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5/28/2010

ENG 4820
History of the English Language
Dr. Michael Getty | Summer 2010
WEEK 2:
OLD ENGLISH

Proto-Indo-European to Germanic
• When descendants of the Indo-European tribes who we call ‘Germanic’
settled on the coast of the Baltic Sea from about the 18th to about the 8th
century BCE, they encountered tribal groups that had been their for
millennia.
• We don’t
don t know who these people were
were, as their language died out well
before the invention of writing, but the Germanic tribes settled among them,
intermarried, and borrowed vast numbers of their words, which now form a
big part of the core vocabulary of the Germanic languages.
• house, leg, hand, shoulder, bone, sick, all, boat, ship, sail, net, oar, shoe,
lamb, sheep, seal, sturgeon, herring
• They weren’t the Finns, because our words Finn and Finnish bear no
resemblance to what the Finns call their country, Suomi, or their language
Suomalainen.
• We know these are non-Indo-European words because they have no
cognates (i.e. similar-sounding counterparts) in other Indo-European
languages. Compare English to Latin:
• house – domus hand – manus
• ship – navis bone – ossus
• lamb – agnus sick - male
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Germanic to Old English


• Most of the Latin borrowings into English we talk about are from the Middle
Ages, the language of civil society. But there was a wave of Latin loans from
way before that, dating to contacts between Romans and Germanic tribal
groups on the continent between 500 BCE and 500 CE, a period which
overlaps with the Christianization of Roman culture.
• Stop anyone on the street, and they’d tell you that these words are about as
English as you can get. In fact, they were borrowed from Latin before Latin
was cool, you might say: cheap, cheese, pan, dish, kitchen, cook, cherry,
pillow, mile, tile, beer, street
• By the time the Roman presence in Britain began crumbling in the 5th
century CE, most of the population had converted to Christianity. In fact,
Rome’s first Christian ruler, Constantine I, was declared
Emperor in the Roman settlement of Eboracum, what we
now call York in the north of England
England.
• As Christianity became the official religion of the empire, it
took on the trappings of the Roman state: centralized
authority and Latin as its common language and written
culture. This culture persisted even as the empire was
overrun by Germanic invaders and disintegrated politically.
source

Germanic to Old English


• The Germanic invaders of the 5th century were pagans in the common Indo-
European tradition: sacrificial worshippers of multiple, very human-like gods
embodying mythical abilities or natural phenomena.
• The Big Four (Source)
• The chief god Woden,
Woden thought
tho ght to carry
carr off the souls
so ls of the dead
• Frig, Woden’s wife and goddess of love
• The god of thunder, Thunor, better known by his Norse name Thor
• Tiw, god of war and battle, whose name is directly descended from
Proto-Indo-European *deu-, which gave us deus in Latin.
• We still say the names of these gods almost every day: Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
• Starting in 597, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, having consolidated their
power in Britain,
Britain converted to Christianity without as much fuss as
elsewhere.
• As elsewhere in Europe, Christianity was adapted to incorporate local
customs. The word ‘Easter’ comes from the name of a Germanic goddess
associated with a traditional springtime festival (source).

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Germanic to Old English


• The Germanic tribes had a tradition of epic poetry, celebrating the
deeds of legendary heroes and mythical figures.
• This poetry had a stress-based rhythm and centered on alliteration
instead of rhyme, which was a good fit for the strong root-initial
stress that characterizes the Germanic languages.
• One of the earliest known poems written in English is Cædmon’s
Hymn, written by a lay member of a monastery in what is now
Whitby in northeastern England. It is dated to between 657 and 680
CE and was wildly popular at the time.
• As told by Bede, who wrote the first history of the English church in
about 730 CE, Cædmon was a shepherd who turned out to be a
prodigy
p gy at composing
p g traditional Germanic oral p
poetry
y in response
p to
Christian religious themes.
• We’re going to delve into Cædmon’s hymn, syllable by syllable.

Source
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Cædmon’s Hymn
What We’re Looking At …
•How to pronounce Old English
•Variation in Old English:
West Saxon
S vs. Northumbrian

•Semantic change

Culture and History:


•Traces of Germanic paganism
•The Norse Incursions

Source
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Cædmon’s Hymn
Northumbrian West Saxon
Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes ward Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard
Metudes maecti end his modgidanc Meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc
uerc wuldurfadur swe he wundra gihwaes weorc wuldorfæder swa he wundra gehwæs
eci dryctin, or anstelidæ ece drihten or onstealde
He ærist scop ælda barnum He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heben til hrofe haleg scepen heofen to hrofe halig scyppend
þa middungeard moncynnæs ward þa middangeard moncynnes weard
eci dryctin æfter tiadæ ece drihten æfter teode
firum foldu Frea allmectig firum foldan Frea ælmihtig

Now we shall praise heaven


heaven-kingdom's
kingdom's Guardian,
Guardian the Creator's might
might, and his
mind-thought, the words of the Glory-father; how he, each of his wonders the
eternal Lord, established at the beginning. He first shaped for earth's children,
heaven as a roof, the holy Creator. Then a middle-yard, mankind's Guardian,
the eternal Lord, established afterwards the earth for the people, the Lord
almighty (Lerer pp. 12f.)
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Cædmon’s Hymn
HOW TO PRONOUNCE OLD ENGLISH
•When a language is first written down in an alphabetic
system like the Roman alphabet
alphabet, it tends to go through a kind
of golden period during which the correspondence between
written symbols and phonemes is almost one-to-one
•This was true for the first few centuries of English writing,
until the point at which writing became centralized and
conventionalized in the later Middle Ages. At that point, the
phoneme-to-written-symbol
p y relationship
p started becomingg
much looser.

