"A feature of Old English that would quickly become apparent to a modern reader is the rarity of those words derived from Latin and the absence of those from French which form so large a part of our present vocabulary." Baugh and Cable (1993: 53)

The word-stock of Old English was almost totally Germanic. Many of the Latin loans that did exist (e.g.: "street" from Latin strata via "paved road"; "wine" from Latin vinum) were continental borrowings that had been absorbed into the language prior to the migration into the British Isles. However, after the Norman Conquest, around 85% of the OE vocabulary disappeared largely being replaced by loans from Latin and French. Those features that have survived into modern English include, inter alia, conjunctions, pronouns, prepositions and words that which convey basic concepts. Some examples of the last are provided by Baugh and Cable (1993):

mann man
cild child
weall wall
mete meat / food
fugul fowl / bird
strang strong
etan eat
drincan drink


It is easy to see the resemblance to modern English in the above but other words have come down to us in a more contracted form e.g.:



Other OE words while appearing familiar to the modern eye had totally different meanings e.g.:

OE Meaning Modern English
piece, bit bread
joy dream
time tide
sellan give sell

After Pyles and Algeo (1993)


In the general absence of loan words as mentioned above new concepts would be described by resort to compounding, i.e. words would be joined together. For example:

Compound Meaning
"book - hoard" = library
"new-farer" = stranger
"against-fighter" = enemy
"dear-worth" = precious
folcriht "folk-right" = common law


However, as noted by Leith (1996: 113), "Old English words are often retained in specialized varieties of English such as regional dialects." Yorkshire dialect is of course no exception.



Yorkshire Dialect words of Old English origin

The following Yorkshire dialect words exemplify the legacy of OE:

Dialect word Standard English Old English
baht without be-utan
brant steep brant
claht dishcloth clt
clemmed thirsty, starved beclemman
daft silly, foolish gedæfte ("mild, meek")
fell knock down fellan
fettle fix, deal with fetel
grave dig grafan
greet cry greotan ("weep")
neb nose nebb
oxter armpit oxta
rops entrails, guts rop
sam gather, pick up samnian
shift move sciftan
shippon cowshed scypen
spelk splinter spelc
spew vomit spwan
starved very cold steorfan ("suffer intensely, die")
sup drink supan
wed marry weddian ("to pledge")
yon that, there eon




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Baugh, A.C. and Cable, T. (1993) A History of the English Language, Fourth Edition, London: Routledge.

Crystal, D. (1995) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hughes, G. (2000) A History of English Words, Oxford: Blackwell.

Kellett, A. (1994) The Yorkshire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore, Otley: Smith Settle.

Leith, D. (1996) The Origins of English. In Graddol, D, Leith, D. and Swann, J. (1996) English history, diversity and change, London: Routledge.

Mitchell, B. and Robinson, F.C. (1968) A Guide to Old English, Second Edition, Oxford: Blackwell.

Paynter, D., Upton, C. and Widdowson, J. D. A. (1997) Yorkshire Words Today: A Glossary of Regional Dialect, Sheffield: The Yorkshire Dialect Society and The National Centre for English Cultural Tradition, The University of Sheffield.

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Wakelin, M. F. (1977) English Dialects: An Introduction, London: The Athlone Press.