What is Old English?
The first major historical group of people to live in the British Isles were Celts. Even to this day Wales and Ireland are regarded as Celtic nations, and the Welsh language is a Celtic language. After the Romans left Celtic Britain which they ruled, invaders from northern Germany and Denmark started coming to England in different waves. They spoke different Germanic dialects.
Old English is actually a very broad and generic term which refers to different northern Germanic/Danish dialects spoken in England between 450 and 1150. Despite being called “Old English” it would not be understood by a modern English speaker and if it were not for the fact that it is an ancestor of modern English it would be considered to be a different language. Modern English and Old English are mutually unintelligible i.e. speakers of the two languages could not understand each other.
Old English differs from today’s modern English in some fundamental ways including its structure. Old English has far more inflections something quite common in other European languages. An inflection is a group of letters which we add to the original form of the word especially with verbs. They are not very common in modern English. Though most of Old English vocabulary has become obsolete, many of the key words in the English language we speak today date back in origin to Old English, and are sometimes called Anglo-Saxon. These include words such as family, brother, sister, daughter, horse, home, like, eyes and quite a few others.
Perhaps the most famous example of Old English is the classic “Beowulf saga”.
Thanks to the Internet, we are now able to view the original Old English version together with its translation into contemporary English.
Northvegr.org is one such site.
Beowulf has, of course, been made in to a Hollywood film and the language used there is naturally the contemporary English we speak today. The story, in short, is about an Anglo-Saxon warrior and hero by the name of Beowulf who goes to Denmark to help the Danes with a horrible monster by the name of Grendel who terrorizes the locals. It was recited to the Anglo-Saxons of that time in poetic form.