Old English was the West Germanic language spoken in the area now known as England between the 5th and 11th centuries. Speakers of Old English called their language Englisc, themselves Angle, Angelcynn or Angelfolc and their home Angelcynn or Englaland.
Old English began to appear in writing during the early 8th century. Most texts were written in West Saxon, one of the four main dialects. The other dialects were Mercian, Northumbrian and Kentish.
The Anglo-Saxons adopted the styles of script used by Irish missionaries, such as Insular half-uncial, which was used for books in Latin. A less formal version of minuscule was used for to write both Latin and Old English. From the 10th century Anglo-Saxon scribes began to use Caroline Minuscule for Latin while continuing to write Old English in Insular minuscule. Thereafter Old English script was increasingly influenced by Caroline Minuscule even though it retained a number of distinctive Insular letter-forms.
Old English / Anglo-Saxon was first written with a version of the Runic alphabet known as Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Frisian runes, or futhorc/fuþorc. This alphabet was an extended version of Elder Futhark with between 26 and 33 letters. Anglo-Saxon runes were used probably from the 5th century AD until about the 10th century. They started to be replaced by the Latin alphabet from the 7th century, and after the 9th century the runes were used mainly in manuscripts and were mainly of interest to antiquarians. Their use ceased not long after the Norman conquest.
Runic inscriptions are mostly found on jewellery, weapons, stones and other objects, and only about 200 such inscriptions have survived. Most have been found in eastern and southern England.
LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts:
A recording of this text:
Ealle fīras sind boren frēo ond geefenlican in ār ond riht. Hīe sind gifeðe gerād ond ingehygd, ond sculon dōn ongēan oðrum be feore of brōþorhāde.
Translation by Matthew Leigh Embleton
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Information provided by Niall Killoran
Information about Old English
Old English phrases
Old English dictionaries
Old English - Modern English translator
Ða Engliscan Gesiðas - the society for people interested in all aspects of Anglo-Saxon language and culture: http://tha-engliscan-gesithas.org.uk/
Beowulf in Hypertext
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