aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

The Birth of Christ in Old English

Meanwhile, for those who want to see what Luke 2:1-20 would look like in OE, here is a transcription of one of the major texts from the Anglo-Saxon period.
1. I have broken it into paragraphs the same as I did with Wycliffe's ME version. The original was given verse-by-verse.

2. This may explain some of the screwy punctuation, which is from the original manuscript. While the words are good OE, the Anglo-Saxon scribe probably punctuated more by ear than by rule.

3. Capitalization is as from the original ms. as well. The practice of capitalizing the first word of a sentence was not yet a rule. Generally, the first word of a paragraph or other major thought-unit is capitalized.

4. The word "and" in every case is actually, in the manuscript, given as a symbol that looks sort of like the number seven. It was the OE "ampersand." So, for all I know, a scribe would have written it "ond" in this dialect if he'd been troubled to do so. The spelling varies in OE mss.

5. Most of the instances of "þæt" given here are also written in the ms. as an abbreviation: a letter thorn (þ) crossed at the top. Both this symbol and the previous one lasted into ME.

6. The letters þ (thorn) and ð (eth) are both pronounced as our 'th'. The letter æ (ash) is pronounced like 'a' in "the fat cat sat on the mat."

7. Final 'g', as in 'hig' and initial 'g' in words such as 'geworden' is pronounced as a guttural 'y'. This 'ge-' prefix to the infinitive and participial form of verbs is the ancestor of our 'a' in dialectal 'a-coming'.

8. Initial 'c' in words such as 'cild' and 'ceastre' is pronounced as our 'ch'. The same occurs in medial position in words like 'soþlice' ("soothly, truly")

9. The 'h' in medial position, as in 'drihten' and 'heahnes' is pronounced like the 'ch' in 'loch'.

Soþlice on þam dagum wæs geworden gebod fram þam casere augusto. Þæt eall ymbe-hwyrft wære to-mearcod; Þeos to-mearcodnes wæs æryst geworden fram þam deman syrige cirino. And ealle hig eoden. And syndrie ferdon on hyra ceastre; Ða ferde iosep fram galilea of þære ceastre nazareth. on judeisce ceastre dauides. seo is genemned bethleem. forþam þe he wæs of dauides huse. And hirede þæt he ferde mid marian þe him beweddod wæs. And wæs geeacnod; Soþlice wæs geworden þa hi þam wæron. hire dagas wæron gefyllede þæt heo cende. And heo cende hyre frum-cennedan sunu. And hine mid cild-claþum bewand. And hine on binne alede. forþam þe hig næfdon rum on cumena huse;

And hydras wæron on þam ylcan rice waciende. And niht-wæccan healende ofer heora heorda þa stod drihtnes engel wiþ hig and godes beorhtnes him ymbe-scean. And hi him mycelum ege adredon. And se engel him to cwæð; Nelle ge eow adrædan. soþlice nu ic eow bodie mycelne gefean. se bið eallum folce. forþam to-dæg eow ys hælend acenned. se is drihten crist on dauides ceastre; And þis tacen eow bið; Ge ge-metað an cild hreglum bewunden. And on binne aled; And þa wæs færinga geworden mid þam engle mycelnes heofonlices werydes god heriendra and þus cweþendra; Gode sy wuldor on heahnesse and on eorðan sybb mannum godes willan;

And hit wæs geworden þa ða englas to heofene ferdon. þa hyrdas him betwynan spræcon and cwædon; Utan faran to bethleem. and geseon þæt word þe geworden is. þæt drihten us æt-ywde; and hig efstende comon. And gemettan marian and josep and þæt cild on binne aled; Þa hi þæt gesawon þa on-cneowon hig be þam worde þe him gesæd wæs be þam cilde; and ealle þa ðe gehyrdon wundredon be þam þe him þa hyrdas sædon; Maria geheold ealle þas word on hyre heortan smeagende; Ða gewendon ham þa hyrdas god wuldriende and heriende on eallum þam ðe hi gehyrdon. And gesawon; Swa to him gecweden wæs;

Some interesting words to note:
1. 'Soþlice'. This word is very common in the NT. In modern pronunciation, it would be 'soothly.' When Jesus says, "truly" or "verily" in our modern translations, in OE he says this.

2. 'On binne alede'. Christ is "laid in a bin." Such a nice, homely word. A very English word. "Manger," of course, is a much later import from French.

3. 'Hyrdas' are "herd(er)s," shepherds.

4. Compare 'Nelle ge eow adrædan' with Wycliffe's 'Nyle ye drede.' The 'n-' prefix to the verb negates the sense. This is as in our ancient expression, "willy-nilly," which was originally 'wilne, nilne' (whether you want to or not).

5. Compare also 'heriendra' in OE with Wycliffe's 'heriynge.' The native word for "praise" is 'herian.' Note also that in OE the '-ing' suffix (and, indeed, the progressive case) had not yet been invented. People who drop their gees consistently, saying "comin', goin'" and the like aren't really dropping those gees; their dialects never got around to putting them ON.

6. 'Smeagende.' This word means to hide or bury, which is what Mary did with the things she heard about her son. It is related to the name Smeagol that J.R.R. Tolkien gave to his minor villain in "The Hobbit" and LOTR, a.k.a. Gollum. He hid or buried himself, burrowing into the mountains with the Ring for many centuries, looking for secrets.

7. 'Drihten' is the usual word for "lord" in OE. It is a word given to a military commander. The early Anglo-Saxons were a warlike people. The later word, 'hlaford,' from which our word "lord" is a worn-down form, is word of domestic management. It means "loaf-ward(en)," the one who gives out the daily bread to the workers. (And "lady" was originally 'hlæfdige', the one who kneads the loaf -- and bakes it -- for her husband to distribute.)

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