OE word order

(examples from Millwards Workbook and from Bruce Mitchells Invitation to Old English & Anglo-Saxon England Blackwell, 1995; references to Pyles & Algeo points about Syntax, pp. 116-118)

 

1. Some general issues before we get to the specifics of word order

 

OE prose quite paratactic (more coordination than subordination)--P&A 15

 

Linking with and (and adverbials with meanings like so, also)

 

Iosua a swa dyde,

& sacerdas baeron t Godes scrin ymbe da burh, lce dge ne, & ore seofon blewon mid sylfrenum byman,

& hi ealle to fyrdwicon ferdon fter am.

 

 

OE poetry had freer syntax..

and used a lot of apposition (variation)

 

Apposition: when two (or more) words, phrases, or clauses have the same reference. Our cat Bert is a very fine fellow.

 

 

Denum eallum ws,

winum Scyldinga, weorce on mode

to geolianne, egne monegum,

oncy eorla gehwm, syan scheres

on am holm-clife hafelan metton. (from Beowulf)

 

 

For all the Danes for the leaders of the Scyldings and for many a thane it was an anguish to be suffered in the heart, a painful thing for every one of the earls...(tr. Bradley)

 

It was a sore blow

To all of the Danes, friends of the Scyldings,

a hurt to each and every one

of that noble company ...(tr. Heaney)


2. Word order within the sentence -- P&A 14

 

Independent clauses often have SV(O) word order:

 

Hi forbrndon a a burh & t e binnan hyre ws.

They burned (up) then the city & that which within her was.

 

 

And imperative constructions generally have V(S)O:

 

Ga nu to am huse, r ge behydde wron, & lda ut t wif, e eowrum life geheolp...

Go now to the house, where ye hidden were, and lead out the woman, who your life helped

 

 

Sometimes youll find VS after an adverbial

 

[a] ston hie one winter t Cwatbrycge.

Then stayed they that winter at Bridgnorth.

 

[y ilcan geare] sende lfred cyning sciphere on East-Engle

That same year sent Alfred king (a) fleet into East Anglia

 

But not always

 

[On am seofoan daege] hi ferdon seofon sion ymb a burh.

On the seventh day they went seven times around the city.

 

 


Sometimes youll find OV when the O is a pronoun

 

a burgware hie gefliemdon

the townsfolk them routed.

 

 

And poets can play...

 

O? S? V S?O? S O O

Wudu br sunu fder fyr and sweord

Wood bore son father fire and sword

 

[wudu and sunu are from an irregular declension: can be NA sg.]

 

OVS: Isaac

(Old Testament: when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son)

SVO: Christ

(New Testament: when the Christian God sacrifices his only son)


Dependent clauses often have verb-final (e.g. S (O/C) V):

 

E.g. in adverbial clauses of place (r where)

 

r ge behydde wron

where ye hidden were [SCV]

 

 

E.g. in adjective clauses (e that, which; also introduced with demonstratives like se, aet)

 

t folc ... a burston a weallas, e a burh behfdon, endemes to grunde

the folk ... then burst the walls, which the city surrounded [SOV], completely to ground

 

Ga nu to am huse, r ge behydde wron, & lda ut t wif, e eowrum life geheolp...

Go now to the house, where ye hidden were, and lead out the woman, who your life helped [SOV]

 

Hi forbrndon a a burh & t e binnan hyre ws.

They burned (up) then the city & that which within her was.[S..V]

 

 

E.g. in correlative clauses (a ... a when (S..V)... then (VS))

 

a he geseah, a aras he

when he saw [SV], then arose he [VS]

 

a he a as andsware onfeng, a ongan he sona singan

when he then this answer received [SOV], then began he immediately to sing [VS]
Impersonal verbs -- P&A 10

 

regularly have no expressed subject

what we would think of as the subject is in the accusative or dative case

e.g. methinks it seems to me

 

hine yrste hwylum and hwilum hingrode

[it] him thirsted at times and at times [it] hungered

 

me gelicode

me [it] pleased, it was pleasing to me


3. Uninflected parts of speech & syntax of the sentence:

Adverbs (including negation), Conjunctions, Prepositions

 

Adverbs

 

Sometimes formed from nouns (genitive, dative case inflections)

 

E.g. hwilum at times (Spensers whilom) has dative um

 

hine yrste hwylum and hwilum hingrode

[it] him thirsted at times and at times [it] hungered

 

E.g. I work nights is from nihtes by night genitive es

 

Nfde se here ... Angelcyn ealles forswie gebrocod.

Not-had the army ... England completely utterly crushed.

 

 

But mostly formed from adjectives

 

Hiericho seo burh ws ... fste belocen for es folces tocyme.

Jericho the city was ... firmly locked up in preparation for the peoples arrival.

 

his nama wear gewidmrsod wide geond t land

his name became celebrated widely throughout the land

 

 

 


Negation -- P&A 13

 

Ne always precedes the word it negates

 

hi ne dorston ut faran ne in faran for him

they not dared out go nor in go because of them.

 

 

Ne could negate parts of speech other than verbs

 

n-n not one

n-nig not any

 

 

Ne could fuse with words that began with vowels, /h/ or /w/

 

Nis = ne + is

Nfde = ne + hfde

Nolde = ne + wolde

 

 

Multiple negation used for emphasis

 

ge nan ingc ne hreppon on reafe ne on feo t ge ne beon scyldige...

ye none thing not touch as plunder nor as property (so) that ye not be guilty ...

