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Chapter 5. The Old English Period (449-1100)
5. Key Events in the Old English Period
- 449: Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians began to occupy Great Britain.
- 597: Saint Augustine of Canterbury arrived in England. He began the conversion of the English by baptizing King of Kent, thus introducing the influence of the Latin language.
- 664: The synod convened in Whitby aligned the English with Roman rather than Celtic.
- 730: The Venerable Bede produced his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The history of the settlement of the English was recorded in it.
- 865: The Scandinavians occupied northeastern Britain.
- 871: Alfred became king of Wessex and reigned until his death in 899, rallying the English against Scandinavians, retaking the city of London, establishing the Danelaw, and producing or sponsoring the translation of Latin works into English.
- 1000: The manuscript of the Old English epic Beowulf was written about this time.
- 1016: Canute became king of England, establishing a Danish dynasty in Britain.
- 1042: Danish dynasty ended and Edward the Confessor became king of England.
- 1066: Edward the Confessor died and was succeeded by Harold, last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, who died at the Battle of Hastings while fighting against the invading army of William, duke of Normandy, who was crowned king of England.
6. Britain in Old English Period
7-1. Pronunciation and Spelling of Old English 1 – Vowel
- The vowel letters in Old English were a, æ, e, i, o, u, and y. They represented either long or short sounds. The letter æ represented the same sound for which we use it in phonetic transcriptions: [æ]. The letter y, used exclusively as a vowel symbol in Old English, usually indicated a rounded front vowel.
- Late West Sexon had two long diphthongs, ēa [æ:] and ēo [e:]. They had been reduced to unstressed [ə]. In Modern English, they fell together as [i:], e.g. beat from bēatan and creep from crēopan.
- Short ea and eo indicated short diphthongs, approximately [æə] and [ɛə].
- In early Old English, there were other diphthongs, ie, io. But, they were replaced usually by y and eo, respectively.
7-2. Pronunciation and Spelling of Old English 2 – Consonants
- The consonant letters in Old English were b, c, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, þ or ð, w, x, and z.
- The letters j, q, and v were not used for writing Old English, and y was always a vowel.
- The letters b, d, k, l, m, n, p, t, w, and x had the same values in Modern English.
- The letter c sound depended on contiguous sounds.
– Before another consonant, c was always [k].
– cnāwan ‘to know,’ cræt ‘cart,’ and cwellan ‘to kill.’
– If being next to a back vowel, it was also [k].
– camp ‘battle,’ corn ‘corn,’ cūð ‘known,’ lūcan ‘to look,’ acan ‘to ache,’ and bōc ‘book.’
– If being next to a front vowel, it was [č].
– cild ‘child,’ cēosan ‘to choose,’ ic ‘I,’ lǣce ‘physician,’ rice ‘kingdom,’ and mēce ‘sword.’
– But, there are special cases, unfortunately, like cēpan ‘to keep,’ cynn ‘race, kin,’ and a number of other words.
– In fact, above ē and y were originally back vowels, so the original [k] did not palatalize into [č], later mutating into front vowels, but that was after the time of palatalization of [k] to [č].
- Mutation is a change in a vowel sound caused by a sound in the following syllable. The mutation of a vowel by a following i or y is called i-umlaut.
– bēc ‘books’ from *bōci, sēcan ‘to seek’ from *sōcyan
– Old English scribes frequently wrote secean instead to indicate c symbolized [č].
- The Old English diagraphs cg and sc were later replaced by dg and sh, respectively.
– ecg ‘edge,’ scir ‘shire,’ scacan ‘to shake,’ and fisc ‘fish.’
- The pronunciation of g depended on neighboring sounds.
– voiced velar stop [g] before consonants.
– gnēað ‘niggardly,’ glæd ‘glad, gracious’
– the same initially before back vowels.
– galan ‘to sing,’ gōs ‘goose,’ and gūð ‘war’
– the same initially before front vowels that had resulted from the mutation of back vowels.
– gēs ‘geese’ from prehistoric OE *gōsi, gǣst ‘goest’ from *gāis
– In the combination ng, the letter g indicated the same [g] sound, [ŋ] was not a phoneme in Old English.
– e. g. bringan ‘to bring,’ hring ‘ring’ → linger [liŋgər] – [ŋ] was merely an allophone of n until the Modern English loss of [g].
– the semivowel [y] initially before e, i, and the vowel y.
– gecoren ‘chosen,’ gēar ‘year,’ giftian ‘to give a woman in marriage,’ and gydd ‘song’
– the same medially between front vowels.
– slægen ‘slain,’ twēgen ‘twain’
– the same after a front vowel at the end of a syllable.
– dæg ‘day,’ mægden ‘maiden,’ legde ‘laid,’ stigrāp ‘stirrup,’ and manig ‘many’
– voiced velar fricative [ɣ] in all other circumstances.
– dragan ‘to draw,’ lagu ‘law,’ hogu ‘care,’ folgian ‘to follow,’ sorgian ‘to sorrow,’ and swelgan ‘to swallow’
– It later became [w], as in Modern English drawen, lawe, howe, and so on.