Source
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Cædmon’s Hymn
HOW TO PRONOUNCE OLD ENGLISH

Vowels before the Great Vowel Shift (started in the 14th century CE):
æ low front vowel,, as in cat
a low central vowel, as in father
e in stressed syllables, a mid front vowel as in hay minus the
final gliding-off sound
in unstressed syllables, a very short mid central vowel as in
even
i a high front unrounded vowel, like in mini.
y a high front rounded vowel, found today in only a few dialects.
S th
Say the /i/ sound
d and
d round
d your lilips
u a high back rounded vowel, like in soon.
o a mid back rounded vowel, like in lone.

Source
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Cædmon’s Hymn
HOW TO PRONOUNCE OLD ENGLISH
Consonants

Consonants were pronounced more or less as they still are, except:

h At the beginning of a syllable, today’s pronunciation as in hay


h Elsewhere, as a voiceless fricative, close to the sound some
people have in huge or in their emphatic pronunciation of
words like how.
Another analogue is the ch sound in German/Yiddish Ach!

Source
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Cædmon’s Hymn
HOW TO PRONOUNCE OLD ENGLISH

Consonants
Consonants were pronounced more or less as they still are, except:

þ/ð Voiceless and voiced interdental fricatives


c Before or after a front vowel, a voiceless alveopalatal affricate
[č] like chick
Everywhere else, a voiceless velar stop, like chick
g Before or after a front vowel, a high front glide (semivowel), [j] like yes
Between non-front vowels or after [l] or [r], a voiced velar fricative [ɣ]
Everywhere else, a voiced velar stop like cigar
sc In northern dialects
dialects, probably like skill.
skill In southern dialects
dialects, probably
a voiceless alveopalatal fricative, [ʃ] as in shell
cg A voiced alveopalatal affricate, [ǰ]

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Cædmon’s Hymn
HOW TO PRONOUNCE OLD ENGLISH
Consonants

These are assimilations: Bringing neighboring sounds


closer to each other in their articulations

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Cædmon’s Hymn
HOW TO PRONOUNCE OLD ENGLISH
Consonants

These assimilations dominated


southern dialects but were less
prevalent in northern dialects.

The prevalence of assimilated and non-assimilated forms varied across


space and time along with variations in the vowels that conditioned
them.

Let’s use three handles:


ON TO IT!
Assimilation #1: skirt/shirt sk -> ʃ
Assimilation #2: get/yet gi -> ji
Assimilation #3: cool/chill ki -> či
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More Things to Know


PRONOUNS AND VERBS
One case in which today’s English is vastly more complex
than Old English is in what’s
what s known as our tense/aspect
system.

Today’s English Old English


I sing Ic singe
I am singing “ “
I will sing Ic sceal singan
I will be singing
g g “ “ “
I sung Ic sang
I have sung “ “
I have been singing “ “
I would sing Ic sceolde singan
I would be singing “ “ “
I would have been singing “ “ “ 14

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More Things to Know


PRONOUNS AND VERBS

The pronouns of Old English


were, quite frankly, a mess.
E
Especially
i ll with
ith th
the bl
bleaching
hi
out of unstressed syllables, it
became increasingly difficult to
distinguish between masculine
and feminine, singular and
plural.
(Source: Millward p. 100)
•But pronouns are among the most frequently used words in any language;
f
frequently
l used
d words
d tendd to b
be the
h most resistant
i to change,
h so the
h Old
English system limped along well into the Middle English period.
•The system we use today is a blend of the original Old English inventory plus
Scandinavian imports she, they, and their, which made their way from the North
of England and gradually displaced the southern forms.

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More Things to Know


THE ‘DANISH’ INCURSIONS

•Trade and settlement from Scandinavia,


concentrated in the Northumbrian areas, had been
a co
constant
sta t ssince
ce tthe
e Ge
Germanic
a c invasion.
as o
•Starting in the late 8th century, the activity
becomes larger-scale and more organized. The
‘Danes,’ as the English called them (using one
tribal name from among many) colonize most of
the northern and eastern halves of the country.
•Different English kings use a combination of
treaties, bribes, and military power to contain the
Scandinavians behind a mostly imaginary line
called the ‘Danelaw,’ an area in which the
settlers/invaders could live under their own laws
and rulers.
•The settlers all became English-speaking within a
few generations, but they left their mark in
distinctive Scandinavian pronouns and place
names ending in –thorp, -by, and –wick
(Souce: Crystal p. 25)
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