Characteristic of Old English Language

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      Anglo-Saxon language is a synthetic language which expresses changes of tense, number and person either by modification of the root vowels or differences of termination. Modern English is an analytical language and least inflected of languages. The syntax of old English, that of an inflected language shows a very complex use of cases and greater freedom in the arrangement of words.

The primary characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon language derives from the predominance of its consonants.
Old English characteristic

      The primary characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon language derives from the predominance of its consonants. Not only are syllables introduced by a consonant or group of consonants but these consonants form the vital part of syllables. They are very explosive. Their noise drowns the neighbouring vowels. The old English language is rich in possibilities, It had the resources to adapt itself to new ideas. Its resources were abundantly sufficient to provide natural and expressive terms even for such a new world of concrete things and abstract ideas as Christianity meant to the Anglo-Saxons.

      It is true that Anglo-Saxon prose is clumsy, halting and unweildy. But that is more the drawback of literature than of the language. A good prose style is everywhere a late development. Yet in a few passages of the Saxon chronicle and specially in some pages of the homilies of Wulfstan, an impassioned prose of real merit is found.

      Anglo-Saxons however possessed a rich and characteristically poetic literature. It has powerful pictures of battles and fights. Its effects are chiefly produced by heaping synonyms on synonyms. The wealth of synonyms in old English poetry is simply astonishing. For 'hero' or 'prince' there are at least thirty-six synonyms in Beowulf. There are fifteen names for the sea. The old poetic language showed a great many divergences from everyday prose in the choice of words, in the word-forms and also in the construction of sentences. King Alfred in his prose always uses the form 'het' as the preterite of 'hatan', but when he breaks out in poetry, he says 'heht' The external form of old English poetry was in the main the same as that of old Norse, old Saxon and old High German poetry. The chief words of each line were tied together by aliteration. Very rarely, combined with alliteration, there is a sort of rime or assonance.

      The faculty possessed by old English of forming compound words is perhaps what has most influenced its poetic diction. The constituent elements of derivatives and composite words often remain clearly discernible and keep their distinct sense. Thus to crucify is to fasten to the cross. The body is the bone-chamber. These composites are often heaped upon a single word. Often an object is designated by composite words or periphrasis and its identity must therefore be guessed. It was a sport of the poets to cause an object to be guessed by one of its attributes - an amusement known as kenning

      It has however to be admitted that the character of the language of the metres and of the style is no marked that there is among all the poems a likeness which does not escape monotony.

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