Old English was not a static form. Its usage covered a period of some 700 or so years from approximately 450 AD to some time after the Norman invasion in 1066 when the language underwent a major and dramatic transitory upheaval, during a period which is (generally) now referred to as Middle English. During the 700 years in which it was in use it assimilated some aspects of the indigenous pre-Celtic languages, some of the Celtic languages which it came into contact with, some of the two variants of the invading Scandinavian languages occupying and controlling the Danelaw, and Norman French in the wake of 1066.
Further, the influence of Latin on Old English should not be ignored. A large percentage of the educated and literate population, monks, clerics, etc, were competent in what was then the prevalent lingua franca. This influence predates the insular incursions of the Anglo-Saxons in their original continental language.
The language was further altered by the transition away from the runic futhark alphabet to the Latin alphabet was also a significant factor in the developmental pressures brought to bear on the language. Words were spelled as they were pronounced. Silent letters therefore did not often exist in Old English: for example, the Old English word for a "knight", cniht, had four distinct consonants.
The Scandinavian loanwords which were to impact on the emergent Anglo-Saxon language tend to be everyday words and those which are concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw.
The number of Celtic loanwords is of a much lower order than either Latin or Scandinavian; as few as twelve loanwords have been identified as being entirely secure.
Dialects To further complicate matters, Old English was rich in dialect forms. This diversity was particularly marked until after the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great.
It it appears after a vowel, the letter h is a fricative, the actual sound being contingent upon the preceding vowel.
If it comes between vowels or a vowel and a consonant that is voiced then it is pronounced like the letter z in Modern English.
Additionally the letter w has a different manifestation in Old English as the character wynn[?].
Old English did not use v and j since these were later additions to the alphabet; q and z are sparingly found.
To further complicate the matter, prepositions may appear after their object, in which case they are, logically called postpositions:
God cwæð him þus to (lit) God said him thus to i.e. God said thus to him
conjugation (known as Ablaut). Weak verbs are formed principally by adding endings to past and participles.
Strong verbs are further subdivided into seven separate classes and weak verbs into three.
Additionally there is a further group of four verbs which are anomalous, the verbs "will", "do", "go" and "be".
|Accusative||mec, mé||úsic, ús||uncit, unc|
|Accusative||þéc, þé||éowic, éow||incit, inc|
|Nominative||hé m., héo f., hit n.||hié m., héo f.|
|Genitive||his m., hire f., his n.||hiera m., heora f.|
|Dative||him m., hire f., him n.||him|
|Accusative||hine m., híe f., hit n.||hié m., hío f.|
Many of the forms above bear strong resemblances to their contemporary English language equivalents: for instance in the genitive case éower became "your", úre became "our", mín became "mine".
Front Mutation[?] (also known as "I/J Mutation") has the effect that if a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable which contained a letter "i" or "j", then the previous stressed vowel is fronted or raised. The "i" or "j" is dropped from the word or changes to "e".
A particular class of nouns contain an "i" in the dative singular and plural nominative accusative forms. Consequent upon front mutation, irregular singular/plural oppositions therefore occur such as fot and fet, and mus and mys.
See also: Old English poetry