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Language spoken and written in England before AD 1100. It belongs to the Anglo-Frisian group of Germanic languages. Four dialects are known: Northumbrian (in northern England and southeastern Scotland), Mercian (central England), Kentish (southeastern England), and West Saxon (southern and southwestern England). Mercian and Northumbrian are often called the Anglian dialects. Most extant Old English writings are in the West Saxon dialect. The great epic poem of Old English is Beowulf; the first period of extensive literary activity occurred in the 9th century. Old English had three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) for nouns and adjectives; nouns, pronouns, and adjectives were also inflected for case. Old English had a greater proportion of strong (irregular) verbs than does Modern English, and its vocabulary was more heavily Germanic. See alsoMiddle English; English language.
Variants of OLD ENGLISH
Old English or Anglo-Saxon
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Old English, visit Britannica.com.