Old English and German: Almost One and the Same

Old English is not Shakespeare’s English, which is Early modern English! Old English sounds unintelligible for the most part with Modern English and has much more complex grammar that we have cast off. However, for the Germans out there, Old English sounds vaguely like German grammatically and has many cognates! In a huge sense, I think it sounds like a dialect of German, like Low German. In light of the fact that the Anglo-Saxons spoke Old English it’s less surprising as the Saxons were a Germanic people and Saxony is in Germany. The Anglo-Saxons called it “Ænglisc” and we get the word “England” from them. I have studied German for about 2 years now, and I can personally attest to much of the grammar and vocab being amazingly similar! I think that’s cool considering how much I love the German Language!

For starters, there’s the similarity in the vocab. Guten Morgen is how you say “good morning” in German. In Old English: Gōdne Morgen! (The ō sounds like oo.) Grammar has some striking similarities too in regards to word order, with the second verb going last in a sentence, and verb conjugation. The present perfect both use the prefix ge– as well. In Old English, “Do you speak English” is Spricst þū Englisce? ( sprikhst thoo ENG-li-sheh?In German it is Sprichst du Englisch? (sprickst doo English?) In addition, Old English has many cases like the Nominative, Accusative, Dative, and the Genitive and nouns decline accordingly. Noun-adjective agreement is also important, unlike in Modern English but like in German. Modern English only has remnants of the case system prominent in things such as personal pronouns (I, me, mine, etc…). Another thing that Old English and German share are grammatical genders. In German, male is “der”, female is “die” and neuter is “das”. Old English has different ones though: “se” is male “sēo” is female, and “þæt” is neuter. (þ is pronounced like a th, æ is pronounced like the a in “cat”).  To make things easier to see, I made some charts:

Modern English Old English Modern German
Hello Ƿes hāl (singular). (WESS haal) Hallo
My name is… Ic hātte ______ . (itch HAHT-teh) Mein Name ist (Ich heiße…)
Do you speak English? Spricst þū / Sprecaþ gē Englisce? (sprikhst thoo / sprekath yay ENG-li-sheh?) Sprichst du/Sprechen Sie Englisch?
Good Morning Gōdne morgen. (GOAD-neh MOR-khen) Guten Morgen
Good Afternoon Gōde ofernōn. (GOA-DE O-VER-Na-O-n) Guten Nachmittag
Good Evening Gōdne ǣfen. (GOAD-neh AY-ven)Good night. Ēadigne ǣfen ġiet. (AY-diy-neh AY-ven yet) Guten Abend
I don’t understand. Iċ þæt ne undergiete. (itch thaat neh OONDER-YEH-teh) Ich verstehe nicht.

Note how a lot of the verbs are quite similar, although some vocab is a bit more reminiscent of English, especially the times of the day. This is just a theory, but I find hātte and heiße to be vaguely similar. Hātte, probably coincidentally, sounds like hatte, German for I or he/she/it “had”.

Old English Pronouns Witan To Know (Information) German Pronouns Wissen To Know (Information)
Iċ (I) wāt Ich (I) weiß
Þū (informal you) wāst Du (informal you) weißt
hē/hit/hēo (he/she/it) wāt er/sie/es (he/she/it) weiß
Wē (we) witon Wir (we) wissen
Ġē (you all) witon Ihr (You all) wisst
Hīe (they) witon Sie/sie (formal you/they) wissen
Old English Pronouns Cunnon  To Know (a person/place) German Pronouns Kennen To Know (a person/place)
Iċ (I) cann Ich (I) kenne
Þū (informal you) cannst Du (informal you) kennst
hē/hit/hēo (he/she/it) cann er/sie/es (he/she/it) kennt
Wē (we) cunnon Wir (we) kennen
Ġē (you all) cunnon Ihr (You all) kennt
Hīe (they) cunnon Sie/sie (formal you/they) kennen

One can see how similar they are in sound and conjugation as well. I chose these verbs because one, they’re not too irregular, kennen is regular and wissen has one stem change, and two, Modern English doesn’t distinguish between the two types of “to know”, but German and Old English do! (So does Spanish, but that’s a different story…). You can also see how Iċ and Ich sound similar, also þū and du :)

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, there are many examples too numerous to dive into in one post! You could write a whole book on the subject! But overall, you get the point: English had much in common with German, and still does and is a Germanic language! Lastly, here are some resources to hear and learn more old English! I personally find the development of languages quite fascinating, as the Germans say, “Ausgezeichnet!”

Old English Phrases Wikibooks.org

Old English Omniglot


About History Is Interesting

I like ancient and medieval history!
This entry was posted in Helping Make History More Interesting, Linguistics and History, Middle Ages. Bookmark the permalink.

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