In 409 AD the last Roman legion left British shores, and in fifty years the Islands became a victim of invaders. Germanic tribes from Southern Scandinavia and Northern Germany, pushed from their densely populated homelands, looked for a new land to settle. At that time the British Isles were inhabited by the Celts and remaining Roman colonists, who failed to organize any resistance against Germanic intruders, and so had to let them settle here. This is how the Old English language was born.
Celtic tribes crossed the Channel and starting to settle in Britain already in the 7th century BC. The very word "Britain" seems to be the name given by the pre-Celtic inhabitants of the island, accepted by first Indo-Europeans. The Celts quickly spread over the island, and only in the north still existed non-Indo-European peoples which are sometimes called "Picts" (the name given by Romans). Picts lived in Scotland and on Shetland Islands and represented the most ancient population of the Isles, the origin of which is unknown. Picts do not seem to leave any features of their language to Indo-European population of Britain - the famous Irish and Welsh initial mutations of consonants can be the only sign of the substratum left by unknown nations of Britain. At the time the Celts reached Britain they spoke the common language, close to Gaulish in France. But later, when Celtic tribes occupied Ireland, Northern England, Wales, their tongues were divided according to tribal divisions. These languages will later become Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Cornish, but from that time no signs remained, because the Celts did not invent writing yet. Not much is left from Celtic languages in English. Though many place names and names for rivers are surely Celtic (like Usk - from Celtic *usce "water", or Avon - from *awin "river"), the morphology and phonetics are untouched by the Celtic influence. Some linguists state that the word down comes from Celtic *dún "down"; other examples of Celtic influence in place names are tne following:
cothair (a fortress) - Carnarvon
uisge (water) - Exe, Usk, Esk
dun, dum (a hill) - Dumbarton, Dumfries, Dunedin
llan (church) - Llandaff, Llandovery, Llandudno
coil (forest) - Kilbrook, Killiemore
kil (church) - Kilbride, Kilmacolm
ceann (cape) - Kebadre, Kingussie
inis (island) - Innisfail
inver (mountain) - Inverness, Inverurie
bail (house) - Ballantrae, Ballyshannon,
and, certainly, the word whiskey which means the same as Irish uisge "water". But this borrowing took place much later.
In the 1st century AD first Roman colonists begin to penetrate in Britain; Roman legions built roads, camps, founded towns and castles. But still they did not manage to assimilate the Celts, maybe because they lived apart from each other and did not mix. Tens of Latin words in Britain together with many towns, places and hills named by Romans make up the Roman heritage in the Old English. Such cities as Dorchester, Winchester, Lancaster, words like camp, castra, many terms of the Christian religion and several words denoting armaments were borrowed at that time by Britons, and automatically were transferred into the Old English, or Anglo-Saxon language already when there was no Romans in the country.
In 449 the legendary leaders of two Germanic tribes, Hengist and Horsa, achieved British shores on their ships. The Anglo-Saxon conquest, however, lasted for several centuries, and all this period Celtic aborigines moved farther and farther to the west of the island until they manage to fortify in mountainous Wales, in Corwall, and preserved their kingdoms in Scotland. Germanic tribes killed Celtic population, destroyed Celtic and former Roman towns and roads. In the 5th century such cities as Durovern in Kent, Virocon, Trimontii, Camulodunum, were abandoned by the population.
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Angles settled around the present-day Noridge, and in Northern England; Saxons, the most numerous of the tribes, occupied all Central England, the south of the island and settled in London (Londinii at that time). Jutes and Frises, who probably came to Britain a bit later, settled on the island of White and in what is now Kent - the word Kent derives from the name of the Celtic tribe Cantii. Soon all these tribes founded their separate kingdoms, which was united after centuries of struggle only in 878 by Alfred, king of Wessex. Before that each of the tribes spoke its language, they were similar to each other but had differences which later became the dialectal peculiarities of Old English.
Now a little bit about the foreign influence in Old English. From the 6th century Christianity start activities in Britain, the Bible is translated into Old English, and quite a lot of terms are borrowed from Latin at that time: many bishops, missionaries and Pope's officials come from Rome. The next group of foreign loanwords were taken from Scandinavian dialects, after the Vikings occupied much of the country in the 9th - 11th centuries. Scandinavian languages were close relatives with Old English, so the mutual influence was strong enough to develop also the Old English morphology, strengthening its analytic processes. Many words in the language were either changed to sound more Scandinavian, or borrowed.
The Old English language, which has quite a lot of literature monuments, came to the end after the Norman conquest in 1066. The new period was called Middle English.
The Old English Substantive.
The substantive in Indo-European has always three main categories which change its forms: the number, the case, the gender. It ias known that the general trend of the Indo-European family is to decrease the number of numbers, cases and genders from the Proto-Indo-European stage to modern languages. Some groups are more conservative and therefore keep many forms, preserving archaic language traits; some are more progressive and lose forms or transform them very quickly. The Old English language, as well as practically all Germanic tongues, is not conservative at all: it generated quite a lot of analytic forms instead of older inflections, and lost many other of them.
