Let’s start with an even more confounding quote than usual:
‘Ġiese lēof, hit is miċel ġedeorf, for þǣm þe iċ neom frēo.’ – The Colloquy of Occupations.
In modern English, this is:
‘Yes beloved, it is much toil, for that I am not free.’
And no, it’s not Dragon-Language from Skyrim: it’s Anglo Saxon. It looks rather horrifying, but once you get the knack and learn a few simple rules, you’re off on reading it. The key is that the language is phonetic, it is spelt exactly – exactly – how it sounds, unlike our modern English, which frankly does whatever the hell it wants. The only slight way in which this falls down is that we pronounce letters differently now. So, there are a few alterations in the pronunciation of certain letters in Anglo Saxon, for example a ‘ge’ = a ‘y’ sound, in Anglo Saxon. So it’s pronounced ‘yedeorf’. I won’t bore you with the details. What I really wanted to talk to you about was how it’s been used, particularly in my two favourite things in the world: Skyrim, and Lord of the Rings…
I mentioned Skyrim because the fundamentals of the warrior society, where there is a lord or ‘hlaford’, attended by loyal thanes ‘þengas’ (þ = ‘th’), has been adopted brilliantly to create the continent of Skyrim. The game developers have woven words from the Anglo Saxon in amongst their lore, as well as using its principals to found the society itself. The word ‘norđ’ for example, in Anglo Saxon, means ‘northwards’, an appropriate appellation for the people of the icy northern climes of Skyrim.
But Skyrim isn’t the first, Tolkien got there first, and he got there BIG TIME – quite apart from writing his own languages derived, in part, from Anglo Saxon, he also cut and pasted direct terminology into his brilliant mythological cornucopia (my new favourite word) without batting an eyelid.
What do the men of Rohan call their legendary horses?
What do you think ‘Mearh’ means in Anglo Saxon?
Other fantasy writers have drawn upon this legacy of the Anglo Saxon culture too – it seems there is something about the olden days of dragons, barbarians with six foot axes, and the simple rules of fighting for a lord in return for honour, shelter and food that appeal to our Western imagination. Perhaps that is also why 1066 is given a disproportionately large importance in our ‘World History’ classes (because let’s be frank it only affected us) – it was the day that one culture died and a new one began, and somehow, at a deep level, the English feel irreconcilably tied to who we were before the Normans invaded…
Hlafords and nords…
Thanks for reading.
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