Values of consonant letters in OE

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Values of consonant letters in OE

In the majority of cases each of OE cons-nt letters represented a single phoneme, but a few of them had two or even more readings

Letter C stood for /k’/ before front vowels (cild, cæt); and for /k/ in all other positions (cnāwan)

Letter ʒ stood for

a) /Ɣ’/ before or after a front vowel

b) /Ɣ/ after r or between back vowels (sorʒian, draʒan)

c) for /g/ in other positions (gān, sinʒan)

Letters þ and ðindicated both /ð/ and /θ/

Letters f, s, þ, ð in the intervocal position all indicated the corresponding fricatives /v, z, ð/ In the initial or final position they all stood for corresponding unvoiced fricatives /f, s, θ/

// lufian, cēōsan, cweðan; þis, pāp, fif



The OE noun had two grammatical or morphological categories: number and case. In addition, nouns distinguished three genders, but this distinction was not a grammatical category. The category of number consisted of two members, singular and plural. The noun had four cases: Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative. The Nom. can be defined as the case of the active agent. The Gen- case was primarily the case of nouns and pronouns serving as, attributes, to other nouns. Dat. was the chief case used with prepositions. The Acc. case was the form that indicated a relationship to a verb. Besides these functions the cases of OE nouns, especially the Ace. case, could be used in some adverbial meanings.

Morphological Classification of Nouns. Declensions.

The most remarkable feature of OE nouns was their elaborate system of declensions, which was a sort of morphological classification. The total number of declensions, including both the major and minor types, exceeded 25. All in all there were only ten distinct endings (plus some phonetic variants of these endings) and a few relevant root-vowel interchanges used in the noun paradigms; yet every morphological class had either its own specific endings or a specific succession of markers. In the first place, the morphological classification of OE nouns rested upon the most ancient grouping of nouns according to the stem-suffixes. Stem-suffixes could consist of vowels (a-stem, i-stem), of consonants (ii-stems), of sound sequences ( ja-stems, -nd-stems). Some groups of nouns had no stem-forming suffix or had a "zero-suffix"; they are usually termed "root-stems" and are grouped together with consonantal stems, as their roots ended in consonants. The loss of stem-suffixes as distinct component parts had led to the formation of different sets of grammatical endings. OE nouns distinguished three genders: Masc., Fem., and Neut. In OE gender was primarily a grammatical distinction; Masc., Fern. and Neut. nouns could have different forms, even if they belonged to the same stem (type of declension).

Other reasons accounting for the division into declensions were structural and phonetic:

Monosyllabic nouns had certain peculiarities as compared to polysyllabic; monosyllables with a long root-syllable differed in some forms from nouns with a short syllable. The majority of OE nouns belonged to the a-stems, s-stems and n-stems. Special attention should also be paid to the root-stems which displayed specific peculiarities in their forms and have left noticeable traces in Mod E. Morphological Classification of Nouns in Old English Division according to stem

Division according to gender

Division according to length of the root- liable

A-stems included Masc. and Neut. nouns. About one third of OE nouns were Masc. a-stems. The forms in the a-stem declension were distinguished through grammatical endings (including the zero-ending). In some words inflections were accompanied by sound interchanges. If a noun ended in a fricative consonant, it became voiced in an intervocal position. These interchanges were not peculiar of a-stems alone and are of no significance as grammatical markers; they are easily accountable by phonetic reasons.

Note should be taken of the inflections -es of the Gen. sg, -as of the Nom. and Acc. Masc. Towards the end of the OE period they began to be added to an increasing number of nouns, which originally belonged to other stems. These inflections are the prototypes and sources of the Mod E pl and Poss. case markers -(e)s and -s. Wa- and ja-stems differed from pure a -stems in some forms, as their endings contained traces of the elements j- and -w- O-stems were all Fem., so there was no further subdivision according to gender.

The other vocalic stems, i-stems and u-stems, include nouns of different genders.

The most numerous group of the consonantal stems were n-stems. N-stems included many Masc. nouns, many Fern. nouns, and only a few Neut. nouns.

The other consonantal declensions are called minor consonantal stems as they included small groups of nouns. The most important type are the root-stems, which had never had any stem-forming suffix.



