4 3.1. Old English

Old English (Ænglisc, Anglisc, Englisc) or Anglo-Saxon is the earliest historical form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain byAnglo-Saxon settlers probably in the mid 5th century, and the first Old English literary works date from the mid 7th century. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, English was replaced for a time as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French, and Old English developed into the next historical form of English, known as Middle English.

Old English developed from a set of Anglo-Frisian or North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes traditionally known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. As the Anglo-Saxons became dominant in England, their language replaced the languages of Roman Britain: Common Brittonic, a Celtic language, and Latin, brought to Britain by Roman invasion. Old English had four main dialects, associated with particular Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: MercianNorthumbrian, Kentish and West Saxon. It was West Saxon that formed the basis for the literary standard of the later Old English period, although the dominant forms of Middle and Modern English would develop mainly from Mercian. The speech of eastern and northern parts of England was subject to strong Old Norse influence due to Scandinavian rule and settlement beginning in the 9th century.

Old English is one of the West Germanic languages, and its closest relatives are Old Frisian and Old Saxon. Like other old Germanic languages, it is very different from Modern English and difficult for Modern English speakers to understand without study. Old English grammar is quite similar to that of modern German: nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs have many inflectional endings and forms, and word order is much freer. The oldest Old English inscriptions were written using a runic system, but from about the 9th century this was replaced by a version of the Latin alphabet.

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