- In Old English, [v], [z], and [ð] were not phonemes; they occurred only between voiced sounds.
- The letters f, s, þ (or ð) indicated both the voiceless fricatives [f], [s], [θ].
– fōda ‘food,’ lof ‘praise,’ sunu ‘son,’ mūs ‘mouse,’ þorn ‘thorn,’ and pæð ‘path’
– the corresponding voiced fricatives [v], [z], [ð] between voiced sounds.
– cnafa ‘boy,’ hæfde ‘had,’ lēosan ‘to lose,’ hūsl ‘Holy Communion,’ broðor ‘brother,’ and fæðm ‘fathom’
- The letter r at the beginning of words may have been a trill, but after vowels, retroflex in American English.
- Initial h was like Modern English but elsewhere h stood for the velar fricative [x] or the palatal fricative [ç], depending on the neighboring vowel.
– [x] after the back vowels.
– seah ‘saw,’ purh ‘through,’ and pōhte ‘thought’
– [ç] after the front vowels.
– syhð ‘sees,’ miht ‘might,’ and fēhð ‘takes’
– Of the sequences hl, hn, hr, and hw, only the last survives, now less accurately spelled wh. The [h] has been lost in Modern English, however, both were pronounced in Old English.
- The letter z was rare, but when used, it had the value [ts].
– miltse and milze ‘mercy’
- The doubling of consonant symbols between vowels indicated a double or long consonant.
– sittan ↔ hotter in Modern English
– fyllan, in full-length ↔ fully
– racca, a long [k], as in bookkeeper, in contrast to beekeeper. racca ‘part of a ship’s rigging’ was distinguished from raca ‘rake.’
The Anglo-Saxons learned from the Irish to write in the Insular hand.
- Old English words of more than one syllable were regularly stressed on their first syllables.
- Exceptions to the above rule were verbs with prefixes.
- Be-, for-, or ge- were not stressed in any part of speech.
- The above stress pattern has had a far-reaching effect on the development of English. Because of it, the vowels of final syllables began to be reduced to a uniform [ə] sound as early as the 10th century.
- There were few loanwords.
- The gender of nouns was more or less arbitrary.
8-1. The Germanic Word Stock
- Many Old English words of Germanic origin were identical.
– e. g. god, gold, hand, helm, land, oft, under, winter, and word.
- Others have changed in meaning.
– brēad meant ‘bit, piece,’ not ‘bread’.
– drēam ‘joy,’ not ‘dream’.
– dreorig ‘bloody,’ not ‘dreary’.
– half ‘bread,’ not ‘loaf’
– mōd ‘heart, mind, courage,’ not ‘mood’
– scēawian ‘look at,’ not ‘show’
– sellan ‘give,’ not ‘sell’
– tīd ‘time,’ not ‘tide’
– winnan ‘fight,’ not ‘win’
– wiþ ‘against,’ not ‘with’
- Old English had far more complex inflection in nouns, adjectives, and demonstrative and interrogative pronouns than Modern English does.
- Old English nouns, pronouns, and adjectives had four cases.
– Nominative case for the subject.
– Accusative case for the direct object.
– Genitive case for ’s or of phrases in Modern English.
– Dative case for the indirect object and the only object of some verbs, the object of many prepositions.
- Adjectives and the demonstrative and interrogative pronouns had a fifth case, the instrumental, replace in nouns by the dative case.
- Adjectives were inflected for definiteness. The so-called weak declension of adjectives was used to indicate that the modified noun was definite. The weak form occurred after a demonstrative or a possessive pronoun.
– se gōda dǣl ‘that good part’
– hire geonga sunu ‘her young son’
- The strong declension was used when the modified noun was indefinite or when the adjective was in the predicate.
– gōd dǣl ‘[a] good part’
– se dǣl wæs gōd ‘that part was good’
- Old English had a large number of pattern or declining its nouns, each of which is called a declension.
- The most important of the Old English declensions was that of the a-stems.
- The Modern English possessive singular and general plural forms in -s came directly from the Old English genitive singular –es and masculine nominative-accusative plural -as.
- Neuter a-stems differed from masculine a-stems only in the nominative-accusative plural.
- A very few neuter nouns like cild ‘child’ had an r in the plural.
- An important declension in Old English was the n-stem.
- A few nouns were feminine, most of them ō-stems, which had -u after a short syllable, as in lufu ‘love,’ and no ending at all after a long syllable, as in lār ‘learning.’
- Another declension whose forms have contributed to the irregularities of Modern English consisted of the root-consonant stems.
- The vowel of a root-consonant stem changes because in prehistoric Old English, several of the forms had an i in their endings, so called i-Umlaut.
- In all declensions, the genitive plural forms ended in -a. This ending survived as [ə] (written -e) in Modern English, however, with loss of [ə], which dropped away in all final positions.
– a sixty-mile drive and six-foot tall rather than miles and feet.
– Mile and foot in such expressions are historically genitive plurals derived from the Old English forms mīla and fōta.
- The dative plural had -um for all declensions.
