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Anglo-Saxon

Anglo-saxon Language

Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of approximately 700 years – from the Anglo-Saxon migrations which created England in the fifth century to some time after the Norman invasion of 1066, after which the language underwent a major and dramatic transition. During this early period it assimilated some aspects of the languages with which it came in contact, such as the Celtic languages and the two dialects of Old Norse from the invading Vikings, who were occupying and controlling the Danelaw in northern and eastern England

Germanic Origins - The most important shaping force on Old English was its Germanic heritage in vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar that it shared with its sister languages in continental Europe. Some of these features were specific to the West Germanic language family to which Old English belongs, while some other features were inherited from the Proto-Germanic language from which all Germanic languages are believed to have been derived.

Latin Influence - A large percentage of the educated and literate population (monks, clerics, etc.) were competent in Latin, which was then the lingua franca of Europe. It is sometimes possible to give approximate dates for the entry of individual Latin words into Old English based on which patterns of linguistic change they have undergone. There were at least three notable periods of Latin influence. The first occurred before the ancestral Saxons left continental Europe for England. The second began when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and Latin-speaking priests became widespread. The third, the largest single transfer of Latin-based words, occurred following the Norman invasion of 1066, after which an enormous number of Norman French words entered the language. Most of these Oïl language words were themselves derived ultimately from classical Latin, although a notable stock of Norse words were introduced, or re-introduced in Norman form. The Norman Conquest approximately marks the end of Old English and the advent of Middle English.

Dialects

To further complicate matters, Old English had many dialects. The four main dialect forms of Old English were Mercian, Northumbrian (known collectively as Anglian), Kentish, and West Saxon. Each of these dialects was associated with an independent kingdom on the island. Of these, all of Northumbria and most of Mercia were overrun by the Vikings during the 9th century. The portion of Mercia and all of Kent that were successfully defended were then integrated into Wessex.

After the process of unification of the diverse Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 878 by Alfred the Great, there is a marked decline in the importance of regional dialects. This is not because they stopped existing; regional dialects continued even after that time to this day, as evidenced both by the existence of middle and modern English dialects later on, and by common sense – people do not spontaneously develop new accents when there is a sudden change of political power.