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Difference Between Old English and Middle English

Main Difference

The main difference between Old English and Middle English is that the Old English was spoken during 450 AD- 1100 AD (Mid 5th century to Mid 11th century); in contrast, the Middle English is used during the 1100 AD-1500 AD (late 11th century to late 15th century).

Old English vs. Middle English

Old English is the earliest historical form of the English language known as the Anglo-Saxon language form; on the other hand, Middle English is generated from the Old English after the Norman Conquest. The duration in which Old English was spoken is from 400s to 1100 (mid 5th century to Mid 11th century), whereas the Middle English was in use from the 1100s to about 1400s (late 11th century to the late 15th century).

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The primary influence on Old English was of Latin and Germanic languages; on the flip side, the primary influence on Middle English everyday vocabulary was that of Germanic and French. The word order and the sentence structure in Old English have a freestyle, and the words did not follow a fixed word order; on the other hand, Middle English began to exhibit a fixed word order with and SVO sentence structure. Old English has many inflectional forms of its nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. Middle English tends to reduce these inflectional forms.

Old English is not similar to Modern English; on the flip side, Middle English is somewhat similar to modern English. The grammatical cases of Old English are known to be the dative and instrumental cases; on the contrary, Middle English changed these dative and instrumental cases to prepositional constructions. The Old English inscriptions used a runic system earlier, but later a version of the Latin alphabet replaced this system. The printing press invented in the age of Middle English, and it developed a standard alphabet.

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Comparison Chart

Old EnglishMiddle English
The earliest classification of English language that was spoken during 450 AD- 1100 AD, is Old English.Classification of English language that was used during the 1100 AD-1500 AD is Middle English.
Origin
From North Sea GermanicFrom Wessex
Inflections
Many inflectional forms and endingsSimplified many inflectional forms
Grammatical Case
Dative and instrumental casesPrepositional constructions
Influence
Latin, GermanicGermanic, Old French
Modern English
No similaritySimilar to modern English
Word Order
Not standardizedStandardized

What is Old English?

Old English is the earliest form of the English language. Its use was from the mid 5th century to the mid-12th century. The English language is a widely spoken language worldwide. The three main classifications of the English language are Old English, Middle English, and Modern English. The use of Old English was seen during the early Middle Ages in Britain from 400s through the 1100s. The Anglo-Saxon settlers introduced it to England in the 5th century. There is an influence of Latin and Germanic languages on Old English. The languages related to it are Old Saxon and Old Frisian.

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Old English is further subdivided into three subdivisions, i.e., Prehistoric Old English (450- 650), Early Old English (650- 900), and Late Old English (900-1066). The grammar and vocabulary of Old English had similarities with the modern German. Old English word structure did not follow a fixed order; instead, it had a freestyle. The nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs had various inflectional forms and endings.

There are four primary dialects of Old English based on the tribes in which it was spoken. These dialects are the West Saxon, Northumbrian, Kentish, and Mercian. The first-ever inscription of Old English dates back to the 7th century. Old English alphabet used runic system (writing system used by Germanic peoples from about the 3rd century to the 16th century AD). Later it was replaced by the Latin alphabet in the 9th century.

What is Middle English?

Middle English is the modified form of Old English with a significant change in its grammar, structure, pronunciation, vocabulary, spelling, etc. Its duration is from 1100 AD to 1500 AD (late 11th century to late 15th century), and it started after the Norman quest (1066). Middle English simplified the grammatical features and reduced many grammatical cases. Middle English began to exhibit a fixed word order with and SVO sentence structure. The sentence structure in Middle English is the same as Modern English.

The Germanic influence of Old English remained in Middle English. But some of the words were changed as many words were borrowed from the French (brought by the Norman Conquest). The majority of the word-endings were softened, blended, or disappeared. The primary influence on Middle English everyday vocabulary was that of Germanic and French. The dative and instrumental cases from Old English changed to prepositional constructions in Middle English. Middle English also reduced the inflectional forms and endings of Old English.

A writing system based on the London dialect became the standardized writing system of Middle English. It became standardized with the start of printing in England (1470). Some famous writers who wrote in Middle English are Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer. In the pronunciation of Middle English, all the letters were pronounced, and there was no silent letter. But by the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, the final “e” became silent. Middle English is similar to Modern English, so a speaker of Modern English can somewhat understand Middle English.

Key Differences

  1. Old English was spoken during 450 AD- 1100 AD; in contrast, the Middle English is used during the 1100 AD-1500 AD.
  2. Old English is the Anglo-Saxon language and the earliest historical form of the English language, whereas Middle English generated out of Old English after the Norman Conquest (1066).
  3. Old English developed and originated from North Sea Germanic; on the flip side, Middle English developed from Wessex.
  4. Old English has many inflectional forms of its nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs; on the contrary, Middle English simplified these inflectional forms.
  5. Old English had some silent letters; on the other hand, there was no silent letter in middle English until the time of Chaucer.
  6. The word order and the sentence structure in Old English have freestyle, and the words did not follow a fixed word order; on the other side, Middle English began to exhibit a fixed word order with and SVO sentence structure.
  7. Old English was never standardized; conversely, late Middle English standardized by the 15th century with the start of printing in England.
  8. There were dative and instrumental cases in Old English, while in the Middle English, the dative and instrumental cases were replaced with prepositional constructions.
  9. The primary influence on old English was of Latin and Germanic languages; on the converse, the primary influence on Middle English everyday vocabulary was that of Germanic and French.
  10. Old English does not show any similarity with Modern English; inversely, Middle English is somewhat similar to modern English.

Conclusion

Old English and Middle English are the two different periods of the English language. Both the classifications are different based on the considerable difference in their grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and orthography.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson