Old English: People and Traditions
While the Old English language had several parts of speech that we employ today (nouns, verbs, adjectives etc.) its structure had a much different syntax than what we are accustomed to today. It is the West Saxon dialect that is most often referred to as "Old English" and was the prominent dialect for the vast majority of the centuries that had Old English as the dominant language. Theater was the foremost means of entertainment, not in the sense that we know thespian work today, but mostly improvised productions that took the form of scenes of morality. Another popular form of entertainment was the “mummer“, pantomimes who entertained without words in a mostly humorous fashion. Citizens from near and far would gather to watch the mummers dance in the town square. The English that is spoken now may not have been all that much different from the Old English spoken in the years of yore, but 500 years of political and cultural upheaval would change it drastically into two separate entities that would scarcely be recognizable from each other. The fledgling British colony had many stages of development to endure, as did its people, its traditions and its language.
The early English were comprised of close knit clans who were very family oriented and built on community values. An Englishman’s character was measured by the race’s nine values of their development:
- Courage and Selflessness
- Discipline and duty
In these nine values are clearly reflected the Christian concepts of principles that are professed in the bible and its teachings, but their pagan beliefs dictated that they worship the creation and not the creator. A nature based religion that drew its power from the forces of nature and appeasing the spirits. Many practiced “witchcraft”, but witchcraft in times of Old English was simply a communing with nature. Unlike today, there were no covens, no pentagrams or any type of relationship to anything satanic. Witches of the time drew their spells from nature and only for their self-betterment. For the next couple hundred years Brittan was ruled by seven separate kingdoms but except for regional dialect changes the same basic verbal skill was practiced unchanged for centuries. Little is known about these kingdoms and the effects they had on a still young and impressionable British culture.
Around 800 A.D. the Vikings invaded from the North and pillaged and plundered the British colonies annually. Even though they shared a distant lineage the Danes lust for adventure was too strong and they routinely ravaged their former ancestors repeatedly and often. After some decades of this type of behavior the Norse warriors decided to begin a settlement on the shores of Brittan. But unlike the Anglo-Saxon villages that were community inspired, the Norse settlements where much more akin to a military outpost and army encampments. They were fortified cities that reflected the aggressive nature of the Danes in particular and the Norsemen in general. During this period of time the English were very nearly overtaken by these invaders from the North but they held on fearlessly and with honor to snatch their existence from the brink of extinction as we know it. But around the turn of the 10th century a king would be crowned that saw the danger of the Norse presence and set out to eradicate the savaging renegades from their shores and banish them once and for all. In the early 900’s after many a bloody and costly battle the two sides were too stubborn to defeat each other. After a series of treaties the English and the Danes reached a variety of unstable cease fires and cold wars but eventually gave way to each others tenacity and lived an uneasy coexistence.
Little did anyone know at the time but the Old English era of the Anglo-Saxon was about to come to a close. In the time just before the turn of the 11th century a variety of both English and Danish kings ruled England. However, the last English king of this time period, Edward ‘the confessor’ didn’t oversee England’s political or social conditions with much discretion or ability and the tiny country floundered on the precipice of annihilation. Then in the year 1066 A.D. William the ‘Bastard’ launched what was known as the Norman invasions and managed to subdue most of England and conquer it for the flag of France. During this time is when the major changes of the English language took place to start the metamorphosis of what we are now more familiar with as the language of Modern English. For two centuries after the Norman invasions Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman coexisted and began to meld into one coherent language. From this point in history the dialect that was spoken on the English continent was so different from the original version that it became known as Middle English. It was the language shared by many statesmen and writers such as Chaucer. After nearly nine centuries of conversing in a native language the transfer to Middle English lasted a mere 400 years or so. At which time the dialect that we now most consider closest to out own, Modern English, was born.