Old English as a language made it`s appearance in history during the 5th century migrations of the Germanic Anglo-Saxons into post-Roman Britain: although no known example of their language survives before the 7th century, Old English continues until at least the end of the 11th century. By the end of the so called Dark Ages, Latin, Old Norse, and the Anglo- Norman French of the Normans were exerting a heavy influence upon language in England.

The use of Anglo-Norman French among the post 1066 ruling elite was displacing the phonetic written word of Saxon English with fancier, more elegant phrasing made noticeable by the addition of entirely redundant letters. French cultural influence in all matters was considered more civilized, especially in language: Germanic culture and language such as Anglo-Saxon, and to a lesser extent, Old Norse ( which probably had the largest impact upon the English lexicon we now know), was considered coarse and barbaric to a Norman elite brought up to consider French culture the “bees knees.” Considering that the Normans were in fact Viking warriors gone native in the French lands they conquered, is eternally ironic.

Whatever, Old English is a true wonder to hear: because the modern ear is not tuned in to it`s nuances and cadences, it does seem to be literally, a foreign language at first, but as with Old Norse, regular listening enables the ear to falteringly begin to pick out recognizable words spoken in a slightly different inflection to the ones we are used to. Modern written English would be a far simpler language to learn and understand if it jettisoned the linguistic pot-holes and vagaries of fashion which have been stapled onto it over the centuries; but perhaps that`s what makes it such a uniquely adaptive, chimeric and beautifully fragrant language in the hands of a Shakespeare.


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