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What is Old English or Olde English

Old English is the language of the Anglo Saxons, spoken from the 5th century to the 11th century, in England and lowland Scotland. As we know, it belongs to the Germanic Language Family, and its roots, very similar to the other languages like the modern German, Icelandic and Dutch and the germanic Languages.

This article would be upon the fierce Saxons, who had completely changed the background of the language, that we know today as Modern-English, and altogether with immense transformation, this English Language had undergone, through innumerable ages.

Who were Anglo-Saxons and how did they influence the English language?


The Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain is the process which changed the language and culture of most of what became England from Romano-British to Germanic and it marks its origin in the history of English Language, with the migration of the four west Germanic tribes, the Angles from Langobardi and Semnones in historical regions of Schleswig and Holstein, which are today part of southern Denmark and northern Germany.

The Saxons people whose name was given in the early Middle Ages to a large country (Old Saxony, Latin: Saxonia) near the North Sea coast of what is now Germany.

Origins of the Anglo Saxon
Origins of the Anglo Saxons

The Jutes

The Jutes, who are believed to have originated from the Jutland Peninsula (called Iutum in Latin) and part of the North Frisian coast. In present times, the Jutlandic Peninsula consists of the mainland of Denmark and Southern Schleswig in Germany. North Frisia is also part of Germany.


Finally the Frisians, the Germanic ethnic group indigenous to the coastal parts of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. They inhabit an area known as Frisia and are concentrated in the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen and, in Germany, East Frisia and North Frisia (which was a part of Denmark until 1864).

This process occurred from the mid-fifth to early seventh centuries, following the end of Roman rule in Britain around the year 410. The settlement was followed by the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the south and east of Britain, later followed by the rest of modern England.

The available evidence includes the scant contemporary and near-contemporary written record, and archaeological and genetic information. The few literary sources tell of hostility between incomers and natives.

They describe violence, destruction, massacre, and the flight of the Romano-British population. Moreover, there is little clear evidence for the influence of British Celtic or British Latin on Old English.

So what was the reason for those Germanic tribes to migrate to the British Isles?

The Romans had been troubled by serious barbarian raids since around AD 360. Picts (northern Celts) from Scotland, Scots from Ireland (until AD1400 the word ‘Scot’ meant an Irishman) and Saxons from Germany, all came to plunder the accumulated wealth of Roman Britain.

The Roman legions began to withdraw from Britain in AD383 to secure the Empire’s borders elsewhere in mainland Europe. By AD410 all Roman troops had been withdrawn, leaving the cities of Britain and the remaining Romano-British to fend for themselves.

As the Romans departed, so did the source of any major written historical data. For the rest of the fifth century and early sixth century, England entered what is now referred to as a period of time known as the Dark Ages.

The Romans had employed the mercenary services of the Saxons for hundreds of years, preferring to fight alongside them rather than against these fierce warriors. An arrangement, which probably worked well with the Roman military in place to control their numbers, using their mercenary services on an as-required basis.

The Roman Brexit
The Roman Brexit

First Saxon warriors raided England’s south and east coasts. Little mercy was shown as men, women, and children were slaughtered. A British monk Adomnan, suggested a Law of Innocents protect the woman and children, but the Saxons denied these strange rules and killed each of them.

The main groups being Jutes from the Jutland peninsula (modern Denmark); Angles from Angeln in southwest Jutland and the Saxons from northwest Germany. Much fun and fighting followed over the next hundred years or so as the invading kings and their armies established their kingdoms.

What are the current names of old Kingdoms?

Most of these kingdoms survive to this day and are perhaps better known as the English counties- Kent (Jutes), Sussex (south Saxons), Wessex (west Saxons), Middlesex (middle Saxons), East Anglia (east Angles).

Anglo-Saxon ,migration
Anglo-Saxon, migration

Notable or remarkable Literary work, established in between 5-11century

It’s very disheartening, that particularly in this time period no notable literary work seemed to happen as this was the “Dark Age” when Britain was in a continuous war with numerous invaders like the “Vikings” who had turned Britain into slaughterhouse killing an innumerable number of people and mark their territory and terror among the people.

Only because people were so much at war in those time, they didn’t have enough time to pent down any remarkable literary work, there was no scientific advancement in this era, another significant reason was lack of printing press.

As the printing press wasn’t there, so even if any writer had written something, we don’t have it in records, but if we found out any literature, that we have today from the Anglo-Saxon period, we can see they belong or being influenced by two things.

I) Heroism and ii) Religion

Olde English literature & literary works

Heroic poetry was quite evident and popular at that time, because we already know about the Germanic tribes, who were Pagans, didn’t believe in god, so their literature revolved around the heroism culture. All the poetry that was written during the Anglo-Saxon period, concentrated much on the heroism.

There is a very significant heroic poetry we all know, is the “Beowulf which is heroic poetry, whose story was expected to set in Scandinavia in 6th century BC.

Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel’s mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated.

