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Why Previous English appears so bizarre

Why Previous English appears so bizarre


Q: While you rewind to older states of the language, corresponding to Center English, most phrases are unrecognizable and a few letters too. Granted, again then French additionally regarded completely different from Trendy French, however the letters have been the identical.

A: You’ll discover Previous English much more unrecognizable than Center English. Listed below are the primary few traces of the epic poem Beowulf from a manuscript on the British Library:

HǷÆT ǷE GARDEna ingear dagum þeod cyninga  þrym gefrunon huþa aðelingas ellen fremedon.

A Trendy English translation:

What tales we’ve heard concerning the may of kings in bygone years, the gloried deeds of valor that their courageous Dane spearmen wrought.

(The runic letter ƿ [wynn] in that passage feels like “w.” The runes þ [thorn] and ð [eth] have a “th” sound. The manuscript is a duplicate from the late tenth or early eleventh century of a piece believed so far from the early eighth century.)

The earliest French isn’t all that recognizable both. Listed below are the primary two traces of the Séquence [or Cantilènede Sainte Eulalie, a poem that dates from round 880 and is likely one of the oldest surviving Previous French texts:

Buona pulcella fut eulalia. Bel auret corps bellezour anima
Voldrent la veintre li deo Inimi. Voldrent la faire diaule seruir

Right here’s the passage in fashionable French:

Une bonne jeune-fille était Eulalie. Belle de corps, elle était encore plus belle d’âme.
Les ennemis de Dieu voulurent la vaincre. Ils voulurent la faire servir le diable.

And right here’s an English translation:

Eulalia was a great woman. She had a gorgeous physique, a soul extra stunning nonetheless.
The enemies of God needed to beat her. They needed to make her serve the satan.

(The poem is from a manuscript at La Médiathèque Simone Veil in Valenciennes, France. The nameless creator describes the loss of life of Eulalia de Mérida, an early Christian martyr from Spain. Every line features a couplet separated by a punctus.)

You’re proper, although, that Previous and Center French are written in Roman letters whereas Previous and Center English have some runes among the many Roman letters. Right here’s a really simplified rationalization of why early English has these runes and early French doesn’t.

Each English and French are finally derived from Proto-Indo-European, a prehistoric language that has been reconstructed by linguists and that’s the ancestor of most European and a few Asian languages.

English comes from Indo-European’s prehistoric Germanic department, the supply of these unusual characters, whereas French comes from the prehistoric Italic department, the traditional ancestor of Latin and the Romance languages.

Within the early centuries AD, the Anglo-Saxons and different Germanic folks used varied variations of the runic alphabet (known as the Futhark), earlier than adopting the Latin alphabet beneath the affect of Roman occupation and the unfold of Christianity.

Nevertheless, the Latin alphabet at the moment didn’t embody letters representing some sounds utilized by Germanic audio system. So writers of Previous English (roughly 450 to 1150) and Center English (1150 to 1450) supplemented the Roman letters with a number of runes:

  • æ (known as an ash), which sounded just like the “a” of “cat”;
  • þ (thorn), which may sound just like the unvoiced “th” of “factor” or the voiced “th” of “the”;
  • ð (eth), which was used kind of interchangeably with the þ (thorn) for these “th” sounds;
  • ƿ (wynn), an early “w”;
  • ʒ (yogh), which may sound like “y” or just like the “ch” of the German ich. (As an illustration, “niȝth,” a Center English spelling of “evening,” seemed like “nicht.”)

Right here’s an inscription, most likely relationship from the eighth century, written within the Anglo-Saxon Futhark. It’s carved on the Ruthwell Cross, a stone cross within the Scottish village of Ruthwell, which was once within the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria:

ᛣᚱᛁᛋᛏ ᚹᚫᛋ ᚩᚾ ᚱᚩᛞᛁᚻᚹᛖᚦᚱᚨ ᚦᛖᚱ ᚠᚢᛋᚨ ᚠᛠᚱᚱᚪᚾ ᛣᚹᚩᛗᚢ ᚨᚦᚦᛁᛚᚨᛏᛁᛚ ᚪᚾᚢᛗ.

That is the inscription, transliterated into Previous English script, with a number of thorns:

krist wæs on rodi hweþræ þer fusæ fearran kwomu æþþilæ til anum ic þæt al bih[eald]

And right here it’s in Trendy English:

Christ was on the cross. But the keen got here there from afar to the noble one that every one beheld.

The time period “Futhark,” by the way in which, comes from a transliteration of the primary six letters of Elder Futhark, the oldest model of the runes:  ᚠ, ᚢ, ᚦ, ᚨ, ᚱ, ᚲ (f, u, th, a, r, okay). The ᚦ (known as a thurisaz) in Elder Futhark is an early model of the þ (thorn) utilized in Previous English.

Apparently, inscriptions in Gaulish, the Celtic language spoken in historic Gaul earlier than Previous French, used the Greek alphabet till the Roman conquest within the first century BC, when the Roman alphabet changed it. Right here’s an instance from the Musée Lapidaire d’Avignon of a votive providing to Belesama (Bηλησαμα), the Gaulish Minerva:

ειωρου βηλη-
σαμι σοσιν

And that is an English translation by Pierre-Yves Lambert, a French linguist and scholar of Celtic research:

Segomaros, son of Villū, citizen of Nîmes, supplied this sacred enclosure to Belesama.

(Βηλησαμι within the inscription is the dative, or oblique object, of Bηλησαμα.)

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