The best preserved Gothic manuscript, the Codex Argenteus, dates from the 6th century and was preserved and transmitted by northern Ostrogoths in modern Italy. It contains a large part of the four Gospels. Since it is a translation from Greek, the language of the Codex Argenteus is replete with borrowed Greek words and Greek usages. The syntax in particular is often copied directly from the Greek.
4. Latin alphabet
4.1 General information
Our knowledge of the OE language comes mainly from manuscripts written in Latin characters. The Latin alphabet, introduced by Irish Christian missionaries, began to replace the Anglo-Saxon futhorc from about the seventh century. First the scripts shifted to a half-incial script of the Latin alphabet. This was replaced by insular script, a cursive and pointed version of the half-uncial script. This was used until the end of the 12th century when continental carolingian minuscule replaced the insular [3, 22]. Like elsewhere in Western Europe Latin in England was the language of the church and also the language if writing and education. The monks were practically the only literate people; they read and wrote Latin and therefore began to use Latin letters to write down English words. Like the scribes of other countries, British scribes modified the Latin script to suit their needs: they changed the shape of some letters, added new symbols to indicate sounds, for which Latin had no equivalents, attached new sound values to Latin letters [2, 65].
The first English words to be written down with the help of Latin characters were personal names and place names insrted I latin texts; then came glosses and longer textual insertions.
All over the country, in the kingdoms of England, all kinds of legel documents were written and copied. At first they ere made in Latin letters, later they erer made in the local dialects. Many documents have survived on single sheets or have been copied into large manuscripts: various wills, grants, deals of purchase, agreements, proceedings of church councils, laws, etc. Most of them are commonly known under the general heading of “Anglo-Saxon Charters”, the earliest are in Kentish and Mercian (8-9th c.); later laws and characters are written in West Saxon though they do not necessarily come from Wessex: West Saxon as the written form of language was used in different regions.
Glosses to the Gospels and other religious texts were made in many English monasteries, for the benefit of those who did not know enough Latin. Their chronology, is uncertain but, undoubtedly, they constitute early samples of written English glossaries in the 8th c. Mercian, consisting of words to the Latin text arranged alphabetically, the interlinear glosses to the Lindisfarne Gospels; sepaate words and word-for-word translations scribbed betweeen the Latin lines of beautifully ornamented manuscripts, and the glosses in the Durham Ritual, both in the 10th c. Northumbrian; and also the Gospels in Mercian and Northumbrian of the same century.
4.2 Written records
Among the earliest insertions in Latin texts are pieces of OE poetry. Bedes HISTORIA ECCLESIASTICA GENRIS ANGLORUM (written in Latin in the 8th c.) contains an English fragment of five lines known as “Bedes Deaht Song” and a religious poem of nine lines, “Cadmons Hymn”.
OE poetry constitutes a most precious literary relic and quite a substantial portion of the records in the vernacular. All in all we have about 30, 000 lines of OE verse from many poets of some three centuries. The names of the poets are unknown except Cadmon and Cynewulf, two early Northumbrian authors.
OE poetry manily restricted to three subjects: heroic, religious and lyrical. It is believed that many OE poems, espacially those dealing with heroic subjects, ere composed a long time before they were written down; they were handed down from generation to generation in oral form. Perhaps, they were first recorded in Northumbria some time in the 8th c., but have survived onle in West Saxon copies made a long time after-wards the 10th or 11th c.
The greatest poem of the time was BEOWULF, an epic of the 7th or 8th c. It was originally composed in the Mercian or Northumbrian dialect, but has come down to us in a 10th c. West Saxon copy. It is valued both as a source of linguistic material and as a work of art; it is the oldest poem in Germanic literature. An Old English poem such as Beowulf is very different from modern poetry. Anglo-Saxon poets typically used alliterative verse, a form of verse that uses alliteration as the principal structuring device to unify lines of poetry, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme. This is a technique in which the first half of the line (the a-verse) is linked to the second half (the b-verse) through similarity in initial sound. In addition, the two halves are divided by a caesura: "Oft Scyld Scefing \\ sceaþena þreatum".
Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts. The poet who composed Beowulf, while objective in telling the tale, nonetheless utilizes a certain style to maintain excitement and adventure within the story. An elaborate history of characters and their lineages are spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and deeds of valor.
Beowulf is built up of several songs arranged in three chapters. It is based on old legends about the tribal life of the ancient Teutons. The author depict vividly the adventures and fights of legendary heroes some of which can be traced to historical events.
In the 10th century, when the old heroic verses were already declining, some new war poems were composed and inserted in the prose historical chronicles: THE BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH, THE BATTLE OF MALDON. They bear resemblance to the ancient heroic poems but deal with contemporary events: the wars with the Scots, the Picts and the raiders from Scandinavia.
Another group of poems are OE elegiac (lyrical) poems: WIDSITH (“The Travelles Song”), THE WANDERER, THE SEAFARER, and others. THE WANDERER depicts the sorrows and bereavement of a poet in exile: he laments the death of his protectors and friends and expresses his resignation to the gloomy fate. THE SEAFARER is considered to be the most original of the poems; it gives a mournful picture of the dark northen seas and sings joy at the return of the spring. Most of those poems are ascribed to Cynewufl.
Religious poems paraphrase, more or less closely, the books of the Bible GENESIS, EXODUS (written by Cadmon). ELENE, ANDREAS, CHRIST, FATE OF THE APOSTLES tel the life-stories of apostles and saints or deal with various subjects associated with the Gospels [2, 66].
OE prose is a most valuable sources of information for the history of the language. The earliest samples of continuous prose are the first pages of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles: brief annals of the years happenings made at various monasteries. In the 9th c. the chronicles were unified at Winchester, the capital of Wessex. Though sometimes dropped or started again, the chronicles developed into a fairly complete prose history of England; the Winchester annals were copied and continued in other monasteries.
Old English scribes used two kindes of letters: the runes and the letters of the Latin alphabet. The bulk of the OE material OE manuscripts is written in the latin script. The use of Latin letters in English differed in some points from their use in Latin, for the scribes made certain modifications and additions in order to indicate OE sounds.
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