Definition of Old English noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

 

Old English

 noun
noun
BrE
 
; NAmE
 
(also Anglo-Saxon)[uncountable] Languages
 
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the English language before about 1150, which is very different from modern English See related entries: Languages CultureOld EnglishOld English, sometimes called Anglo-Saxon, was the language of the German peoples who settled in England from around 400 AD. It had three main dialects (= forms of language): Kentish, Saxon and Anglian. Saxon was the language spoken at the court of King Alfred the Great, who encouraged people to translate Latin books into English, and so it became the main language of literature. Modern standard English, however, developed from Mercian, a variety of Anglian which was spoken in the Midlands. Relatively few Latin words dating back to the Roman occupation of England survived into Old English. After the arrival of the Vikings from the 8th century onwards, many Norse words, e.g. dirt, blunder and squeak, were added to the language.Several written works have survived from the Old English period. Most of these are short religious writings or poems about great heroes. The most famous of these is Beowulf, composed by an unknown author and written down in the 8th or 9th century. Beowulf is set in 5th-century Scandinavia and tells the story of the hero Beowulf's battles with the monster Grendel and Grendel's mother.To modern British people Old English looks at first like a foreign language. It was originally written in runes or runic letters, an ancient alphabet of 24 angular letters, and then in a form of the Roman alphabet that included several of these letters, such as the thorn (þ) for ‘th’, both voiced
BrE
 
; NAmE
 
and voiceless
BrE
 
; NAmE
 
, and the ash (æ). Some Old English words, such as dead, is, brother and and in the following passage from Beowulf, have survived with little change into modern English. Some words become easier to recognize when they are translated, e.g. yldra meaning ‘older’ and min for ‘my’, whereas others are completely foreign to us. Word order is also different from modern English.
Hroðgar maþelode, helm Scyldinga:‘Ne frin þu æfter sælum! Sorh is geniwodDenigea leodum. Dead is Æschere,Yrmenlafes yldra broþer,min runwita and min rædbora,eaxlgestealla …’(Hrothgar, protector of the Danes, spoke: ‘Do not ask about it! There is more sorrow for the Danish people. Aeschere, Yrmenlaf's older brother, my trusted friend and my adviser, my close companion, is dead …’)
Several shorter poems written in Old English have also survived. These include The Seafarer, The Wanderer and The Dream of the Rood, which all have a Christian message. Few authors are known by name, apart from Caedmon, a 7th-century monk, and the 9th-century Northumbrian or Mercian poet Cynewulf. Other authors of the period, such as Alcuin, wrote in Latin.The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a history of England beginning with the arrival of Christianity, was probably begun in the court of King Alfred in 891 and was continued in monasteries until 1154. The writers used a wide range of sources for the Chronicle and it is thought to be the first original prose text in English.Old English was replaced by Norman French as the official language of England after the Norman Conquest of 1066, but it continued to be spoken by the ordinary people and, influenced by French and Latin, developed into Middle English, the language of the 12th to the 15th centuries.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: Old English

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