1st Page of Beowulf
1st Page of Beowulf

Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland (Götaland in modern Sweden) and becomes king of the Geats. Fifty years later, Beowulf defeats a dragon but is mortally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants cremate his body and erect a tower on a headland in his memory.

The poem survives in a single copy in the manuscript known as the Nowell Codex. It has no title in the original manuscript but has become known by the name of the story’s protagonist. In 1731, the manuscript was damaged by a fire that swept through Ashburnham House in London that had a collection of medieval manuscripts assembled by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton.

The margins were charred, and a number of readings were lost.

Significant words and sentences from Old English

The first example is taken from the opening lines of the folk-epic Beowulf, a poem of some 3,000 lines and the single greatest work of Old English. This passage scribes how Hrothgar ancestor Scyld was found as a baby, washed ashore, and adopted by a noble family.

The translation is literal and represents the original poetic word order. As such, it is not typical of Old English prose. The modern cognates of original words have been used whenever practical to give a close approximation of the feel of the original poem.

The words in brackets are implied in the Old English by noun case and the bold words in brackets are explanations of words that have slightly different meanings in a modern context. Notice how what is used by the poet where a word like lo or beholds would be expected. This usage is similar to what-ho! both an expression of surprise and a call to attention.

English poetry is based on stress and alliteration. In alliteration, the first consonant in a word alliterates with the same consonant at the beginning of another word, as with Gār-Dena and ġeār-dagum. Vowels alliterate with any other vowel, as with æþelingas and ellen. In the text below, the letters that alliterate are bolded.

Original Translation of Beowulf

1Hƿæt! ƿē Gār-Dena in ġeār-dagum – what! We of Gare-Danes (lit. Spear-
Danes) in yore-days,

þēod-cyninga, þrym ġefrūnon, – of thede (nation/people)-kings, did thrum (glory) frayne (learn about by asking)

hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon. – how those athelings (noblemen) did ellen
(fortitude/courage/zeal) freme (promote).

Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum – Oft did Scyld Scefing of scather threats (troops),

monegum mǣġþum, meodosetla oftēah – of many maegths (clans; cf. Irish cognate Mac-), of mead-settees atee (deprive),

egsode eorlas. Syððan ǣrest ƿearð – [and] ugg (induce loathing in, terrifyrelated to ugly”) earls.

Sith (since, as of when) erst (first) . he] worthed (became)
fēasceaft funden, hē þæs frōfre ġebād-[in] fewship (destitute) found, he of this frover (comfort) abode,

ƿēox under ƿolcnum, ƿeorðmyndum þāh, – [and] waxed under welkin (firmament/clouds), [and amid] worthmint (honour/worship) threed (throve/prospered)
oðþæt him ǣġhƿylc þāra ymbsittendra oth that (until that) him each of those umsitters (those “sitting” or dwelling roundabout)
10 ofer hronrāde hȳran scolde,

over whale-road (kenning for “sea”) hear should,
gomban gyldan. Þæt ƿæs gōd cyning! [and] yeme (heed/obedience; related to “gormless”) yield. That was [a] good king!

This is how the poem is pronounced

What is the Semi-fluent translation of Beowulf in Modern English?

Lo! We have heard of the majesty of the Spear-Danes, of those nation-kings in the days of yore, and how those noblemen promoted zeal. Scyld Scefing took away mead-benches from bands of enemies, from many tribes; he terrified earls.

Since he was first found destitute (he gained consolation for that) he grew under the heavens, prospered in honours, until each of those who lived around him over the sea had to obey him, give him tribute. That was a good king!

What are the Old English Words used even now?

Apricity – The feeling of warmth of the sun in winter
Bedight- Decorate
Bedward – Heading for bed
Besmirch- To make something dirty
Billingsgate – Curse words
Brabble – To argue loudly about things that don’t matter
Clinomania – An obsessive desire to lie down
Cockalorum – A small man with a big opinion of himself
Contumelious – Scornful or arrogantly rude
Cumberworld – Someone who is so useless they only exist in order to take up space
Crapulous – To feel ill because you ate too much or drank too much
Dillydoun – A little lullaby
Ditty – A short and simple song
Ergophobia – The morbid fear of returning to work

Erstwhile – In another time

Expergefactor – Something that wakes you up

Famelicose – Constantly hungry

Flighty – To be guided by whim

Flapdoodle – An insignificant or foolish man

Forswear – To formally disavow

Pronunciation in Old English 

The most effective, feature of Old English is its pronunciation of words differing from the ones that exist today. The words of A.C. Baugh,” The pronunciation of Old English words commonly differs somewhat from that of their modern equivalents.

The long vowels, in particular, have gone a considerable modification. Thus the Old English word ‘ stan’ is the same word as Modern word ‘stone’, but the vowel is different.”

In Old English script there are seven vowels symbols – a, e, i, o, u and y.

The digraph ‘ae’  is called ‘ash’.

All seven vowels represent either short or long sounds.

