There is Old English, and there is the English we speak now. When did exactly did the British (or Americans) change from speaking Old English to speaking the current form of English?

closed as general reference by simchona, Kit Z. Fox, Thursagen, waiwai933 Aug 15 '11 at 4:34

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    There is a Wikipedia page on this. That's pretty general reference. The first hit on Googling "old English" is a wiki page on it. Wfaulk quoted Wikipedia--if you don't trust the internet, why choose his answer? I'm saying that you could come up with much better questions by putting in at least some effort. – simchona Aug 15 '11 at 3:59
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    Remember there was no sudden, exact time when people "stopped speaking Old English" or any other form. Terms such as these are simply labels attached arbitrarily, a posteori, for the pure convenience of those studying the history of the language. So in this specific case, "Old English" is usually used to label a period when English had an overt case system and various other features (including several key morphological features). But there was no single point in time when these features suddenly disappeared, nor did they all evolve at the same rate at the same time. – Neil Coffey Aug 15 '11 at 4:35

There are considered to be three major eras of English: Old English, Middle English, and Modern English. Old English is a very different language, complete with a different alphabet. Middle English emerged after the Norman conquest of England with influence from French and other continental languages. Modern English emerged a few hundred years later with the Great Vowel Shift. The first few hundred years of Modern English are referred to as Early Modern English, which is well represented in the works of Shakespeare. The current version of English started to coalesce around 1700.

I could go on, but: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_English_language

  • Old English didn't always have a different alphabet. They switched from runes to the Roman alphabet (with the additional letters æ, ð, þ, ƿ) some time in the 9th century. – Peter Shor Aug 7 '17 at 17:58
  • I didn't mean that the Old English alphabet and the Modern English alphabet don't share any letters, just that the set of letters is different. – wfaulk Aug 7 '17 at 18:14
  • They kept using some of the Old English letters for a while in Middle English. – Peter Shor Aug 7 '17 at 18:22
  • I didn't say they didn't. – wfaulk Aug 7 '17 at 18:23

I am just adding some dates for those not familiar with English history.

Old English (before 1066AD) is almost unreadable, with a different grammar and a few extra characters. It is closer to Danish or Dutch.

Fæder úre, ðú ðe eart on heofonum,
Sí ðín nama gehálgod.
Tó becume ðín rice.
Gewurde ðín willa
On eorþan swá swá on heofonum.
Urne dægwhamlícan hlaf syle ús tódæg.
And forgyf ús úre gyltas,
Swá swá wé forgyfaþ úrum gyltendum.
And ne gelæd ðu ús on costnunge,
Ac álýs ús of yfele. Sóþlice.

Middle English (1100-1500AD) is almost readable, but the pronunciation is very different.

Oure fadir that art in heuenes,
halewid be thi name;
thi kyngdoom come to;
be thi wille don, in erthe as in heuene.
Yyue to vs this dai oure breed ouer othir substaunce,
and foryyue to vs oure dettis, as we foryyuen to oure dettouris;
and lede vs not in to temptacioun, but delyuere vs fro yuel. Amen.

Then, Early Modern English starts around 1600; this still sounds old fashioned, but is recognisable if you read the King James bible or Shakespeare.

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

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    They don't seem to be translation of each other, for example there is no bit about "thine is the kingdom" in the second text. – Louis Rhys Aug 15 '11 at 4:17
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    @Louis Rhys : The last line is an addition used in some English speaking churches but not part of the original biblical text. The other texts here don't have it. – neil Aug 15 '11 at 11:50
  • I assumed all three were translated from a Latin original. Is that not true? – Jay Apr 22 '12 at 18:23
  • Or Greek (at least for the king James), but all are from sources written in 'English' at the time. The extra line in the KJB is in protestant bible translations but not Catholic ones, there weren't official catholic bibles in English at the time – mgb Apr 23 '12 at 2:03
  • And of course, postmodern English: “Yo big daddy in da sky yo namez like totes kewl, ya gots da richez, we gon do what u want up n down, mang, but like gimme some food”, and so on. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 17 '16 at 8:13

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