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Old English

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VARIETIES OF OLD ENGLISH: In present day English we are used to the concept of different varieties of English. Some are regional, while some are national, perhaps because of the relative sparsity of Anglo-Saxon. However, we need to be aware that in the Anglo-Saxon period, too different varieties of English were used. OLD ENGLISH AND SCOTS: In discussing the notion of old English being used in Scotland we need to add the qualification that in the Anglo-Saxon period there was little sense of English as a unified language.What we are talking about is the extent to which a particular variety of old English extended into Scotland. The Scots were originally from Ireland and settled in what is now Scotland around 500 AD. Also present in Scotland at this time were the Picts, and it was not until 843 that Scottish and Pictish dominions were untied by Kenneth MacAlpin, the first king of the Scots, as the language of the Picts gradually died out. The predominant language in Scotland became the Celtic language Gaelic. However, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of northumbrian dialect would also have been common on the English-Scottish border. A Scottish dialect of English emerged in the middle English period , during the reign of Malcolm III of Scotland who used English as opposed to Gaelic as the language of his royal court . Consequently , Gaelic never achieved the prestigious position it would have needed to survive as the language of Scotland . OLD ENGLISH DIALECTAL DIFFERENCES: Old English was relatively free in terms of word order. It should not be too surprising to learn, then, that most of the dialectal differences that can be noticed in Old English concern the sound of the particular variety in question. Understating these dialectal differences fully requires an in-depth knowledge of phonology. Nonetheless, it’s possible to grasp some of the differences without too much difficulty. One way of investigating dialectal differences is to compare texts which exist in more than one dialect. Here are the two versions, followed by a translation into PDE (the old English versions are taken from smith 1933 ) : Ceadmon’s hymn (West Saxon) Nu pe sculan herian heofnrices peaard Metudes myhte his modӡebanc Ceadmon’s hymn (Northumbrian) Nu scylun herӡan hefaenricaes uard Metudaes mecti end his modӡifanc Ceadmon’s hymn (PDE) Now must we praise of heaven’s kingdom the keeper Of the lord the power and his wisdom There are number of observations we can make about dialect as a result of looking at the two different versions of the text above. At a very basic level, for instance, the different spellings suggest different pronunciations. The northumbrian dialect contributed much to the development of Scots, which is just one reason why an awareness of dialectal variation is important if we are to account for the development of English over time.

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