The Old English consonants have mostly the same sounds as in Modern English, but some need special comment. The letter ‘h’ was more strongly pronounced than it is in Modern English. The Old English script does not have the letter ‘v’, ‘f’ serves for the sounds of both ‘f’ and ‘v’.

The Old English also had differences in spelling which baffle modern readers.

How is Ð, Ö pronounced in Old English?

Ð is pronounced as Eth is a letter used in Old English, Middle English, Icelandic, Faroese (in which it is called edd), and Elfdalian. It was also used in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages but was subsequently replaced with dh and later d. It is often transliterated as d.

similarly, Ö is pronounced as “o-ay”, the vowel ‘O’ remains the same as it is, but ‘ay’ is the main accent, you can find in the pronunciation, of the Old English dialects.

Pronouncing the umlaut Ä
Since there are two variations of this type of umlaut, we have to go through both of them and give examples. The short Ä is pronounced like the “e” in the word “bet” in English. It is like saying “eh”.

The long Ä, on the other hand, is simply taking the short one and keeping the sound, so making it longer. It is like saying the “ay” in “say”.

For a better idea on the pronunciation, we’ve compiled a list of examples of words that sound like Ä and some German words that use this umlaut.

Umlaut Sound English Word Example German Word Example German Sentence

Short Ä ê The “e” in Bet
The “e” in End

The “a” in Apple

The “e” in Get

Äpfel – Apple

Männer – Men

Bänke – Benches

Hände – Hands


Diese Äpfel schmecken sehr gut.

(These apples taste very good.)

Long Ä Start with the Short Ä and lengthen it + add a silent H The “a” in Mad
The “ai” in Air

The “ay” in Say

Ähnlich – Similar

Nächste– Next

Mädchen – Girl

Währung – Currency

Do listen to the pronounciation of Olde English in below vide


Deutsch und Englisch sind sich sehr ähnlich.

(German and English are very similar.)

It’s difficult to differentiate between the short and long Ä, but a general rule of thumb could be that the word has a long Ä if there is a letter “h” after the umlaut. If you can notice that the word has a long Ä, then you should pronounce the silent “h” even if it is not written there.

Most beginners will have a difficult time pronouncing this umlaut and English speakers will have the urge to glide the umlaut into a different vowel. That is when you are trying to say the short Ä for example as an ê and you say “êy”. You must try not to do this because the German vowels and umlauts do not mix with each other in pronunciation as is the case in English.

For a better idea on how to pronounce the Ä umlaut, below you will find an audio recording from German learning sites where examples of the use of Ä are provided.

Short Ä audio recording
Long Ä audio recording
Pronouncing the umlaut Ö

The umlaut Ö is one of the more difficult umlauts for non-native Germans to pronounce it. For English speakers specifically, this is difficult because English does not have a sound which is similar to it. So if you are learning German, you must be careful on how you pronounce this umlaut and practice it a lot.

The way you can go about pronouncing the Ö umlaut is by pursing your lips halfway in a circle as if you were saying O and then trying to say the short Ä.

We’ve compiled examples that you can use as a basis to be able to say the umlaut Ö.

Umlaut Sound English Word Example German Word Example German Sentence
Short Ö Start saying “ê” and purse your lips into an O.
The “i” in Flirt*

The “o” in Word*

Öffnen – To open

Stöcke – Sticks

Wörter – Words

Löffel – Spoon


Bitte öffnen Sie das Fenster nicht.

(Please do not open the window.)

Long Ö Lengthen the Short Ö The “o” in Worm*
The “i” in Bird*

Öl – Oil

Schön – Pretty

Böse – Evil

Löwe – Lions


Das Bild ist sehr schön. (The picture is very pretty.)

*The “r” in the pronunciation is silent

For a better idea on how to pronounce the Ö umlaut, below you will find an audio recording from German learning sites where examples of the use of Ö are provided.

Short Ö audio recording
Long Ö audio recording
Pronouncing the umlaut Ü
The last umlaut in the German language is the Ü. Similar to the Ö, there is no sound in the English language which is the equivalent of this umlaut.

The way to pronounce the Ü umlaut is by making the sound “ee” and pursing your lips as if you were whistling, almost completely shut. Your tongue must stay in the same place as when you say the sound “ee” and you should only change the shape of your mouth as if we’re saying “oo”.

The easiest way to do this is to start by saying the sound “ee” and then slowly changing the shape of your mouth from its wider position to a closed whistling shape.

We’ve compiled examples that you can use as a basis to be able to say the umlaut Ü. Unfortunately, this umlaut is almost impossible to find in any English word so there any no examples of it in the language.

Umlaut Sound German Word Example German Sentence
Short Ü
Say the sound “ee” and purse your lips almost completely shut

Müll – Rubbish

Türe – Doors

Schlüssel – Key


Bitte werfen Sie den Müll nicht auf den Boden.

(Please do not throw the rubbish on the floor.)

Long Ü Lengthen the Short Ü
Bühne – Stage

Mühle – Mill

Üben – Practice

Ich muss Deutsch üben.

(I have to practice German.)

Found info useful?