The Dream of the Rood, in part at least, dates from the 8th century.  It’s in Anglo-Saxon, usually called Old English. It’s a monologue by a tree dreaming of providing the cross on which Jesus was crucified.   Here’s the first line:

Hwaet, ic swefna cyst secgan wylle … = Lo, dream best to tell … 

Ohthere seygde his hlaforde Alfrede Cyninge phaet he northmost manne waes.   That’s King Alfred the Great writing Old English around 880 A.D.   = Ohthere said to his overlord, King Alfred, that he was a man from the far north.   It features declension like Latin … his hlaforde Alfrede Cyninge is in the dative case implying to.   Cyninge becomes king in English and koenig in German.

The opening lines of Beowulf … somewhere between 800 and 1100:

Hwaet, we gar-dena in gearagum

Peodcyninga prym gefronon … =

Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kings

Of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped … 

From the mid- 13th century …

Sumer is icumen in

Lhude sing cucco … =

Summer has arrived

Loudly sing, cuckoo 

This is Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400):

This frere bosteth that he knoweth helle  

And God it woot that it is litel wonder.   =

The friar boasts that he knows hell

And God knows that it is little wonder. 


And this … William Shakespeare (1564-1616):

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date’. 

This was written in 1898 by John Dickinson whose diaries have been collected in ‘Timble Man’:

I have a strong impression that I do not get the good and pleasant things of life at Timble to the degree I might do if I lived, say, nearer to Otley where the conveniences of modern civilisation are within easier reach’. 

This … from our current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy:

It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine,


to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen

filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy


gently blanching the windows.   …

This is a text to Sky News after the May election:

Cameron could not unite two eggs to make an omelette, (sic) his (sic) policy to to (sic) divide and rule, (sic) he (sic) has 0 compassion which will be shown when they release where the 12 billion welfare cut (sic) is coming from. He has lied and schemed the whole election, (sic) lets (sic) just hope that there are 6 Tories with a conscience (not holding my breath).

Finally, here’s a new language with lots of different names including textese, txtspk, txt lingo.   Can you translate this?

ur ldrfl   lol +u  SWAK

Abbreviations are popular: OMG = oh my god, BRB – be right back, LOL – laugh out loud, OMW – on my way.

Next … influences governing the evolution of language

Afterthought: Dying isn’t switching off the light: it’s blowing out the candle because dawn has come.   (Hindu saying) 




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