English Life in the Middle Ages

By L. F. Salzman | Go to book overview

VII
LITERATURE

THE language of the Anglo-Saxons was what is called an 'inflected' language, that is to say a language, like Latin or German, in which the case of a noun or adjective is shown by the form of its case-ending; whereas in modern English the only case-ending is the 's of the genitive--we can say either 'the king's land' or 'the land of-the-king', but for the dative we must say 'to-the-king' and we cannot tell whether 'the king' is nominative or accusative without looking at the rest of the sentence. Anglo-Saxon nouns also had genders with which the adjectives had to agree, and altogether it was much like German;1 the two languages were, in fact, closely related, the Angles and Saxons being branches of the great 'Teutonic' race, of which the ancestors of the Germans were also branches. Yet another branch were the Scandinavians of Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Nor was it only in the form of their languages that these peoples resembled each other: their ideas and traditions, as shown in their poetry, were very similar. The one subject which they thought worthy of the poet's attention was war; their heroes were fierce warriors, who fought and plundered and feasted; their speeches are usually an exchange of insults, and the scenery in which they are set is pictured as barren, desolate, and grim. The earliest and most famous Anglo-Saxon

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1
As an illustration of Anglo-Saxon we may take a sentence from the will of Alfred the Great: 'minum twam sunum an thusend punda, aegthrum fif hund punda; and minre yldstan dehter, and thaere medemestan, and thaere gingstran and Ealhswithe, him feowrum feower hund punda, aelcum an hund punda' ['to my two sons a thousand pounds, to either five hundred pounds; and to my eldest daughter and to the midmost and to the youngest and to Ealhswith, to the four of them four hundred pounds, to each a hundred pounds']. If this sentence is read out, omitting the case-inflections at the ends of most of the words, it will be found to resemble the modern English of the translation pretty closely.

-150-

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English Life in the Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 7
  • To Nancy 9
  • Preface 11
  • Contents 13
  • List of Illustrations 15
  • I - Introduction 21
  • II - Country Life 36
  • III - Town Life 63
  • IV - Home Life 88
  • V - The Church and Religion 109
  • VI - Education 134
  • VII - Literature 150
  • VIII - Art and Science 171
  • IX - Warfare 186
  • X - Law and Order 215
  • XI - Industry, Trade, and Finance 233
  • XII - Women 249
  • XIII - Wayfaring 266
  • Bibliography 283
  • Index 285
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