Old English is the name given to the vernacular language of England from the settlement of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes until the 12the century, when it transitioned into the next linguistic stage, Middle English. It is a Western Germanic language, with Old Frisian and Old Saxon as nearest relatives. It had four great dialects: Northumbrian (North), Mercian (Midlands), Kentish (Kent) and West Saxon (South and South-West). The latter is the best attested, for it was the dialect of the kings of Wessex, that progressively gained political leadership and eventually established the kingdom of England. Modern English however is not its direct descendent: it rather derives from the speech of London, which is dialectally mixed but mainly based upon Mercian.
Old English was Tolkien’s speciality; in this language he transposed – in fiction – the speech of the Rohirrim in the literary device of pseudo-translation set up in The Lord of the Rings. Many Old English fragments can be found here and there in his literary work. Because Old English was so central to Tolkien, we included numerous examples and put apart mediæval texts from modern compositions.
– Pater noster
, a Late West-Saxon version (end of the 10th
Hál wes þú Maria
– Initial antiphon of the Ave Maria
, reconstructed after the Wessex Gospels
– An important elegy preserved in the Exeter Book.
– A poem from the Old English Physiologus
, which inspired J. R. R. Tolkien’s Fastitocalon
The works of John Ronald Reuel and Christopher Tolkien are under the copyright of their authors and/or rights holders, including their publishers and the Tolkien Estate.
Quotations from other authors, editors and translators mentioned in the bibliography are under the copyright of their publishers, except for those whose copyright term has ended.
Last update of the site: September 22nd 2019. Contact us: