OE vocabulary

Why expand?

§       new concepts (e.g. Christianity)

§       old themes (e.g. vernacular poetry)

o      intersection: ‘Caedmon’s hymn’ (in Crystal)

Structures of OE verse

§       lines containing 4 stressed syllables alternating with (1 or 2) unstressed ones

o      usually trochaic or dactylic (remember Gmc word-stress)

§       half-lines connected by alliteration

o      it’s always the third stress that links: you wait for it

o      literary functions: antithesis? association?

§       e.g. meahte ‘physical power’ and modgeðanc ‘mental conception’

§       e.g. firum ‘men’ and frea ‘God’

§       variation’: repetition of the same idea within a clause or sentence or adjacent sentences

o      emphasis

o      definition: God as

§       creator: metodes, fæder, scyppend

§       guardian: weard

§       leader: drihten, frea

How did poets expand vocabulary?

§       metaphor:

o      e.g. god as a ‘father’, heaven as a ‘kingdom’

§       compounding:

o      e.g. wuldor-fæder (cf. Latin patris gloriae), heofon-rices

§       archaisms found only in poetry

o      e.g. frea ‘lord’, firum ‘men’

§       many ‘poetic’ words denote men, the sea

How did OE expand its vocabulary?

§       conversion

o      grammatical: munucian ‘to make .. into a monk’

o      semantic: Christian meanings for old Gmc words like hell, synn, dryhten

§       word-formation

o      compounding:

§       leorning-cniht for Latin discipulus

§       frum-sceaft for Latin creatio

§       heah-faeder for Latin patri-arch

§       god-spell for Latin ev-angelium

§       well-willend-ness for Latin bene-volent-ia

o      affixation/derivation

o      prefixes

§       to-cyme for Latin ad-ventus

§       fore-séon for Latin pro-videre

o      suffixes

§       ðrinness for Latin trinitas

§       haelende for Latin salvator

this ‘part-by-part’ translation of Latin words illustrated in these examples is referred to as loan-translation or calque

but many other Latin words were rendered more freely: I just happen to be using a lot of loan-translations to illustrate OE wordformation!



Lots of redundancy in a world without dictionaries!

§       the same Latin word can be translated with

o      different roots

o      different affixes

§       examples from the Thesaurus of Old English

RESURRECTION (Latin re-surgere)

          ed-, eft-, up-


          -cenn-ing, -cynn

GOD AS JUDGE (OE déman ‘to judge, pronounce dóm’)

Masculine agent nouns

Mostly from verbs

          déma (cf cuma ‘guest’, cuman, wita ‘wise man’, witan)

          demend (cf. hælend ‘saviour’ and scyppend ‘creator’)

Mostly from nouns

          démere (cf. bóc-ere ‘scholar’, godspell-ere ‘evangelist’)


          hæl [healing],      lies [liberation]

          -ð, -ness               -ness, -ing

Some OE prefixes


          perfective, association with ‘result’

o      wrítan ‘to write’, gewrit ‘something written’

o      winnan ‘to struggle’, gewinnan ‘to struggle successfully, win’

o      feran ‘go’, geferan ‘reach’

o      and on past participles (-> OE morphology)

          but getting meaningless

                   (ge)campian ‘strive, fight’

for-   intensification, completion

                   bærnan ‘to burn’, forbærnan ‘to burn up’

wið-  ‘in opposition to’

          wiðstandan ‘to stand against’

Notice that

§       if they appear at all in PDE words, these prefixes aren’t productive or transparent

§       when I translate OE words with prefixes, I often do it with a verb-particle compound (burn up, stand against)