Theme: Syntax in Old English



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Content of the work. The present course work consists of four parts: introduction, one chapter, conclusion and bibliography. It also includes the appendix where interesting Internet materials, schemes and illustrative thematic materials were gathered.


  1. General Characteristics of Old English.

The Old English Period, in our study is the period from the fifth up to mid-eleventh century. It is characterised by the existence of the language in the form of several dialects, according to the seven kingdoms that existed on the island; the vocabulary of each of them is comparatively homogeneous and contains mostly words of native origin (Indo-European, Germanic and specifically English). The connection of words in the utterance is performed through a ramified system of endings, hence word order is relatively free. Common Indo-European traits, such as double negation or formation of impersonal sentences without any subject in the nominative case are quite common; phonetic structure is marked by a noticeable drift of the sound system away from other Germanic languages. New short diphthongs appear as a result of assimilative changes, the system of consonants develops more marked pairs of voiced and voiceless fricative sounds. 18 The background against which the English language was forming included long years of pre-written functioning of the language. Angles, Saxons and Jutes (or rather, Jutes and the rest) did well in peacemaking on the island. Very soon the remnants of the Celtic population were subjugated, or ousted into the outskirts of the Isles - to the North (Scotland), or to the West (Cornwall and Wales). The invaders felt comfortable on the new territory. The seven kingdoms formed by the newcomers were the following - Jutes, the earliest to come, formed the kingdom of Kent, Saxons - Essex, Wessex and Sussex, and Angles had the kingdoms of East Anglia, Northhumbria and Mercia. These seven principal concurrent Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 7th and 8th centuries are known under the general name - Heptarchy. Though they were supposed to be allies, still the struggle for supremacy was not uncommon, and some four of them managed to gain supremacy at various times - first Kent, then Mercia and Northumbria. These latter reached the height of their importance in the pre-written period; some later documents of literature as well as the remains of material culture were ruthlessly destroyed during the raids of the Scandinavians. So, for instance, Northumbria's rich cultural life (exemplified by the writings of Saint Bede and the illuminated Lindisfame Gospels) was destroyed by these raids in the 9th century. The Midlands offered better conditions for economic prosperity, but the frontier position as to the Scandinavians did its bit, and what we have more or less well represented in writings is the Wessex dialect. Extant documents written in the language date from about 700 to about 1100, but the great bulk of written material represents the speech from about 900 to 1050. The language was represented in writing in four dialects: Northumbrian, Mercian, Kentish, and West-Saxon. The majority of the manuscripts, containing anything worth reading as literature, are in West-Saxon. The dominance of the West-Saxon literature during the period demonstrates the political and artistic vitality of the kingdom of West Saxons (Wessex).This dominance of Old English literature by West-Saxon documents adds a twist to the study of the development of English. It was the Mercian dialect, not the West Saxon, that eventually dominated and evolved into Chaucer's Middle English and our Modern English. West-Saxon literature is the ancestor of nearly all English literature, but the West-Saxon language is not. The dialects spoken by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians at the lime of their initial settlement in Britain were, of course, no different from the dialects spoken in their Germanic homelands. As the generations passed, and as the Anglo-Saxons became relatively isolated from their European cousins, spoken language evolved into the dialects mentioned above. An event of paramount importance in the life of the Old English was the introduction of Christianity. Pope Gregory the Great sent a mission to the Isles, and since 597 Christianity comes into the life of the islanders. It is not the first time that the Christian religion landed here - Romans were Christians by the times they left Great Britain, and so were the Celts. Actually, Ireland had been Christian since the 2nd century AD, but that was far from the territory of the Heptarchy, and the barbarians that replaced the Romans were heathen. They had their heathen Gods, and even the days of the week are loan-translated from the Latin, following the Roman tradition to name the days of the week by the names of the Pagan gods we have in Old English - Latin Luna dies ~ Monan dsej; Martis dies - Tiwes d&j; Mercuris dies - Wodnes d3S3, lovis dies - Thunres dasj. Veneris Dies - Frijes dsej. Satum, evidently, did not have a pagan counterpart in Germanic mythology, and so Satumes dies is Saetern da?j. Christianity came to England from Kent; and so Canterbury remains the religious centre of the country. Historians will expostulate lots of advantages England gained by this act - but as regards language development, its the influence can't be overestimated: England received the Latin alphabet and educated people. It brought monasteries with their schools and chronicles. Now the English history was written by the Englishmen themselves, in their own language; now translation as a kind of intellectual activity came into the life of Englishmen. The period of the reign of King Alfred of Wessex politically might have been criticised for letting the country be torn into two halves - the Wedmore peace treaty of 878 let the Danes control and levy taxes of a considerable part of the state (called Dena laju - Danelaw). This treaty was not too glorious to the state as by it some of its territory was yielded to the enemy, and in the history books is referred to as such that simply restricted the Scandinavians' settlement. But this treaty allowed a relatively stable period in the development of the rest of the country; more than that, the very personality of Alfred seems to be one of the most prominent educators of the nation. His rule was marked by the implementation of literacy among the free well-to-do people; his laws promoted learning languages and the first libraries in England were founded under his rule. Much of what is now is available in Old English was created or preserved thanks to Alfred the Great2

He syntactic structure of OE was determined by two major conditions: the nature of OE morphology and the relations between the spoken and the written forms of the language. OE was largely a synthetic language; it possessed a system of grammatical forms which could indicate the connection between words. It was primarily a spoken language, consequently, the syntax of the sentence was relatively simple.




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