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Middle English

Alfred the Great (849—899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons

Ælfric (c. 950—1010) Benedictine abbot of Eynsham and scholar


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Old English

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The early form of the English language spoken and written between the 5th and the 12th centuries. Popularly known as ‘Anglo-Saxon’, a usage repudiated by most historians of the language, it evolved from a range of related Germanic dialects spoken by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes settling from northern Europe from the 5th century, further influenced by the arrival in northern and eastern England of Scandinavian settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. In its written form, found from the late 6th century, it employed a slightly reduced and adapted version of the Roman alphabet. It is the language used in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle commissioned by King Alfred in 890 and updated until the 12th century, of the great prose writer Aelfric (late 10th century), and of the epic poem Beowulf, which is thought to have been composed in the 8th century. Following the Norman Conquest of 1066 and its establishment of a French-speaking ruling order, the language evolved into a new form that is now called Middle English. For a fuller account, consult Bruce Mitchell, An Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England (1994).

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