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Lore: Anglo-Saxon Runes and Letters New
LORE: ANGLO-SAXON RUNES AND LETTERS

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Like many contemporary Germanic cultures, the early Anglo-Saxons used a runic alphabet called futhorc (or more properly fuþorc) after its first six characters. It is similar to the Elder Futhark runes that were used in Old Norse, with the major difference being that Old English almost universally uses the letter C where Old Norse uses K. It was quite a sophisticated writing system, with each rune representing both a sound and a concept because they were derived from earlier pictographs.

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For instance, the Þ rune (thorn) appears to have originally been a pictograph of a thorn on a stem, and was used to represent the first consonant of the word “thorn.” However, this derivation is uncertain, as the exact same rune is called thurs in Old Norse, meaning “giant.” The conflicting etymologies are shown in each culture’s rune poems, which were mnemonic devices created to help people remember the order, form, and name of each rune. In this instance, the same rune is given a very different meaning and origin by the two different cultures.

“The thorn is exceedingly sharp, an evil thing for any theġn to touch, uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.” - the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem

Thurs is the anguish of women, and a cliff-dweller, and the husband of a giantess, [Ymir’s] theġn. - the Icelandic Rune Poem

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By the eighth century, futhorc was beginning to be supplanted by the Insular script, a variant of the Latin alphabet that had been introduced to England by Irish missionaries. Insular script's uniquely curved letters were noteworthy for being much more legible than the sloppy Merovingian Frankish script used across the Channel. Insular script also had around half a dozen variants, from a highly formal full uncial, to the very popular half-uncial used in a lot of ecclesiastical literature from the period, to a more fluid cursive style. The Lindisfarne Gospels (see above) provide a great juxtaposition of a Latin text written using more formal Insular half-uncial majuscule with Old English annotations in a more relaxed Insular minuscule.

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Although most of the Insular letters are easily recognizable as Roman letters, the letters J, K, Q, V, and Z are notable by their absence. K, Q, and Z were used very sparingly by some Anglo-Saxon scribes, generally when writing texts in other languages. V was still interchangeable with U at this point, as in Classical Latin. J did not yet exist and its sound was made with the [cg] phoneme in Old English. The Anglo-Saxons also used many unique characters that have not survived into modern English, as outlined below. (So now if you see any of these Old English letters used in this narrative, you’ll know how to pronounce them!)

Æ, æ (æsc): This common Latin ligature was used to transliterate the æsc rune, one of the most common vowel sounds in Old English. However, rather than making the [aɪ] diphthong as in Latin, in Old English Æ was used for the ă (short a) sound as in modern English “ash” and “apple,” similar to modern High German ä. (Examples: Ælfred, ealdfæder.) It is also used for the [æ] sound in IPA for which it lends its symbol.

Œ, œ (œthel): Another common Latin ligature, this was used as a transliteration of the ēðel rune. It was used much less commonly than Æ in Old English and was generally only used for proper names and foreign words. Œ made the [ø] sound, similar to modern Norwegian and Danish ø, Swedish and High German ö, and the vowel sounds in modern English “bird” and “burn.” (Examples: Œthelwald, Cœnwulf.) In IPA, this sound is written as [ø] rather than [œ], because the latter is used for the French œ (as in “cœur”).

Ð, ð (eth): This letter was introduced from Insular script, ostensibly to make the voiced th sound [ð] (for which it also lends its symbol in IPA). This is the sound used in words like “this” and “that.” (Examples: rǽseð, wráðscræf.) Unfortunately, Anglo-Saxon scribes often used Ð interchangeably with Þ below, making it difficult to determine when a given th sound is supposed to be voiced or unvoiced.

Þ, þ (thorn): The thorn rune was borrowed from futhorc to represent the unvoiced th sound [θ], as in English “thistle” and “thunder.” (Examples: æþeling, þeóden.) However, as mentioned above, Anglo-Saxon scribes often used it interchangeably with Ð, which makes things complicated for the modern reader. However, Old Norse preserved the clear delineation between the voiced Ð and unvoiced Þ.

