Beginning my journey into Old English

Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Updates

For Yule, my girlfriend got me the book Complete Old English (Anglo-Saxon) by Mark Atherton. I’m really excited to start learning Old English. My goal is to eventually be able to write my prayers to the gods in the tongue that my ancestors used to worship them.

Old English was the language of the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons were a group of tribes that originally came to present day England at the invitation of the Britons (a Celtic tribe) after the Roman armies abandoned the British Isles to fight in wars on the continent. The Britons weren’t used to fighting for themselves, and they needed protection from the Picts living in present day Scotland.

When the Britons couldn’t pay the Anglo-Saxons their mercenary wages, they offered them land instead. The Anglo-Saxons decided to found kingdoms with three land given to them, and called for reinforcements from their Germanic homelands. And thus the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the British Isles began.

The different tribes (Anglians, Saxons, and Jutes) spoke different but closely related Germanic languages. In England, they merged to form Old English. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the French language of the Normans had a heavy influence on Old English and Old English became Middle English, which later developed into Modern English. The English of King James and Shakespeare (“the King’s English”) is considered early Modern English.

To show how different Old English is from modern English, here is the opening lines of Beowulf:

Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Not the same as the King’s English at all.

Wish me luck as I begin this journey!