 

[Orpheuss harp charmed the animals so much that]

nn heort ne onscunode nnne lon ne nn hara nnne hund ...

no hart not shunned no lion nor no hare no hound

 

for re merge s snes

for the mirth/joy (of) the sound


 

Conjunctions

 

Some are familiar. E.g.

 

t can introduce dependent noun clauses

 

We secga [to soan] t se tima ws geslig and wynsum

We say[ in truth] that the time was happy and joyful.

 

t so that can introduce clauses of purpose or result

 

Dont touch anything, t ge ne beon scyldige...

[so] that ye not be guilty

 

 

r there, where

 

Ga nu to am huse, r ge behydde wron

Go now to the house, where ye hidden were

 

 

Many arent familiar

 

: adverb then? conjunction when? demonstrative?

 

a he geseah, a aras he

when he saw, then arose he

 

e: your all-purpose subordinator (try that, which)

 

Hi forbrndon a a burh & t e binnan hyre ws.

They burned (up) then the city & that which within her was.


Multiword conjunctions: preposition + demonstrative + e

 

for an e heo urum rendracum arfstnysse cydde

because she (to) our messengers mercy showed

 

Probably arise from a reanalyzed prepositional phrase

 

for an e: because of this: that...

r an e before this: that...

 

E.g. a [on am ilcan dge] fter am e hie is gesprecen hfdon

then [on the same day] after that (on) which they had spoken this

fohton Gallie on a burg

the Gauls fought against the city

 

 

Correlatives

 

E.g. a ... a when (S..V)... then (VS))

 

a he geseah, a aras he

when he saw, then arose he

 

E.g. onne ... onne whenever (S...V) .. then (VS)

 

onne he geseah a hearpan onne ars he

whenever he saw the harp then arose he

 

E.g. r ... r where (SV) ... there (VS)

 

r in gold is r is in heorte


Prepositions

 

In OE can sometimes follow pronoun objects

 

God sende a sona sumne encgel him to

God sent then at once a certain angel to him.

 

 

Not all OE prepositions have survived into PDE

 

Hiericho seo burh ws mid weallum ymbtrymed

Jericho the city was with walls surrounded

 

... hi ferdon seofon sion ymb a burh.

 

 

Some OE prepositions have changed in meaning

 

& ldde hi of re byrig mid eallum hyre magum

& led her _____the city with all her kinsmen

 

& fste belocen for es folces tocyme.

and firmly locked against the peoples arrival.

 

hi ne dorston ut faran ne in faran for him

they not dared out go not in go because of them.

 

God ws a mid Iosue on eallum his weorcum.

God was then with Joshua in all his works.

 


4. Syntax within the Noun and Verb Phrases some final observations

 

4a. Noun phrases

 

Modifiers tend to be close to the words they modify (but poets can play)...

 

syan scheres

on am holm-clife hafelan metton. (from Beowulf)

 

whenas scheres

Head they met on that holm-cliff (tr. Scott-Moncrieff)

 

when they came upon

Aescheres head at the foot of the cliff. (tr. Heaney)

 

 

You wont find as many articles in OE (P&A 6)

 

[y ilcan geare] sende lfred cyning sciphere on East-Engle

That same year sent Alfred king (a) fleet into East Anglia

 

to Myrcena lande

to (the) land (of the) Mercians

 

 


Some implications of noun case

 

Within the noun phrase, demonstratives and adjectives have to agree with the noun in number, gender, and case (P&A 2):

 

Ic do as burh Hiericho on inum gewealde

I put this city Jericho into your power {dative singular}

 

for an e heo urum rendracum arfstnysse cydde

because she (to) our messengers mercy showed {dative pl.}

 

Genitive sg. feminine (scyldigguilty takes genitive: guilty of)

 

t ge ne beon scyldige sceamlicre forggednysse

that ye not be guilty (of) disgraceful transgression

 

 

OE noun cases and PDE prepositions -- P&A 1

 

Because the case endings of OE made many syntactic relations clear, the language needed fewer prepositions than are used in PDE. (Millward 105)

 

Dative || to

 

for an e heo urum rendracum arfstnysse cydde

because she (to) our messengers mercy showed

 

Genitive || of -- P&A 5

 

t ge ne beon scyldige sceamlicre forggednysse

that ye not be guilty (of) disgraceful transgression

 

swa hwaet swa her goldes by

whatever here (of) gold is


4b. Verb phrases (OE used fewer than PDE)--P&A 7

 

OE prefixed verbs sometimes || PDE verb phrases -- P&A 9

 

Hiericho seo burh ws ... fste belocen for es folces tocyme.

Jericho the city was ... firmly locked up in preparation for the peoples arrival.

 

Hi forbrndon a a burh & t e binnan hyre ws.

They burned (up/down) then the city & that which within her was.

 

OE tenses more 'overworked' than PDE

Subjunctive mood || PDE verb phrases

 

Sy [indic: is, bi] eos burh amansumod & eall t bi on hyre,

Be this city cursed, & all that is in it, [PDE: Let ... be]

 

buton Raab ana libbe [indicative: leofa] & a e locia to hyre,...

except Rahab alone live & those who belong to her

 

Beo [indic bi] se awyrged, e fre eft geedstaelie [indic. la] as buruh Hiericho.

Be he cursed, who ever again (might) reestablish this city Jericho.

 

semantically, often associated with unreal states

e.g. wishes (curses!), clauses of purpose, condition, &c.

grammatically,

formed by adding e (sg.) and en (pl.) to present and past stems