Of eight Proto-Indo-European cases, Old English keeps just four which were inherited from the Common Germanic language. In fact, several of original Indo-European noun cases were weak enough to be lost practically in all branches of the family, coinciding with other, stronger cases. The ablative case often was assimilated by the genitive (in Greek, Slavic, Baltic, and Germanic), locative usually merged with dative (Italic, Celtic, Greek), and so did the instrumental case. That is how four cases appeared in Germanic and later in Old English - nominative, genitive, accusative and dative. These four were the most ancient and therefore stable in the system of the Indo-European morphology.
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The problem of the Old English instrumental case is rather strange - this case arises quite all of a sudden among Germanic tongues and in some forms is used quite regularly (like in demonstrative pronouns). In Gothic the traces of instrumental and locative though can be found, but are considered as not more than relics. But the Old English must have "recalled" this archaic instrumental, which existed, however, not for too long and disappeared already in the 10th century, even before the Norman conquest and transformation of the English language into its Middle stage.
As for other cases, here is a little pattern of their usage in the Old English syntax.
1. Genitive - expresses the possessive menaing: whose? of what?
Also after the expression meaning full of , free of , worthy of , guilty of, etc.
2. Dative - expresses the object towards which the action is directed.
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After the after the verbs like "say to smb", "send smb", "give to smb"; "known to smb", "necessary for smth / smb", "close to smb", "peculiar for smth".
Also in the expressions like from the enemy, against the wind, on the shore.
3. Accusative - expresses the object immediately affected by the action (what?), the direct object.
Three genders were strong enough, and only northern dialects could sometimes lose their distinction. But in fact the lose of genders in Middle English happened due to the drop of the case inflections, when words could no longer be distinguished by its endings. As for the numbers, the Old English noun completely lost the dual, which was preserved only in personal pronouns (see later).
All Old English nouns were divided into strong and weak ones, the same as verbs in Germanic. While the first had a branched declension, special endings for different numbers and cases, the weak declension was represented by nouns which were already starting to lose their declension system. The majority of noun stems in Old English should be referred to the strong type. Here are the tables for each stems with some comments - the best way of explaining the grammar.
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Nom. stán (stone) scip (ship) bán (bone) reced (house) níeten (ox)
Gen. stánes scipes bánes recedes níetenes
Dat. stáne scipe báne recede níetene
Acc. stán scip bán reced níeten
Nom. stánas scipu bán reced níetenu
Gen. stána scipa bána receda níetena
Dat. stánum scipum bánum recedum níetenum
Acc. stánas scipu bán reced níetenu
This type of stems derived from masculine and neuter noun o- stems in Proto-Indo-European. First when I started studying Old English I was irritated all the time because I couldn't get why normal Indo-European o- stems are called a- stems in all books on Old English. I found it a silly and unforgivable mistake until I understood that in Germanic the Indo-European short o became a , and therefore the stem marker was also changed the same way. So the first word here, stán , is masculine, the rest are neuter. The only difference in declension is the plural nominative-accusative, where neuter words lost their endings or have -u , while masculine preserved -as .
A little peculiarity of those words who have the sound [æ] in the stem and say farewell to it in the plural:
Sing. Pl. Sing. Pl.
N dæg (day) dagas fæt (vessel) fatu
G dæges daga fætes fata
D dæge dagum fæte fatum
A dæg dagas fæt fatu
Examples of a -stems: earm (an arm), eorl , helm (a helmet), hring (a ring), múþ (a mouth); neuter ones - dor (a gate), hof (a courtyard), geoc (a yoke), word , déor (an animal), bearn (a child), géar (a year).
N hrycg (back) here (army) ende (end) cynn (kind) ríce (realm)
G hrycges heriges endes cynnes ríces
D hrycge herige ende cynne ríce
A hrycg here ende cynn ríce
N hrycgeas herigeas endas cynn ríciu
G hrycgea herigea enda cynna rícea
D hrycgium herigum endum cynnum rícium
A hrycgeas herigeas endas cynn ríciu
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Again the descendant of Indo-European jo- stem type, known only in masculine and neuter. In fact it is a subbranch of o- stems, complicated by the i before the ending: like Latin lupus and filius . Examples of this type: masculine - wecg (a wedge), bócere (a scholar), fiscere (a fisher); neuter - net, bed, wíte (a punishment).
Masc. Neut. Masc. Neut.
N bearu (wood) bealu (evil) bearwas bealu (-o)
G bearwes bealwes bearwa bealwa
D bearwe bealwe bearwum bealwum
A bearu (-o) bealu (-o) bearwas bealu (-o)
Just to mention. This is one more peculiarity of good old a -stems with the touch of w in declension. Interesting that the majority of this kind of stems make abstract nouns. Examples: masculine - snáw (snow), þéaw (a custom); neuter - searu (armour), tréow (a tree), cnéw (a knee)
N swaþu (trace) fór (journey) tigol (brick)
G swaþe fóre tigole
D swaþe fóre tigole
A swaþe fóre tigole
N swaþa fóra tigola
G swaþa fóra tigola
D swaþum fórum tigolum
A swaþa fóra tigola