the time of King Alfred

b) The later; entering at the time of the Benedectine Reform (late 10th century)

4. Present an overview of ON influence on OE vocabulary.

• Approximately 1,000 words of Scandinavian origin entered the standard language, and even more found their way into local dialects

• The two languages very similar structurally and lexically

• ON loan words don’t appear in significant numbers until Middle English; spread gradually from northern -> southern ME English

• Close relation between N and W Germanic dialects: difficulties with determining the origin of a word (native OE or a ON borrowing) – phonological features can sometimes help

What could happen with a borrowed ON word =

• Complete replacement of the OE word (ON taka (ModE take) replacing OE niman)

• Both words retained, one restricted to the northern dialect (ON kirkja giving the Scottish form kirk in contrast to standard ModE church.)

• Both words retained in the standard dialect, usually some semantic differentiation (ON skirt and native shirt)

• An OE word could be retained but acquire the meaning of the ON cognate = semantic loan (with: the OE word wið ‘against’ came to have the meaning of the ON word við, which meant ‘in conjunction, company with’, while the OE word meaning the latter, mid, was lost.

Examples of ON loan words

• Appr. 1500 place names in north. England ( –by, -beck, -dale, -thorp)

• Personal names ending in –son and the Danish –sen

• Most words name everyday objects and actions; some specialized domains – ships, law, warfare (an obvious area of expertise for the Scandinavians)

• Very common verbs get (< ON geta), give (< ON gefa), and call (< ON kalla cf. OE ceallian).

• Third-person plural pronouns they, their, and them (to replace the native forms hi, hire, and him)

• basic words as the pronouns both (< ON bafiir) and same (< ON samr), the preposition fro (< ON fra), the conjunction though (< ON po), the strong verb run (< ON renna), and the ordinal number hundredth (< ON hundraS)

• plural form are (of be)

5. Give a list of differences between OE and PDE alphabet.

OE alphabet

• the adoption of an ortographic system = one of the most important effects of Christianization

• the Anglo-Saxons probably acquired the Latin alphabet from Irish missionaries

• Irish changes: - adition of the letter eth (lowercase ð and uppercase Ð) representing th

- a special form of the letter g (ʒ) = yogh

• Anglo-Saxons addition from runes : - thorn (þ Þ) also representing th

- wynn (Ƿ ƿ) represents w

• the Tironian note ⟨⁊⟩ - means and, &

PDE alphabet

• more letters (26)

• a strictly Latin alphabet

6. Describe the OE consonant / vowel system.


• OE: a nearly phonemic writing system: it uses each alphabetic symbol to stand for a single distinct sound (or phoneme), each letter pronounced, no silent letters, no separate symbols representing the allophones, there may be more than 1 predictable pronunciation for each letter

• double consonants

Voiceless stops

• p [p] – pipe “pipe”

• t [t] – túr “tower”

• c [k] – candel “candle”, [č] cinn “chin” (palatalization, in the presence of a front vowel)

• cw [kw] – cwén “woman”

Voiced stops

• b [b] – bedd “bed”

• d [d] – dol “stupid”

• ʒ - [g] – gold “gold”, [j] gíet “yet”, [ɣ] lagu “law”, slóg “struck”

- [g] before back vowels, before consonants, when doubled and in the sequence ng

- also palatalization: when it moves forward becomes the palatal glide [j] (in the context of a front vowel – before, after, between front vowels and after front vowels at the end of a syllable)

- all other circumstances (after/btw back vowels or r and l) - [ɣ]


• s [s] – hús “house”, [z] wíse “wise”

• f [f] – fisc “fish”, [v] – ofer “over”

• ð or þ - [θ] – þæt “that”, [ð] – hoðma “darkness”

• h - [h] hord “hoard”, [ç] – mihtig “might”, [x] mearh “horse”

- [h] beginning of a word before a vowel (already in Germanic)

- [x] elsewhere except:

- [ç] after a front vowel (palatalization)

Nasals and approximants

• n [n] – nytt “use”, [ŋ] hring “ring”

- [ŋ] occurs only before [g], [k]; ng always [ŋg], never just [ŋ] like in ModE

- [n] elsewhere

• m [m] mund “palm”

• l [l] meolc “milk”

• r [r] sár “sore”

• ʒ [j] – geoc “yoke”

• ƿ [w] – winnan “win”

• Also a number of consonant clusters

• All letters pronounced!


• The Germanic vowel system changed very little in OE

• Both long and short vowels (phonemic – distinguish meaning) (a long vowel = a monophtong, not a diphthong!)

• OE long vowels – both tense and long

• Vowel length usually not indicated in manuscripts

• A change from Germanic: ɑ split into two sounds: æ and ɑ (ɑ before back vowels, nasals, before w, æ elsewhere); ā and ai merging into ā

• New vowels in OE (not Germanic): letters: ȳ, y, ea, eo

7. Explain the terms: hybrid form, loan translation, loan rendition, loan creation, semantic loan, amalgamated compound, ligature, phonemic writing system, doublets

• hybrid form - a complex word form which consists of a native part and a borrowed part - OE, preosthad ‘priesthood’, bisceopsetl ‘bishopric’ – 1st half Latin, 2nd half OE

• loan translation/calque - a native word formation using the model of the form and mean ing of a (morphologically complex and semantically transparent) foreign word. It stands in contrast to borrowing. The form and meaning of a foreign word becomes a model for the native construction. E.g. OE priness ‘threeness’ for for Lat. trinity

• loan rendition – a similar group of words, less exact than loan translations, the original is only partially translated or provides just a part of the new word (e.g. sabbatam “rest” > restedœg ‘rest day')

• loan creation - take the idea from a foreign word but contain no element that directly corresponds (e.g. baptiszare >fulwian ‘to consecrate fully’)

• semantic loan - an OE word could be retained but acquire the meaning of the ON cognate (The retention of the native form of a word but with the adoption of a meaning borrowed from the cognate word in a related language. )

• amalgamated compound – compounds that cease to be recognized as such, either because the two parts fuse together or because one part has been lost as an independent word

• ligature - two letters linked together as one

• phonemic writing system - uses each alphabetic symbol to stand for a single distinct sound (or phoneme)

• doublets - words which derive from the same original word (in PIE) but which arrive in a language via different routes of transmission (OE from, ON fro; OE no, ON nay; OE shatter, ON scatter)