The adjective in OE could change for number, gender and case. Adjectives had three genders and two numbers. The category of case in adjectives differed from that of nouns: in addition to the four cases of nouns they had one more case, Instr. It was used when the adjective served as an attribute to a noun in the Dat. case expressing an instrumental meaning.

Weak and Strong Declension

Most adjectives in OE could be declined in two ways: according to the weak and to the strong declension. The difference between the strong and the weak declension of adjectives was not only formal but also semantic. The weak form was employed when the adjective was preceded by a demonstrative pronoun or the Gen. case of personal pronouns. A few adjectives were always declined strong while several others were always weak: adjectives in the superlative and comparative degrees, ordinal numerals, and the adjective ilca 'same. The strong forms were associated with the meaning of indefiniteness (roughly corresponding to the meaning of the modern indefinite article), the weak forms - with the meaning of "definiteness" (corresponding to the meaning of the definite article).

Degrees of Comparison

Like adjectives in other languages, most OE adjectives distinguished between three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative. The regular means used to form the comparative and the superlative from the positive were the suffixes -ra and -est/ost. Sometimes suffixation was accompanied by an interchange of the root-vowel.

Some adjectives had parallel sets of forms: with and without a vowel interchange. These sets could arise if the adjective had originally employed both kinds of suffixes; or else the non-mutated vowel was restored on the analogy of the positive degree and other adjectives without sound interchanges.


OE pronouns fell roughly under the same main classes as modern pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative and indefinite. Relative, possessive and reflexive pronouns were not fully developed and were not always distinctly separated from the 4 main classes. The grammatical categories of the pronouns were either similar to those of nouns or corresponded to those of adjectives. Some features of pronouns were peculiar to them alone. OE personal pronouns had 3 persons, 3 numbers in the 1' and 2nd p. (2 numbers- in the 3rd) and 3 genders in the 3'd p. The pronouns of the I" and 2ad p. had suppletive forms. The pronouns of the 3'd p. had many similarities with the demonstrative pronouns. Personal pronouns began to lose some of their case distinctions: the forms of the Dat. case of the pronouns of the V and 2d p. were frequently used instead of the Ace. The Gen. case of personal pronouns had two main applications: it could be an object, but far more frequently it was used as an attribute or a noun determiner, like a possessive pronoun.

In OE were 2 demonstrative pronouns: the prototype of NE that, which distinguished 3 genders in the sg and had I form for all the genders in the pi. and the prototype of this with the same subdivisions. They were declined like adjectives according to a five-case system. Demonstrative pronouns were frequently used as noun determiners and through agreement with the noun, indicated its number, gender and case. Interrogative pronouns had a 4-case paradigm. Some interrogative pronouns were used as adjective pronouns. Indefinite pronouns were a numerous class embracing several simple pronouns and a large number of compounds. Pronouns of different classes- personal and demonstrative- could be used in a relative function, as connectives.




The OE verb was characterised by many peculiar features. Though the verb had few grammatical categories, its paradigm had a very complicated structure: verbs fell into numerous morphological and employed a variety of form-building means. All the forms of the verb were synthetic, as analytical forms were only beginning to appear. The nonfinite forms had little in common with the finite forms shared many features with the nominal parts of speech. Grammatical Categories of the Finite Verb. The verb-predicate agreed with the subject of the sentence in 2 grammatical categories: number and person. Its specifically verbal categories were mood and tense.

Finite forms regularly distinguished between two numbers: sg and pl. The category of Person was made up of three forms: the 1 st, the 2nd the 3rd. Person was consistently shown only in the Pres. Tense of the Ind. Mood sg. In the Past Tense sg of the Ind. Mood the forms of the lst and 3rd p. coincided and only the 2nd p. had a distinct form. Person was not distinguished in the pl; nor was it shown in the Subj. Mood. The category of Mood was constituted by the Indicative, Imperative and Subjunctive.

The category of Tense in OE consisted of two categorial forms, Pres. and Past. The tenses were formally distinguished by all the verbs in the Ind. and Subj. Moods.

