So, we all shout 'wes hal!' when we see one another, but why? It's actually Old English (Englisc) for 'hello' or 'good health.' Old English is the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. It's a Germanic language which lacks the post-Conquest French additions we use in modern English and which has a grammar system more like modern German than modern English (it is inflected). If you speak German or Dutch, you will probably find you can get the gist of many texts written in Old English with a dictionary and not too much difficulty. Old English was spoken from the mid 5th to the mid 12th Century, by which time it had mutated into Middle English. It was mutually comprehensible with Old Norse, and some linguists suggest that it was contact between Anglo-Saxons and incoming Old Norse speakers that necessitated the shift from an inflected language to a non-inflected one.
England was pretty unique at this time in history in using the vernacular (i.e. not Latin) in many written documents - both secular and religious - so we actually know a great deal about how the language worked. The man to thank for this is probably Alfred the Great. If you're interested in finding out more, the following resources should help you. It should be noted that most people who learn OE aim to learn to read historical documents, therefore most courses and books are geared towards this. Learning to speak OE will be more difficult to achieve, but the University of Virginia course page is probably the best place to start.
- Wikipedia page on OE
- Carolyne Larrington's website of OE and ON resources
- OE resources from the English Language Department of the University of Toronto.
- ENGLISC listserv: a lovely and very helpful bunch of OE enthusiasts.
- LiveJournal OE community
- Old English: Languages of the World: Introductory Overviews An excellent video on YouTube which gives a nicely-paced introduction to OE.
- Excellent list of texts, articles, courses, fonts etc. from aprendelo.com.
- Long list of online OE resources from intute.ac.uk
- The Linguist: all OE resources in the Linguist database.
- OE literature and language entries in Project Woruldhord.
Online courses and learning materials
Dictionaries, glossaries and grammar
- Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary digital, searchable version of this classic OE->MnE dictionary
- Old English Translator Phil Barthram's online OE<->MnE translator is one of the clearest
- Thesaurus of Old English from the University of Glasgow. Indispensable!
- Old English from WikiBooks
- OE dictionary from Old English Made Easy
- Another OE dictionary from Stephen Forrest
- AnsaxDat vocabulary list
- Circolwyrde Wordhord Glossary of OE computing terms
- OE verb conjugator from Verbix.com
- King Alfred's Grammar Book by Michael D. C. Drout
- A selection of OE glossaries, vocabularies and translations from Archive.org
Exercises and courses
- Old English from the University of Virgina includes a really useful series of exercises called Old English Aerobics and the amazing Magic Sheet of case endings (click here for the pdf).
- Brief introduction to conversational OE phrases by Mary K. Savelli
- WebLearn material for the Old English mods paper from Oxford University's English Faculty (access to some materials may be limited to members of the University). Podcasts of Dr Stuart Lee's OE Mods lectures are publically accessible.
- King Alfred Translation Tutor by Michael D. C. Drout
Things to read in Old English
- Faeder ure The Lord's Prayer in Old English - handy if you want to portray a clergyman, monk or nun.
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (also MnE translation here
- Britannia's Original Sources & Texts
- The New Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - an absolutely fantastic resource for learning to read OE
- Labyrinth Library The complete corpus of OE literature online.
- Beowulf resources provides online versions of the Beowulf poem both in the original Old English and in Modern English. A bibliography of studies and some more resources can also be found here. More Beowulf can be found here, here and here.
- OE coursepack from Oxford University's English Faculty
- Wikiwordboc Wikipedia in OE
- Today in OE
- Anglo-Saxon Charters (offsite). Database of legal charters, with original Latin/Englisc texts.
Facsimiles of manuscripts
- The Lindisfarne Gospels Interactive and amazingly high-quality scans, from the British Library
- Bodleian Library MS Junius 11 Facsimile. "The Cædmon Manuscript": parts of Genesis, Exodus and Daniel in Old English verse, illustrated with Anglo-Saxon drawings, c. A.D. 1000.
- Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. Q. e. 20 Facsimile. Life of St. Basil, first half of the 11th century: one blackened fragment retrieved from the fire of the Cotton Library in 1731
- Corpus Christi College MS 197 Facsimile. Contains the Rule of St Benedict in Latin and Old English
- Corpus Christi College MS 279B Facsimile. Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum in the Old English translation, early 11th century
- St John's College MS 154 Facsimile. Ælfric's Grammar, in Latin and Old English, early 11th century
- Manuscripts from the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College Cambridge Lots to see here, in Latin and Old English (see also BBC news article here)
- Alfred's translation of Gregory's 'Pastoral Care' - a whole page of resources from Bucknell University, including facsimiles, trascriptions, translations and the Latin original. A photo of the first page may also be found here thanks to the Bodleian Library.
Recordings and pronunciation
- Old English Phonology What might OE have sounded like? An explanation of how its possible phonology has been reconstructed, from Barry Rawling at York St John University
- Anglo-Saxon Aloud A daily reading of the entire Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records,which includes all poems written in Old English. By Michael D. C. Drout. (You can subscribe to his podcast via iTunes).
- The Ruin Stuart Lee (ex-Wychwooder and member of the English faculty at Oxford) recites the poem while wandering around a more modern type of ruin.
- Unlocked Wordhoard is the blog of Richard Noakes, a professor from Alabama who teaches OE. Includes video clips of various students reciting OE texts.
- Also check out the iTunes store for more OE podcasts - there are a number of readings from contemporary texts and a few lectures available.
- Eddie Izzard attempts to buy a cow using Old English and speaks to a linguist about the origins of English in clips from his programme Mongrel Nation
- The funeral of Theodred Eowyn singing a lament in OE in The Two Towers.
- Freya's Englisc translations
- An Etymologist's view of Britain from Spiegel Online
- 'A Guide to Old English' by Bruce Mitchell & Fred Robinson (Amazon page)
- 'Introduction to Old English' by Peter S Baker Online full text
- Bright's 'Anglo-Saxon Reader' Online full text
- 'Teach Yourself Old English' (Amazon page)
- Wordcraft: New English to Old English Dictionary & Thesaurus by Stephen Pollington - the only one of its kind! (Amazon page)
- List of books on OE from Omniglot
- Links to several dictionaries and readers from the Germanic Lexicon Project
- Oxford University Continuing Education Department sometimes run OE courses
Language and reenactment
- Wiglaf the Writer "Mediaeval scribal services" from a member of Ousekjarr.