Ƿ, ƿ (wynn): Since the letter W did not yet exist, Anglo-Saxon scribes borrowed the wynn rune from futhorc to make the [w] sound. (Examples: Ƿinƿæd, ƿǣpnedmann.) Later scribes used “uu” instead, which ultimately evolved into the more familiar “w.”

Ᵹ, ᵹ; Ȝ, ȝ (yogh): Also known as the “Insular G,” this symbol was another letter introduced from Insular script. It was used for both the [y] and [g] sounds, depending on the word. (Examples: Ᵹewæsċ, ᵹiestrandæᵹ.) In modern transcriptions of Old English texts, it is occasionally written with the later Middle English ȝ or sometimes as ġ when a [y] sound is intended.

⁊ (Tironian et): This symbol resembling the number 7 was part of a Roman shorthand system devised in ancient times by Tiro, the secretary of Cicero. Anglo-Saxon scribes used this symbol in place of the word “and,” which had the same meaning as today but would have been pronounced more like “ond” (which incidentally is also an alternative spelling of the same word in Old English). Its modern equivalent is the & symbol, which is itself simply a ligature of the letters forming the Latin word “et.

Ꝥ (þæt): This symbol is simply a thorn with an added stroke at the top like an eth. It was used as an abbreviation for the everyday word þæt, which not only meant and was pronounced “that,” but depending on the context could also mean “the,” “so that,” “they,” “those,” or even “without” (when followed by a negative phrase).

***​

Author's Note: I know that was a lot of material to process, so please pardon my unabashed nerdiness. My apologies if some of the rarer characters don't show up correctly on your screen. I learned most of this material years ago in my graduate school paleography class, which was quite a treat. Oddly enough, some of the skills I learned in that class have proven useful in modern life… like when I need to interpret an employer’s sloppy handwriting.

The frontispiece of this update is an Anglo-Saxon artifact known as the Franks Casket. It was an ornately carved whale ivory box made to hold a psalter or some other sacred book, and it is a great example of Anglo-Saxon runic script. The carvings also illustrate how traditional Germanic mythology, classical Greco-Roman literature, and Judeo-Christian religious tropes were blended together in Anglo-Saxon society. The front of the casket depicts the gruesome legend of Weyland the Smith, a Germanic demigod (left), juxtaposed with the Adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi (right). Other panels depict Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she-wolf, Titus sacking Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and several other scenes with uncertain interpretations. It's quite a remarkable piece.

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Author's Note: I know that was a lot of material to process, so please pardon my unabashed nerdiness.
NEVER! :D Please continue, don't even think of asking for forgiveness. :)
 
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, æ (æsc): This common Latin ligature was used to transliterate the æsc rune, one of the most common vowel sounds in Old English. However, rather than making the [aɪ] diphthong as in Latin, in Old English Æ was used for the ă (short a) sound as in modern English “ash” and “apple,” similar to modern High German ä. (Examples: Ælfred, ealdfæder.) It is also used for the [æ] sound in IPA for which it lends its symbol
We still use this letter in Norwegian. :) Swedes write it ä. We write æ.
 
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@Emissary of the Prophets: Thanks for commenting! As for the cheese... it could be cheddar, albeit that's a West Saxon cheese from Somerset. A lot of popular English cheeses do have their origins in Mercia though. Since it's mild and nutty, it could be an ancestor of modern Red Leicester or White Stilton. It's certainly not Blue Stilton, since that one is quite moldy and pungent. I've never developed a fondness for cheese myself though... I blame my father for keeping his stinky Limburger in the refrigerator during my formative years. "Like the feet of an angel," he used to joke. o_O
I do believe you're the only person I know who is not crazy about cheese for any reason but dietary reasons. :D I'd give up a kidney before giving up cheese.