11-1. Modifiers, Demonstrative
- There were two demonstratives in Old English. The more frequent was that used when we might have a definite article; it can be translated as either ‘the’ or ’that, those.’
- Sē/se and sēo were superseded in late Old English by the variant þē/þe and þēo.
- The Modern English definite article the developed from the masculine nominative þe.
- When we used the in comparisons, however, it is a development of the neuter instrumental form þē.
- The Modern English that is from the neuter nominative-accusative þæt, and its plural those has been borrowed from the other demonstrative.
- The Modern English this (pl. these) is from the nominative singular forms þēs (masculine), þis (neuter), and þēos (feminine).
- The Modern English those is from the nominative-accusative plural þās which was confused with tho (from þā), earlier plural of that.
- The Modern English these was developed for the plural of this.
11-2. Modifiers, Adjectives
- Germanic developed a distinctive adjective declension.
- The weak declension, which was used after the two demonstratives and after possessive pronouns, made the following noun definite. In this declension, -an predominated as an ending.
- The weak adjectives did not vary for gender in the plural, like the demonstratives.
- The strong declension was used when the adjectives were not preceded by a demonstrative or a possessive pronoun and when it was predicative.
- The comparative of adjectives was formed by adding -ra, and the superlative by adding -ost.
– heardra ‘harder’ – heardost ‘hardest’
– lengra ‘longer’ – lengest ‘longest’
- A very few others had comparative and superlative forms from a different root.
– gōd ‘good’ – betra ‘better’ – betst ‘best’
– micel ‘great’ – māra ‘more’ – mǣst ‘most’
- Certain superlatives were formed with an alternative suffix -(u)ma.
– forma from fore ‘before’
- When the ending with m ceased to be felt as having superlative force, these words and some others took by analogy the additional ending -est. Thus double superlatives came.
– formest, midmest, ūtemest, and innemest.
- The ending appeared to be -mest (rather than -est), which even in late Old English times was misunderstood as ‘most.’
– foremost, midmost, utmost, inmost, uppermost, furthermost, and topmost.
11-3. Modifiers, Adverbs
- The great majority of Old English adverbs were formed from adjectives by adding suffix -e.
– wrāþ ‘angry’ – wrāþe (angrily)
- This -e was lost, with the result that some Modern English adjectives and adverbs are identical in form―for example, loud, deep, and slow, though Modern English idiom prefers adverbial forms with –ly over those without this suffix.
- The dual forms were disappearing by late Old English times.
- The second person singular th- and the second person plural nominative ye survived well into the Modern English period, especially, in religious and poetic language.
- Gender appeared only in the third person singular forms.
- Hwā is the source of the Modern English who, hwām of whom, and hwæt of what.
- The distinctive neuter instrumental hwȳ is the source of why.
- Old English verbs were either weak or strong.
– weak verbs: adding a -d or -t to form their preterits and past participles, as in modern talk-talked.
– strong verbs: changing their stressed vowel, as in modern sing-sang-sung.
- Old English had several kinds of weak verbs and seven groups of strong verbs distinguished by their patterns of vowel change.
- The suppletive verb eom, is , and sind(on) or sint were from an Indo-European root *es-.
- The second person eart was from a different Indo-European root *er- with the original meaning ‘arise.’
- The Modern English plural are is from an Anglian form of that root.
- The preterit forms were from another verb, whose infinitive in Old English was wesan.
- The alternation of s and r in the preterit was the result of Verner’s Law.
- Adjectives agreed in case, number, and gender with the nouns they modified.
- Adjectives were also inflected for “definiteness” in the so-called strong and weak.
- Numbers could be used as nominal.
- Old English used the genitive inflection in many circumstances that would call for an of phrase.
- Old English had no articles, properly speaking.
- There were not various form of tenses.
- Old English form passive sense as we do, but, it often used the simple infinitive in a passive sense.
- The subjunctive mood was more common in Old English.
- Old English had a number of impersonal verbs.
Chapter 6. The Middle English Period (1100-1500)
15. Key Events in the Middle English Period
- 1066: The Normans, William, conquered England, introducing Norman French as the language of government.
- 1024: King John lost Normandy to the French.
- 1258: King Henry III issued the first English-language royal proclamation, establishing a Privy Council.
- 1309: The corrupt Avignon Papacy began and lasted until 1377.
- 1337: 116-year Hundred Years’ War began and lasted until 1453, promoting English nationalism.
- 1348: The Black Death occurred.
- 1381: The Peasants’ Revolt led by Tyler was the first rebellion of working-class people.
- 1384: John Wycliffe died, publishing the Wycliffite Bible in English.
- 1400: Geoffrey Chaucer died, having produced a highly influential body of English poetry.
- 1419: Julian of Norwich died.
- 1476: William Caxton brought printing to England.
- 1485: Henry Tudor became king of England, ending thirty years of War of the Roses having lasted for 118 years.
- 1497: John Cabot sailed to Nova Scotia, foreshadowing English territorial expansion overseas.
Algeo, John, and Carmen Acevedo Butcher. The Origins and Development of the English Language 7th Edition.
Cengage Learning, 2014. p84-121.