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Overview of the Old English Language.docx - Old English—an...

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Old English—an overviewOld English is the name given to the earliest recorded stage of theEnglish language, up to approximately 1150AD (when the MiddleEnglish period is generally taken to have begun). It refers to thelanguage as it was used in the long period of time from the comingof Germanic invaders and settlers to Britain—in the periodfollowing the collapse of Roman Britain in the early fifth century—up to the Norman Conquest of 1066, and beyond into the firstcentury of Norman rule in England. It is thus first and foremost thelanguage of the people normally referred to by historians as theAnglo-Saxons.Anglo-Saxon’ was one of a number of alternative namesformerly used for this period in the language’s history. On thehistory of the terms seeOld Englishn. and adj.,Anglo-Saxonn. and adj.,Englishadj. (and adv.) and n., andalsoMiddle Englishn. and adj.Historical backgroundBefore the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, the majority of thepopulation of Britain spoke Celtic languages. In Roman Britain,Latin had been in extensive use as the language of government andthe military and probably also in other functions, especially inurban areas and among the upper echelons of society. However, itis uncertain how much Latin remained in use in the post-Romanperiod.During the course of the next several hundred years, graduallymore and more of the territory in the area, later to be known asEngland, came under Anglo-Saxon control.Precisely what fate befell the majority of the (Romano-)Britishpopulation in these areas is a matter of much debate. Certainly,very few words were borrowed into English from Celtic (it isuncertain whether there may have been more influence in some
areas of grammar and pronunciation), and practically all of theLatin borrowings found in Old English could be explained as havingbeen borrowed either on the continent (i.e. beforehand) or duringor after the conversion to Christianity (i.e. later).The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, which began inthe late sixth century and was largely complete by the late seventhcentury, was an event of huge cultural importance. One of its manyareas of impact was the introduction of writing extensive texts inthe Roman alphabet on parchment (as opposed to inscribing veryshort inscriptions on wood, bone, or stone in runic characters).Nearly all of our surviving documentary evidence for Old English ismediated through the Church, and the impress of the literaryculture of Latin Christianity is deep on nearly everything thatsurvives written in Old English.Conflict and interaction with raiders and settlers of Scandinavianorigin is a central theme in Anglo-Saxon history essentially from thetime of the first recorded raids in the late eighth century onwards.However, the linguistic impact of this contact is mainly evident onlyin the Middle English period. Likewise, the cataclysmic politicalevents of the Norman Conquest took some time to show their fullimpact on the English language.

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Germanic languages

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