Orthography

 

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A few of the letters in Old English texts may be unfamiliar to you.

 

þ and Þ (thorn): In Modern English we represent the sounds at the beginning of the word "the" and end of the word "with" with the digraph "th" ("digraph" is a technical term meaning two letters used to represent one sound). Old English had two separate letters for the "th" sound. The first is written like this: þ . It is called "thorn".

 

ð and Þ (eth): Old English scribes could also represent the "th" sound with the letter ð (the capital letter version looks like a capital D with a short horizontal line cutting the vertical line at the left side of the letter in half: Þ). The letter is called "eth," pronounced so that it rhymes with the first syllable in the word "feather."

 

Thorn and eth are used interchangeably to represent both voiced and unvoiced "th" sounds (the sound at the beginning of "the" is voiced; the sound at the end of "with" is unvoiced).

 

æ and Æ (ash): This letter, called "ash," may be familiar to you from old-fashioned spellings of words like "Encyclopædia." "Æ" in Old English is pronounced the same way as the "a" in the words "bat" or "cat."

 

Below you will find some Modern English words with the "th" sound replaced by "eth" or "thorn" and some of the "a" sounds replaced with "ash."

 

Þat = that

ðousand = thousand

sixþ = sixth

þin = thin

wiðer = wither

bæckground = background

Æppetite= appetite

Æt = at

hæmmer = hammer

Æcknowledge = acknowledge

Informational note: In addition to thorn, eth, and ash, there were a few additional manuscript letters used in Old English that are unfamiliar to Modern English speakers. A letter called "yogh" (the name is pronounced so that it rhymes with the Scottish word "loch") is pronounced like Modern English "y" or "g" depending upon the word in which it is found; it is written like a cursive "z" or "g."

A letter which looks like Modern English "p," called "wynn," is pronounced like Modern English "w."

"Tyronian Note" is a common medieval abbreviation for "and." The letter looks like the number seven set low on the line. A few editions of Anglo-Saxon texts use Tyronian Note, but most expand the abbreviation to 'and' or 'ond.'

 

While yogh and wynn are found in Old English manuscripts, modern editors replace them with their Modern English equivalents, while they leave "thorn," "eth," and "ash" in place. The reasons for this inconsistency are bound up in the early history of Anglo-Saxon studies and the preferences of the editors who made the first print editions . If you decide to learn about paleography, the study of ancient writing, or work directly with Anglo-Saxon manuscripts or facsimiles, you will have to learn to recognize "yogh," "wynn" and also special forms of the letters "s," "r," and "f." But most Old English texts are edited so that the only unfamiliar letters printed are "thorn," "eth," and "ash."

 

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