This section of the OP website presents Old English, introduced into Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, who began to arrive in the British Isles during the 5th century AD. Written texts survive from the 7th to the 11th century.

The language changed greatly during the Old English period, and by the 11th century had lost most of the inflectional endings that were at first characteristic. The recordings reflect that change. The spellings in later texts still show the original inflections, though with some variation; but in speech many of these would have ceased to be contrastive. Accordingly, in the recordings from Beowulf and Ælfric, where the texts date from around the early 11th century, you will hear an unstressed central vowel (schwa) in most instances, whereas in the other texts the different inflectional endings can be more clearly heard.

I speak the texts fairly slowly, at a rate that will allow readers to follow the subtitles and glosses without feeling too rushed. My translation tries to capture the distinctive word-order of the language, notable for its end-placed verbs - but in cases where following the exact Old English word-order would seriously interfere with intelligibility, I have kept a Modern English order - in particular, using definite and indefinite articles, and putting adjectives before nouns.


It should be noted that, as with all periods of OP, there have been many controversies over the phonetic values of individual vowels and consonants - such as, in the case of Old English, debate about the exact pronunciation of the diphthongs represented by the spellings ea  and eo, the extent to which voiceless consonants might have been voiced in certain words, and the values to give to the letter yogh, shown in these transcriptions as g . For any reading, one has to 'take a view', and present a plausible and consistent rendition; another reader might make a different set of choices - though I suspect the overall auditory impression would not greatly vary. In a dramatic reading, moreover, many subtle phonetic distinctions would become less noticeable - as they would today - notwithstanding the importance attached to them in accounts of English historical phonology.

One choice will be noticeable, because of its frequency: how to sound the letter r. This letter was pronounced strongly, including after vowels, but it is not known whether this was a trill or a retroflex sound or some other phonetic quality; in my recordings I therefore illustrate the different auditory effects from making different choices. I use a trill in some recordings, such as the Beowulf sequence, where I think it better conveys the Germanic tone of the story, and a retroflex /r/ in others, such as in parts of Aelfric's Colloquy, which to my mind feels more appropriate to modern ears, given the West Country location of the text.

For those readers who are familiar with previous recordings of Old English, one difference will be noted: the sound represented usually by cg or gg, in words like secgan 'say' and cincges 'kings' is not here pronounced with a voiced affricate (as in modern English hedge) but as a palatal plosive followed by a glide, following Gjertrud Stenbrenden's analysis in English Language and Linguistics (2020).

For a friendly introduction to Old English conversation, see Fritz Stieleke, Nu ge la! A Pictorial Invitation to Old English (2024), available through open access here.