Old English

For details of the sound differences between the dialects, see Phonological history of Old English § Dialects.

The sounds enclosed in parentheses in the chart above are not considered to be phonemes:

For more on dialectal differences, see Phonological history of Old English (dialects).

Some of the principal sound changes occurring in the pre-history and history of Old English were the following:

For more details of these processes, see the main article, linked above. For sound changes before and after the Old English period, see Phonological history of English.

In such historical conditions, an incalculable amount of the writings of the Anglo-Saxon period perished. What they contained, how important they were for an understanding of literature before the Conquest, we have no means of knowing: the scant catalogues of monastic libraries do not help us, and there are no references in extant works to other compositions....How incomplete our materials are can be illustrated by the well-known fact that, with few and relatively unimportant exceptions, all extant Anglo-Saxon poetry is preserved in four manuscripts.

Here is a natural enough Modern English translation, although the phrasing of the Old English passage has often been stylistically preserved, even though it is not usual in Modern English:

What! We spear-Danes in ancient days inquired about the glory of the nation-kings, how the princes performed bravery.

Often Shield the son/descendant of Sheaf ripped away the mead-benches from many tribes' enemy bands - he terrified men!

After destitution was first experienced (by him), he met with consolation for that; he grew under the clouds of the sky and flourished in adulation, until all of the neighbouring people had to obey him over the whale-road (i.e. the sea), and pay tribute to the man. That was a good king!

A recording of how the Lord's Prayer probably sounded in Old English, pronounced slowly

This text of the Lord's Prayer is presented in the standardised Early West Saxon dialect.

The following is a natural Modern English translation, with the overall structure of the Old English passage preserved. Note that even though "earl" is used to translate its Old English cognate "eorl", "eorl" in Old English does not correspond exactly to "earl" of the later medieval period:

King Cnut kindly greets his archbishops and his provincial bishops and Earl Thorkell, and all his earls, and all his people, both those with a weregild of 1,200 shillings and those with a weregild of 200 shillings, both ordained and layman, in England.

And I declare to you, that I will be a kind lord, and faithful to God's laws and to proper secular law.

I recalled the writings and words which the archbishop Lyfing brought to me from the Pope of Rome, that I must promote the worship of God everywhere, and suppress unrighteousness, and promote perfect peace with the power which God would give me.

I never hesitated from my peace payments (e.g. to the Vikings) while you had strife at hand. But with God's help and my payments, that went away.

At that time, I was told that we had been harmed more than we liked; and I departed with the men who accompanied me into Denmark, from where the most harm has come to you; and I have already prevented it with God's help, so that from now on, strife will never come to you from there, while you regard me rightly and my life persists.