Ᵹ, ᵹ; Ȝ, ȝ (yogh): Also known as the “Insular G,” this symbol was another letter introduced from Insular script. It was used for both the [y] and [g] sounds, depending on the word. (Examples: Ᵹewæsċ, ᵹiestrandæᵹ.) In modern transcriptions of Old English texts, it is occasionally written with the later Middle English ȝ or sometimes as ġ when a [y] sound is intended.
In my constructed languages, yogh is also my letter of choice for transcribing voiced pharyngeal fricatives if I don't want the language's transliteration to look overly Semitic, though I've also used it for other dorsal fricatives like /ɣ ʁ/. (If I do want the transliteration to look Semitic, I will of course use ʿ or ˁ as is common in transliterations of Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. I also use ʿ in Konaʿni, but Konaʿni is Semitic.)
 
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@Emissary of the Prophets: Admittedly I do have a dairy sensitivity as well, so if I’m going to have it I want to actually enjoy it. Which pretty much means just on Mexican or Italian food. Melted American cheese on a hamburger? Hard pass.

And I knew you’d have some epic contributions when it came to discussing linguistics. You always do! :)
 
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That's a lot of great information, @The Kingmaker. Very educational. Keep it coming.
 
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Question for @Emissary of the Prophets or @The Kingmaker; are dialects of languages dying? Television/radio/motion pictures are standardizing the language plus transportation allows people to come in contact with a more varied population.
 
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@Midnite Duke: In general? It’s very difficult to say, because the same trends don’t all apply in the same places. Are some dialects dying? Certainly. Entire languages are dying, in fact. But other struggling languages are being bolstered, with some nearly dead ones being revived. I can at least comfortably say that languages are changing, but then again that’s hardly a new thing. If you want proof of that, just go back and listen to a recording of FDR, then go back even further and listen to Theodore Roosevelt. A lot has changed just over the past century. Technology has accelerated the changes, but it has certainly not homogenized them.

Just look at my immediate family’s accents and dialects for example:

Grandparents: 1 Badener German accent, 1 Sussex English accent, 2 mid-20th century Midwestern American accents with a few western affectations

Parents: 1 late 20th century Midwestern American accent with operatic diction, 1 RP English accent

Me: somewhat British-influenced American accent

My first and second cousins: Midwestern American, Californian American, Estuary English, RP English, Scottish, Badener German, High German, Australian.

tl;dr Languages are weird and they are constantly evolving.
 
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That was a nice linguistics lesson. Will you cover the ways you think the Anglo-Saxon language would have evolved based in the game's universe in this AAR, or will the AAR not cover enough time for linguistic changes to occur?
 
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I didn't know about the Franks Casket. It's very interesting that pagan and Christian beliefs can be shown side-by-side and not contradict each other. That's even something that continues today (elves during Christmas or egg hunts during Easter).
 
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@HistoryDude: Thank you! I might get into that, depending on how long this goes for. I'd love to take this story all the way to the fifteenth century, but that's probably several years down the line. I do have a book on my shelf that you might enjoy though: How We'd Talk if the English Had Won in 1066 by David Cowley. (I love the cover art of Harold holding a broken arrow!)

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@jak7139: Most definitely. The Anglo-Saxons didn't view their old mythos and folk practices as incompatible with Christianity. In fact, in A.D. 601, Pope Gregory specifically counseled that their pagan shrines and holidays should be syncretized with Christianity to make their religious transition more seamless, e.g. by removing the idols from their temples and replacing them with relics, by celebrating saints during the old feast days of pagan gods, etc. Later Anglo-Saxon kings continued to trace their genealogy to the gods Wōden and Bældæġ even though they had been Christian for centuries. Is it any wonder that we include mythical ælfas in our Christmas celebrations, or call our celebration of the Resurrection Ēostre after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of springtime? It was deliberately done that way.
 
