Here we have a reading of manuscript 140 (MS140), Luke, Chapter 2 from the Christian New Testament (the Christmas story, from Luke’s Gospel.). The manuscript is held at Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, and Cambridge. This is the earliest known continuous translations of the gospels into English, and dates from the 11th century CE. The language is Old English, which is a west-Germanic language, and was spoken in England from the mid 5th century, until the language shift to Middle English after the Norman conquest of 1066.
As always when dealing with dead languages, the pronunciation cannot be determined conclusively, and has been a source of debate amongst scholars for years. When dealing with such issues, scholars look at a number of factors; the pronunciation of the modern derivatives of the language in question, and the pronunciation of the modern derivatives of languages that have evolved from other ancient languages that were directly related to the language being studied, or even languages that evolved from earlier shared roots. It’s rather complicated, and way above my level of knowledge.
In any case, enjoy.
In any case, enjoy.
**Also, can I please say that this post is not about religion, it is about language, and language development. When discussing medieval or pre-medieval language, particularly of Western Europe, much of the surviving manuscripts are religious in nature. If we could do each other the courtesy of not engaging in religious debate in the discussion: that is irrelevant to the purpose of this post.
For the Nerds:
You’ll note that in the written text there are a number of letters that no longer exist in the English language (but remain in use in other Germanic languages, such as Icelandic and Faroese). Old English predates these mentioned languages; the origins of these letters, and the sounds that they produce, date back even further, beyond proto-Norse, and into Proto-Germanic.
The main characters that may be unfamiliar to modern English speakers are two consonants, and a ligature.
Firstly, the ligature, which may be familiar to some; it is commonly called Ash (or æsc). Its major case form is Æ, and the miniscule case æ. This is recognisable in the word ‘encyclopædia’. Understandably, the sound that is rendered is part way between ‘a’ and ‘e’. Old English did, however, have both long and short vowels; the difference is denoted by the use of a diacritic, either a macron (a horizontal line above the letter), or an acute (like in French). In this text, a macron is used.
Then there is the letter ‘thorn’. This obsolete letter is pronounced as a ‘th”, as in ‘thing’. (It’s correctly referred to as a voiceless dental fricative). Major is Þ and miniscule is þ.
The letter ‘eth’ is similar. It’s a voiced dental fricative, sounding like the ‘th’ in father. Major is Ð, miniscule is ð.
One of the best secular writings of the Old English language is ‘Beowulf’.
The text and translation is rather easy to find on the net. Finding audio of it is harder…There are a number of videos, but usually only the opening chapter, or, multiple versions in modern English. Google away; if you can find complete audio in Old English, let me know!