Chapter 3: Before Old English

This chapter discusses the ancestors of English. Section 1 examines the origins of humans and when they first might have acquired language, probably 50,000 or more years ago. The section also considers how people and languages spread. Section 2 examines the earliest writings, from about 5,000 years ago. Changes can be observed between these writings and later ones. Some observations regarding these changes led to the formulation of linguistic laws in the 19th century, as discussed in section 3. Section 4 shows that Old English inherits its synthetic character from older languages; section 5 reviews a number of methods for reconstructing an earlier stage of a language when we have no access to written material; and section 6 addresses some broader questions.

Useful Links


Early Humans

World Languages

Writing Systems

The Comparative Method

Extra exercises: Cases in Old English and answers and further exercises.

Background for title image provided courtesy of Tom Murphy VII and used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike license. All other images are believed to be public domain.

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