The use of the Subj. Mood in OE was in many respects different from its use in later ages. Subj. forms conveyed a very general meaning of unreality or supposition. In addition to its use in conditional sentences and other volitional, conjectural and hypothetical contexts Subj. was common in other types of construction: in clauses of time, clauses of result and in clauses presenting reported speech. In presenting indirect speech usage was variable: Ind, forms occurred by the side of Subj.

The forms of the Pres. were used to indicate present and future actions. The Past tense was used in a most general sense to indicate various events in the past (including those which are nowadays expressed by the forms of the Past Continuous, Past Perfect, Present Perfect and other analytical forms). Additional shades of meaning could be attached to it in different contexts.

Until recently it was believed that in OE the category of aspect was expressed by the regular contrast of verbs with and without the prefix ze-; verbs with the prefix had a perfective meaning while the same verbs without the prefix indicated a non-completed action. In some recent explorations, however, it has been shown, that the prefix ze- in OE can hardly be regarded as a marker of aspect, it could change the aspective meaning of the verb by making it perfective, but it could also change its lexical meaning. It has also been noticed that verbs without a prefix could sometimes have a perfective meaning. It follows that the prefix ze- should rather be regarded as an element of word-building, a derivational prefix of vague general meaning, though its ties with certain shades of aspective meaning are obvious.

It is important to note that in OE texts there were also other means of expressing aspective meanings:- verb phrases made up of the verbs habban, beon and the Past or Present Participle. The phrases with Participle I were used to describe a prolonged state or action, the phrases with Participle II indicated a state resulting from a previous, completed action.

The category of voice in OE is another debatable issue. In OE texts we find a few isolated relics of synthetic Mediopassive forms. The passive meaning was frequently indicated with the help of Participle II of transitive verbs used as predicatives with the verb beon. During the OE period these constructions were gradually transformed into the analytical forms of the Passive voice. Morphological Classification of Verbs The OE verb is remarkable for its complicated morphological classification which determined the application of form-building means in various groups of verbs. The majority of OE verbs fell into two great divisions: the strong verbs and the weak verbs. Besides these two main groups there were a few verbs which could be put together as "minor" groups. The main difference between the strong and weak verbs lay in the means of forming the principal parts, or the "stems' of the verb. There were also a few other differences in the conjugations. All the forms of the verb, finite as well as non-finite, were derived from a set of "stems" or principal parts of the verb: the Present tense stem was used in all the Present tense forms, Indicative, Imperative and Subjunctive, and also in the Present Participle and the Infinitive; it is .usuaily shown as the farm of the infinitive; ail the forms of the Past tense were derived from the Past tense stems; the Past Participle had a separate stem.

The strong verbs formed their stems by means of vowel gradation and by adding certain suffixes; in some verbs vowel gradation was accompanied by consonant interchanges. The strong verbs had four stems, as they distinguished two stems in the Past Tense - one for the 1 st and 3rd p. sg Ind. Mood, the other - for the other Past tense forms, Ind. and Subj.

The weak verbs derived their Past tense stem and the stem of Participle II from the Present tense stem with the help of the dental suffix -d- or -t; normally they did not change their root vowel, but in some verbs suffixation was accompanied by a vowel interchange. Both the strong and the weak verbs are further subdivided into a number of morphological classes with some modifications in the main formbuilding devices.

Minor groups of verbs differed from the weak and strong verbs but were not homogeneous either. Some of them combined certain features of the strong and weak verbs in a peculiar way ("preterite-present" verbs); others were suppletive or altogether anomalous.




