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how modern english is different from old English?

Old English was the language spoken in what is now England from around the 5th 11th centuries and is the
origin of modern English.
Back then it was called Englisc and the people who spoke were the Anglo-Saxons; Old English is also known as
Old English is essentially the first recorded version of English and it is the forebear of the language we speak
today. Although a modern English speaker would likely have great difficulty in understanding written or spoken
Old English, about half the words we use today are derived from Old English.

Writing Old English

Old English was firstly written using Runes. Very few examples survive (only about 200 inscriptions) and they
consist mainly of scratched marks on wood, bone or stone.
But then came one of the most important events in the history of English. Towards the end of the 6th Century
the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity and when this happened the Church arrived and began to write
things down on parchment. Often this was done in Latin (the language of the church) but also, significantly, a
great deal was done in Anglo-Saxon but in the Roman alphabet.
It is arguably the greatest piece of vernacular English and certainly one of the earliest.
So by this time Old English was written using an alphabet which is mostly recognizable to todays reader.
However, some letters of that alphabet have been lost.

= // as in think

= // as in then

= // as in hat

Here is an example of Old English from the opening of Beowulf alongside a modern translation.
Hwt! W Grdena in gardagum
odcyninga rym gefrnon
h elingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scfing sceaena ratum
monegum magum meodosetla oftah
egsode Eorle syan arest wear
fasceaft funden h s frfre gebd
wox under wolcnum weormyndum h
o t him aghwylc ra ymbsittendra
fer hronrde hran scolde,
gomban gyldan t ws gd cyning.

Listen! We of the Spear-Danes in the days of yore,

of those clan-kings heard of their glory.
how those nobles performed courageous deeds.
Often Scyld, Scefs son, from enemy hosts
from many peoples seized mead-benches;
and terrorised the fearsome Heruli after first he was
found helpless and destitute, he then knew recompense for that:
he waxed under the clouds, throve in honours,
until to him each of the bordering tribes
beyond the whale-road had to submit,
and yield tribute: that was a good king!

So although the alphabet is recognizable, along with some words:

W = we
h = how
Oft = often
h = he
under = under
him = him
ws = was
cyning = king
the language is still very different from modern English due to words we no longer use and a very different
{youtube}_K13GJkGvDw{/youtube}The video here is a reading of the opening of Beowulf in the original
Anglo Saxon.

Grammar of Old English

The main grammatical differences between Old English and Middle then Modern English are:

the language is highly inflected; not only verbs but also nouns, adjectives and pronouns are inflected

there is grammatical gender with nouns and adjectives

Because of the inflection word order was not as strict as it now is and by default it was arranged more like
modern German than modern English.
Modern English

An internal feature which characterised the movement towards ModE was the Great Vowel Shift an important
series of linked pronunciation changes which mainly took place between the 15th and 17th centuries. In ME, the
sound system had contained broadly corresponding series of long and short vowels, represented in writing by
the same letters.
For instance, the vowel in caas case was simply a longer version of the vowel in blak black; similarly mete
meat (long vowel) and hell (short vowel), or fine (long) and pit (short). In early ModE, people began to
pronounce the long vowels differently from the corresponding short vowels: long e ended up sounding like long
i, leaving a gap in the sound system; this was filled by shifting the pronunciation of long a to sound like long e,
and so on.
These changes were not reflected in ModE spelling, already largely fixed by standardisation, adding to the
disparity between pronunciation and writing which differentiates English today from most other European
An example of early Modern English can be seen in the start of Shakespeares Hamlet, First Folio


In the present day, English is used in many parts of the world, as a first, second or foreign language, having
been carried from its country of origin by former colonial and imperial activity, the slave trade, and recently,
economic, cultural and educational prestige.

It continues to change at all linguistic levels, in both standard and non-standard varieties, in response to external
influences (e.g. modern communications technologies; contact with other world languages) and pressures
internal to the language system (e.g. the continuing impulse towards an efficient, symmetrical sound-system; the
avoidance of grammatical ambiguity).