Old English

From Tolkien Gateway
"I cannot (of course) understand why Anglo-Saxon should seem difficult..."
J.R.R. Tolkien[1]

Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon, though J.R.R. Tolkien apparently avoided the term[2]) was the ancestor language of modern English. It was also the mother language of characters Ælfwine and Eriol.

Anglo-Saxon was typically written in a runic script before the introduction of the Latin alphabet.

History[edit | edit source]

"I have to teach or talk about Old English to such a lot of young persons who simply are not equipped by talent or character to grasp it or profit by it."
― J.R.R. Tolkien[3]

Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College from 1925 to 1945. He favored especially the Mercian dialect and was strongly influenced by Old English literature such as Beowulf.

In earlier notes concerning the The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, Tolkien commented that Old English was the only language the Elves of Eressëa could talk to Men, and that was how they talked to Ælfwine. The Elves learned Old English while living with Men in Luthany.

Tolkien wrote in Old English several texts of his legendarium, which he (fictionally) attributed to Ælfwine such as the Earliest Annals of Valinor; they were published more recently in The Shaping of Middle-earth and are commented on and edited by Christopher Tolkien. These texts have been criticized because Christopher Tolkien did not provide a translation and they remain understandable only by Anglo-Saxon students.

In those works, Eriol gave several Old English names to several elements of the legendarium; in some of them, Tolkien attempted to imitate the Elvish sound and form, but with a new meaning. For example Angband is rendered as Engbend "cruel-bond", Balrog as Bealuwearg "baleful-monster" or Silmaril as Sigelmaerels (actually referring to the Nauglamír). At least one name, Mickleburg, survived in the published Silmarillion.

Anglo-Saxon runes were used on Thrór's Map in The Hobbit to display the Cirth as used by the Dwarves.

Tolkien devised a Tengwar mode for Old English, for texts written by Edwin Lowdham in The Strange Case of Arundel Lowdham, writings associated with The Notion Club Papers. (DTS50 and DTS51).

Rohanese[edit | edit source]

For Lord of the Rings, Tolkien used several Anglo-Saxon names and words, in Rohanese, the language of the Rohirrim.[4] This simulated the archaic sense the Hobbits felt with the Rohirrim; Hobbits spoke Hobbitish Westron, represented in the book by English.

However the relation of Old English and English is not the same as with Rohanese and Westron, since the latter descends from Adûnaic, not Rohanese.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]


Languages and scripts in Tolkien's works
Elvish Angerthas (Angerthas Daeron) · Avarin · Cirth (Certhas Daeron) · Common Eldarin · Mátengwië · Moon-letters · Nandorin · Primitive Quendian · Quenya (Exilic · Valinorean · Vanyarin) · Sarati · Silvan Elvish · Sindarin (Doriathrin · Falathrin · Númenórean · Mithrimin · Old) · Telerin (Common) · Tengwar
Mannish Adûnaic · Dalish · Drúadan · Dunlendish · Halethian · Northern Mannish · Pre-Númenórean · Rohanese · Taliska · Westron (Bucklandish · Hobbitish · Stoorish)
Dwarvish Angerthas (Erebor · Moria) · Aulëan · Iglishmêk · Khuzdul
Other Black Speech · Old Entish · Orkish · Valarin · Warg-language
Earlier legendarium Gnomish · Gnomic Letters · Gondolinic Runes · Ilkorin · Keladian · Noldorin (Kornoldorin) · Melkian · Oromëan · Qenya · Valmaric script
Outside the legendarium Animalic · Arktik · Goblin Alphabet · Mágol · Naffarin · New English Alphabet · Nevbosh · Privata Kodo Skauta
Real-world Celtic · English (Old · Middle · AB) · Finnish · Germanic · Gothic · Hebrew · Runic alphabet · Welsh
"A Secret Vice" (book) · "The Lhammas" · "The Tree of Tongues" · Sub-creation