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Language and Literature

anglo-saxon, period, country, west-saxon, english and system

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LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE. (a) Anglo-Saxon or Old English is the period of the English language extending from the end of the 5th to the end of the 11th century, the traditional story of the coming of Hengest and Horsa to England in 449, and the Norman Conquest in 1066 being convenient but arbitrary limiting dates.. In its origins it is the language brought to Britain by the Teutonic conquerors of Roman and Celtic Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries. These Teutonic invaders were of three north German tribes, the Jutes, who settled mainly in Kent and on the Isle of Wight; the Angles, who settled the country north of the Thames; and the Saxons, who settled the regions south of the Thames except those occupied by the Jutes. The language of these three tribes was a branch of the West Germanic group of languages, its closest relationships being to Frisian and Low German. Following the lines of the tribal set tlement in Britain, the language of the Anglo Saxon period falls into three main dialects: (1) the Anglian, which subdivides into the Northumbrian, spoken north of the Humber, the Mercian, spoken by the Angles occupy ing the Midland counties between the Thames and the Humber; (2) the West-Saxon, spoken by the Saxons who settled in the regions south of the Thames; (3) the Kentish, spoken by the Jutes in Kent and the Isle of Wight. In time the Kentish speech was assimilated by the West Saxon. Kentish and West-Saxon combined, thus constituting a southern dialect, Mercian and Northumbrian a northern or Anglian dialea. As the dialect in which a literature was fur produced and as the speech of originally the most powerful of the various kingdoms estab lished by the invaders, the Angles gave the name to the speech of the country as a whole Englisc or Englisc spree, and to the country itself, Engla-land, land of the Angles. The term Anglo-Saxon was rarely used in the Anglo-Saxon period and then only as the collective name of the people, not as the name of the language or of the country At no time, however, in the Anglo-Saxon period was a single •standard* literary or col loquial speech established for all sections of the country, although an appearance of consider able uniformity is presented to us now by the fact that most of the extant monuments of the Anglo-Saxon period are preserved only in the West-Saxon dialect. This is due to the im

portant unifying position which the West-Sax on royal house took under Egbert (802-39I and his successors Alfred (871-900) and Al fred's son Eadweard (900-24), Winchester. the capital of Wessex, thus becoming the 51 erary as well as the political capital of country. The literature of the earlier period, chiefly poetic and written in the Anglian &a lect, was at this time translated into West Saxon, the West-Saxon versions replacing the more original ones, which were thus largel3 lost. Since the body of Anglo-Saxon literature is preserved only in the West-Saxon dialo:t it is that dialect which is commonly understood by the term Anglo-Saxon and which is usually made the basis of systematic presentations of the grammar of the language.

Besides the natural changes in the vowel and consonant system to which language is al ways subject, Anglo-Saxon differs from later periods of English in two main respects. First. the inflectional system of Anglo-Saxon is rela tively a full one. Nouns are inflected for four cases, nominative, genitive, dative and accusa tive, and for three grammatical genders, mas culine, feminine and neuter. The definite arti cle and the adjective are inflected in all the forms of the noun to agree with it. Adjectives are also inflected strong and weak, as they are in Modern German, according to their syntac tical position. The verbal system, in its main outlines the same as that of Modern English, differs from the latter in the greater number of forms which it possesses, the subjunctive mood, for example, being still clearly distin guished both in form and use. Owing to its more complicated inflectional system in gen eral, the rules of concord play a much more important part in Anglo-Saxon than they do in Modern English.

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