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The Research of the History of English Language

Five nouns of first kinship had their own set of inflections: faeder, modor, brothor, sweoste, and dohtor. Some other nouns (mon, plural men, f.i.) had mutated, or umlauted, stems. Here are the first and second persons pronouns with their distinctive forms:

(Note: Throughout this paper, I have omitted the superscripts which do not reproduce in WordPerfect).

Grammatical gender persisted throughout the Old English period. For instance: se f(t (masculine), seo hond (feminine), and thaet eage (neuter)--very much like German der Fuss, die Hand, and das Auge (the eye). Hors (horse), ceop (sleep) and maegden (maiden) were neuter. Whether maidens were neuter in those days is a mystery, but they are today in both German (das MSdchen) and Dutch (het meisje).

"Because of the greater use of inflections in Old English, word order was freer than today" (Potter, 1975, p. 880). Although the sequence of subject, verb, and complement was normal, when there were two outer and inner complements, the second was put in the dative case after to. Se biscop halgode Eadred to cynnige (The bishop consecrated Edred king). After an introductory adverb or adverbial phrase, the verb generally took second place, as in modern German. Impersonal verbs had no subject expressed (as, f.i., in modern Spanish). Infinitives constructed with auxiliary verbs were placed at the end of clauses or sentences. The verb usually came last in a dependent clause. Prepositions (or postpositions) frequently followed their objects. Negation was often repeated for emphasis.

A native speaker of English today would not understand spoken--or written--Old English. "In order to read Old English texts such as Beowulf (AD 1000) in their original form, a person must learn the language from scratch. It might as well be Cantonese or Kikuyu--or at least French or Frisian" (Davis, 1994, p. 40). Old English's speech patterns were similar to those of its North Sea German ancestors, Old Frisia...

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