Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Old English Language

This is from the intro . . .

Rædwald (pronounced Rad-wald) is an Old English name meaning to 'rule with wisdom.' Throughout these rules you will find lots of Old English words and phrases. Where Old English words are used, you will also find the modern equivalent for ease of use in play.
I'm not a scholar of the Old English language, culture, or history, and Rædwald isn't an historical setting. The Old English words and details will, I hope, add flavour to a game that you should expect to be no more realistic in its depiction of the dark ages, than D&D is in its depiction of the late medieval period.
There is a pronunciation guide in the appendix, and an online search will find examples of spoken Old English, but its usage is primarily for mood. Use what you like, ignore the rest. And if any of you are scholars of the language, I can only apologise in advance for any mistakes in usage.

This is what the language might sound like . . .

I was a bit stumped when someone asked me about pronunciation, as I had very little idea, going just on a feel for OE based on what I'd heard. With no academic background myself all I've been able to do is cobble together a guide based on a few books and various online sources. I'm not sure if that's a legit way to do things so not sure if pronunciation guide will make it to the finished game or just links and book recommendations. Anyway here's what I have . . .

Notes on OE Pronunciation
Of course no one actually knows what Old English sounded like , add to that the fact that dialects, as they do today, vary from region to region, and that the experts don’t always agree on pronunciation you can see we’re in tricky territory, but as this is for a game I don’t think we need worry too much about getting things right. As I said the Old English is more for flavour in the text, than usage at the game table. However, if you do want to pepper your pronunciation with the odd word or two this might help . . .
The six vowels are  a æ e i o u y
In OE the letter Y is always a vowels and never a consonant. Most pronunciation is close to many modern European languages, but not Modern English.
•a as in bath
•e as in set
•é as in say
•i as in bit
•í as in neat
•o as in jot
•ó as in mole
•u as in gut
•ú as in fool
•æ as in rad
•y as in German für
Longer versions of a, æ, and y (using an accent or macron) are the same but held for a longer time.
With diphthongs the vowel is pronounced and then flows into the next vowel so it is like one syllable. For example in modern pronunciation words  such as rune (ru-oon).
The six diphthongs in Old English are: ea, éa, eo, éo, ie, and íe.
ea = eh - ah
éa = ay - ah
eo = eh - o (short o like in pot)
éo = ay - o (short o like in pot)
ie = ih - eh
íe = ee - eh
Consonants are more or less the same as in modern English. However, to make things a little more interesting the pronunciation changes depending on where in the word the letter falls . . .
F at beginning or end of a word  is pronounced f  in middle of word a word it’s v  beside an unvoiced consonant or doubled  it is f.
S at beginning or end of a word  is pronounced S  in middle of word a word it’s z  beside an unvoiced consonant or doubled  it is s.
Sc  is  usually sh as in scield for shield.

Þ or ð at the beginning  or end of word is th as in thin  in the middle of word th as in that  and beside an unvoiced consonant and doubled th as in thin.
H at beginning or end of a word  is h in middle of word it is ch as in Loch.
C is most often pronounced k  unless it is before e and i or after i in which case it is ch as in church
G in mostly is g as in garden but before e and  i, and after i as y as in yellow but in the middle of word gh as in ghamma or ch in Loch
Cg  is the j sound in bridge.
Ng  is always a hard g.
The letters þ and ð are more or less interchangeable.
There are of course exceptions: sc in ascian (to ask) is pronounced sk. The gy- prefix at start of some words is sometimes an alternative spelling of the prefix gie. In this case, it is pronounced with a y sound. The cg in docg (dog) is pronounced with a hard g.
Finally doubled letters sound longer than single letters and all letters are pronounced. So g at start of gnæt (gnat) is pronounced, as are h at start of hwæt (what) and e at end of sunne (sun).


  1. You might try going to Anglo-Saxon Aloud for some great spoken readings.


    Also, I like what you're doing with this blog. I have worked on something similar (Anglo Saxon OSR, but with a skills component), but am finding your material very, very creative and inspirational.

    Another take on the Anglo Saxon world through a GURPS lense is Tiwesdæg Clíewen


    RuneQuest 3 had a Viking Supplement and one of the best sourcebooks would be the Pendragon "Saxons!" book...

    Anyway, it is really great to follow your blog daily and see where you are going with your creation.

    Bēo gesund.

  2. Hullo ~t~ and welcome to the blog. First off thanks a lot for the Anglo-Saxon Aloud link. That is gold. Brilliant. I'm listening to the Battle of Malden (lines 100-229) as I type this. I don't understand more than 1 in a 100 words, but I just love the sound of it. I'm actually contemplating trying to learn OE, not for Redwald, just for fun.

    I'm aware of Saxons! and RQ Vikings, there's also a very good GURPS Vikings supplement, but I'm trying to avoid using other RPG books as source material.

    I saw a post by Kyle Aaron about Tiwesdæg at theRPGSite. I'll have to take another look.

    Thanks again for the Anglo-Saxon Aloud link and for taking the time to read and comment.



  3. Hey, if you're thinking about learning Anglo Saxon you should really check out An Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England by Bruce Mitchell.

    It has a great way of working you into the language without it being work... A great history, culture and all around interesting book about daily life and the beauty of the language.


    Don't buy it new!!! You can usually pick one up for less than $20 that is in good condition... Also, take a look at the book itself at Google Books...


  4. Cheers for the recomendation ~t~. There's a second hand copy at Amazon.co.uk going for £5+P&P so I'll prolly grab that. Cheers.