After the defeat of the Vikings in York, England was permanently unified under Wessex leadership. A period of peace and prosperity followed. Under the supervision of a cleric named Dunstan, the churches and monasteries were re-built and a great literary revival soon followed. In this episode, we explore the events which led to that literary renaissance which produced most of the surviving Old English literature. We also look at some of the Latin words which were borrowed after the Benedictine Reform. And we conclude with the development of the standard West Saxon literary dialect which emerged during this period.
Do you say ‘dived’ or ‘dove’? How about ‘shrank’ or ‘shrunk’? And when do you say ‘hanged’ instead of ‘hung’? We’ll explore the answers to these questions in this episode. The answers lie in the history of the English language – and specifically the distinction between so-called ‘weak’ verbs and ‘strong’ verbs.
‘To be or not to be?’ That may be the question. But where did the various forms of our modern verb ‘to be’ come from? And what about other Shakespearean phrases like ‘he hath,’ and ‘thou shalt,’ and ‘fear not?’ In this episode, we explore the Anglo-Saxon or Viking origins of some of these common verb forms in early Modern English. We also examine the history of the English word ‘not.’
The Modern English pronouns were largely inherited from the Anglo-Saxons. While many of them have survived intact, others have changed quite a bit over the centuries. Some disappeared, some new ones were created, and some were even borrowed from the Vikings. This time we explore the history of the English personal pronouns. We also examine the historical roots of the modern confusion surrounding the proper use of English personal pronouns.
In the 10th century, several factors came together in northern England which resulted in the loss of Old English inflectional endings. This was a fundamental change to English grammar which simplified word forms and led to a fixed a word order. We conclude this episode by examining the plural word forms used in Modern English, and examining how those plural forms evolved in the context of inflectional loss.
In the mid-900s, the English king battled a grand alliance of Celtic and Viking leaders at a place called Brunanburh. The result was an Anglo-Saxon victory, and one of the more important poems composed during the Old English period. But the Anglo-Saxon victory did little to secure the region around York. The Viking influence remained strong there, and control of York passed between the English and the Vikings. One consequence of that prominent Viking presence was the continuing flow of Norse words into the northern English dialects. We continue to explore the influence of Scandinavian vocabulary on Modern English.
During the 10th century, the English language spoken in northern and eastern England began to change under the influence of Old Norse. These changes resulted in a north-south linguistic divide which still exists today. In this episode we examine how modern linguists use sound changes to identify Norse words in Modern English. We also examine English-Norse synonyms derived from common Germanic root words.
In the early 10th century, King Alfred’s children and grandchildren conquered the Viking region known as the Danelaw. This brought all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms under the rule of a single monarch. That monarch was Aethelstan who became the first King of England. The conquest of the Danelaw was also a family affair. So we explore the etymology of Modern English words related to family and family relations.
Following the death of Alfred, there was a decade of relative peace between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes. During this period, Scandinavian settlers continued to migrate to the Danelaw. In this episode, we explore the early Scandinavian influence on English in the Danelaw. We also examine the continuing Viking raids in France, and the founding of Normandy in the year 911.
After defeating the Danes, King Alfred set about reforming the educational system of Wessex. His reforms promoted English to an unprecedented level. His reforms required the translation of many texts from Latin to English, and Alfred himself assisted with those translations. He also issued a new legal code and initiated the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. One of Alfred’s goals was the unification of the Anglo-Saxon people under Wessex leadership, so we explore the history of English words related to unity.