Beowulf to Virginia Woolf

The British Library website, which I came across today, has some interesting information about language and writing in the Language and the written word section. It tells the story of written English from the Beowulf, the earliest known narrative poem in English, to Virginia Woolf’s early 20th century novels, with samples of each.

The site also includes recordings of the accents and dialects of the UK, details of cook books through the ages, and a history of English language dictionaries, among other fascinating information.

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Writing.

8 Responses to Beowulf to Virginia Woolf

  1. Eduard says:

    Beowulf was not written in english.

  2. AR says:

    But it was written in Anglo-Saxon/Old English which is the direct predecessor to our modern English language.

  3. BG says:

    Beowulf was written in Old English / Anglo-Saxon.

  4. pittmirg says:

    To what extent (if at all) is Old English intelligible to an English speaker? I’m just curious because I’m not a native speaker.

  5. AR says:

    As a native speaker, I can say Old English is not intelligible. When reading, a few words stand out, but overall, no. Middle English is for the most part intelligible when read but not when spoken as it still retains pronunciations from before the Great Vowel Shift of 1500 when most vowels changed and many consonants became silent.

  6. Eduard says:

    Your answer is correct. Lets say anglo-saxon (oldest predecessor of english). Anglo-saxon is more similar to Islandic than to English. English had other more influent predecessors, like normand and latin, that are more intellegible to contemporary English than anglo-saxon is.

  7. BG says:

    I like to compare the relationship of Old English and English to that of Ancient Greek and Modern Greek. For Eduard, a similar comparison might be between Catalan and Latin.

    Although in the case of the Romance languages one language split into many, whereas Old English and Ancient Greek each had only one main line. (This may have more to do with fuzzy definition of dialects and languages, the spread of Latin across many nations vs. one, etc.)

    Even though Old English is unintelligible to today’s English speakers, I would still consider Beowulf to be the beginning of our literature as Anglo-Saxon had only one main descendent, English.

  8. Eduard says:

    Interesting this comparison between Latin vs. romanic languages, and Anglo-saxon vs. English. However, don’t forget about Scots, that keeps some interesting words from old anglo-saxon like, bairn or Kirk, instead of child and church.