8th c. raiders from Scand.. "Danes". made first attacks of England. Struggle-300 years. The Scandinavians subdued Northumbria and East Anglia, ravaged the eastern part of Mercia and advanced on Wessex. Like Germans, founded many towns and villages in northern England: in many regions there sprang up a mixed population made up of the English and the Danes. Linguistic amalgamation was easy. since their tongues belonged to the same linguistic group. In the 12th-l3th cc. the Scandinavian element was incorporated in the central English dialects: but the historical events that led to the linguistic influence date from the 9`h and 10`h . Wessex-head of resistance. Under Alfred , it was one of the greatest figures in English history; by the peace treaty of 878 England was divided into 2 halves: the n-eastern under Danish control-Danelaw, and the south-western-under the leadership of Wessex. In the late 10th c the Danish raids were renewed again; reached a new climax in the early 11`h c. , headed by Sweyn and Canute. Attacks were followed by demands for regular payments of large sums of money (called Danegeld " Danish money"), collected from many districts and towns. In 1017 Canute was acknowledged as king and England became part of a great northern empire comprising Denmark and Norway. On Canute's death (1035) his kingdom broke up and England regained political independence; by that time it was a single state divided into 6 earldoms. Most important role in the history of the English language was played by the introduction of Christianity. The first attempt to introduce the Rom Christian religion to a-Saxon Britain -6 th c during the supremacy of Kent. In 597 a group of missioanaries from Rome landed on the shore of Kent, East Anglia- Essex, and other places: movement was supported from the North; missionaries from Ireland brought the Celtic variety of Christianity to Northumbria.(the Celts had been converted to Christianity during the Roman Occupation of Britain.) In less than a cent. -all England was Christianised.=major factor in the centralization ; growth of culture and learning; monasteries and monastic schools; high standard of learning was reached in the best 9th c. During the Scand. Invasion , the Northumbrian culture was largely wiped out. English culture shifted to the southern kingdoms, most of all to Wessex, where a cultural efflorescence began during the reign of Alfred(871-901) from that time till the end of the OE period of Wessex, with its capital at Winchester, remained the cultural centre of England. The phonetic and grammatical structure of these two languages was the similar. They ahd the same morphological categories, strong and weak declination of substantives falling into several types, according to the stem vowel; strong and weak declination of the adjectives; seven classes of strong and three classes of weak verbs. A considerable part of vocabulary in OE and Scandinavian was similar. In many words the root was the same, while the endings were different (fisc-fiscr-fish) Another part of Scandinavian voc-ry did not correspond to English, for example in sphere of politic and economic. Even the 3rd person singular personal pronoun was taken from Scandinavian. Among Scandinavian loan words there were some military terms, but later they were superseded by French words. Scandinavian elements became part of many geographical names (village in Kirkby, hill in Langtoft)



Soon after Canute's death (1042) and the collapse of his empire the old AS line was restored but their reign was short-lived. The new English king, Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), who had been reared in France, brought over many Norman advisors and favourites: distributed among them English lands and wealth to the considerable resentment of the Anglo-Saxon nobility and appointed them to important positions in the government and church hierarchy. He not only spoke French himself but insisted on it being spoken by the nobles at his Court. William, Duke of Normandy. visited his court and it was rumoured that Edward appointed him his successor. In many respects Edward paved the way for Norman infiltration long before the Norman Conquest. However, the government of the country was still in the hands of Anglo-Saxon feudal lords, headed by the powerful Earl Godwin of Wessex. In 1066, upon Edward's death, the Elders of England (OE' Witan) proclaimed Harold Godwin king of England. As soon as the news reached William of Normandy, he mustered a big army by promise of land and plunder (one third of his soldiers were Normans, others. mercenaries from all over Europe) and, with the support of the Pope, landed in Britain.

In the battle of Hastings, fought in October 1066, Harold was killed; and the English were defeated. This date is commonly known as the date of the Norman Conquest, though the military occupation of the country was not completed until a few years later. After the victory at Hastings, William by-passed London cutting it off from the North and made the Witan of London and the bishops at Westminster Abbey crown him king. William and his barons laid waste many lands in England, burning down villages and estates. They conducted a relentless campaign of subjugation, devastated and almost depopulated Northumbria and Mercia, which tried to rise against the conquerors. Scores of earthen forts and -wooden stockades, built during the campaign. were soon replaced by huge stone Norman castles. Most of the lands of the Anglo-Saxon lords passed into the hands of the Norman barons, William's own possessions comprising about one third of the country. The Normans occupied all the important posts in the church, in the government, and in the army.

Following the conquest hundreds of people from France crossed the Channel to make their home in Britain. Immigration was easy, since the Norman kings of Britain were also dukes of Normandy and, about a hundred years later, took possession of the whole western half of France, thus bringing England into still closer contact with the continent. French monks, tradesmen and craftsmen flooded the south-western towns, so that not only the higher nobility but also much of the middle class was French.


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