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Melted American cheese on a hamburger? Hard pass.
Understandable. American cheese is to cheese what glass is to diamonds or vinyl is to leather. :D

Question for @Emissary of the Prophets or @The Kingmaker; are dialects of languages dying? Television/radio/motion pictures are standardizing the language plus transportation allows people to come in contact with a more varied population.
As Kingmaker said, it's a complicated question. Mass media was initially a curse for non-standard dialects because only prestige dialects were allowed on the radio or television, but now even in journalism and advertising you'll hear a wide variety of dialects (at least in the United States). I don't listen to much mass media, but even in passing I hear Southern and Midwestern accents in media that you'd never have heard 50 years ago. Having a less rooted population, on the other hand, will definitely motivate language change and potentially dialect leveling--or the creation of new dialects.

(And I actually have a somewhat similar case to Kingmaker's in the diversity of accents in my family. My mom's family is from roughly where Midwestern, Inland North, and West Pennsylvania accents merge, and they have certain features of all of those accents. However, shortly after my mom went off to college, her parents and two younger siblings moved to Georgia. My one set of GA cousins then have light Southern accents; my other set of GA cousins have heavy Southern accents. I was also raised in the South but have a lighter version of my mom's Midwest-tinged Inland North accent, with neither the Southern nor the West Pennsylvania influences.)
 
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I do believe you're the only person I know who is not crazy about cheese for any reason but dietary reasons. :D I'd give up a kidney before giving up cheese.

I love cheese! On two occasions my "lunch" consisted of a block of Muenster cheese. :) But, alas, I do have issues with casein (as opposed to lactose) and so I'm mildly allergic. My wife is very allergic. We get around this by purchasing goat cheese, which often avoids the bad proteins, and sometimes vegan cheese (which isn't bad, but definitely not a substitute for the real thing).

@Midnite Duke: In general? It’s very difficult to say, because the same trends don’t all apply in the same places. Are some dialects dying? Certainly. Entire languages are dying, in fact. But other struggling languages are being bolstered, with some nearly dead ones being revived. I can at least comfortably say that languages are changing, but then again that’s hardly a new thing. If you want proof of that, just go back and listen to a recording of FDR, then go back even further and listen to Theodore Roosevelt. A lot has changed just over the past century. Technology has accelerated the changes, but it has certainly not homogenized them.

Just look at my immediate family’s accents and dialects for example:

Grandparents: 1 Badener German accent, 1 Sussex English accent, 2 mid-20th century Midwestern American accents with a few western affectations

Parents: 1 late 20th century Midwestern American accent with operatic diction, 1 RP English accent

Me: somewhat British-influenced American accent

My first and second cousins: Midwestern American, Californian American, Estuary English, RP English, Scottish, Badener German, High German, Australian.

tl;dr Languages are weird and they are constantly evolving.

Where I lived most of my life, in Colorado, my assistant principal was a linguist, and he said western Colorado (the other side of the mountains from Denver) had a dialect that was very similar to what was spoken by the original English colonists.

Here in Savannah Georgia, where I am now, the language is largely homogenized, or perhaps just mixed enough there aren't alot of similar dialects to compare. Savannah has become a melting pot for people from all over the United States and beyond. Yes, you'll hear a southern drawl from a good number of people - maybe 1 in 10. But I don't perceive much "accent" from most of the people who talk here. Aside from the southern drawl the most common accent is New York or New Jersey -- you can't throw a cat without hitting a former New Yorker down here.

Oh and there's a man down the street who lived most of his life in Savannah, but spent some time in Chicago. He has an accent you could swear was from Louisiana. lol There was another man I knew in Denver who had lived in Colorado his whole life, but his accent sounded Minnesotan. Weird.

Incidentally, a teacher of mine said he could detect a slight Texas drawl from me, even though I was born in Colorado. My relatives and parents were from Texas. I may have simply mimicked what I heard. I had a British friend visit for a week and by the end of the week I had affected a British accent! :D

Rensslaer
 
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