Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Englishes, Olde and Nu

It’s not uncommon for students to protest that they aren’t used to “old English,” that it’s too hard. I frequently hear this while teaching Shakespeare, Poe, Lord of the Flies, or anything else written prior to 1985. I try to explain that everything I’ve taught is modern English, but today, I thought it would be fun to show them.

When I was student teaching, I learned how to read the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English, and I had an overhead with some side-by-side comparisons, but I thought it would more powerful to use something the students would likely be familiar with. While browsing Wikipedia, I found the Lord’s Prayer in Old English:

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum,
Si þin nama gehalgod.
To becume þin rice,
gewurþe ðin willa, on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
and forgyf us ure gyltas,
swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum.
and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele. soþlice.

I figured most of them would be familiar with the modern version of this, so I hunted it down in Middle English to show the transition, first finding a version here, and then discovering Words in English, which had already done my work for me:

Oure fadir that art in heuenes,
halewid be thi name;
thi kyndoom come to;
be thi wille don in erthe as in heuene:
gyue to us this dai oure breed ouer othir substaunce;
and forgyue to us oure dettis, as we forgyuen to oure gettouris;
and lede us not in to temptacioun, but delyuere us fro yuel. Amen.

The modern version comes from my memory:

Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
They Kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

I spent a lot of time staring at this, comparing words and lines, fascinated by the evolution of this wonderful living language and wondering where it would go next. I often joke that I’m teaching a dying language, but it’s probably just evolving. Though, hopefully, not into something as utilitarian and artless as this:

ur spshl.
we want wot u want
&urth2b like hvn
giv us food
&4giv us
lyk we 4giv uvaz.
don’t test us! save us! ok

I shared all this with my kids, attempting to pronounce the Middle English as best I could based on what I learned from Canterbury Tales, and they thought that was cool. They enjoyed seeing the Old English, and sadly, the text message version made perfect sense.

And, now that I think about it, I realize I’ve written about the texting of literature and its effect on language before.


  1. James,

    Thanks for the link, I haven’t however been able to find the original source of the txt lords prayer (it isn’t my work). I’m linking back to this post (hope that’s ok) as it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the English translation of the Lords Prayer.

  2. We’ll need more than a prayer if language keeps “evolving” in the way you suggest.

    Fascinating entry.

  3. Youthblog, Link away! And thanks, too.

    George, I’m thinking devolving might be the better word.

  4. The other day during an IM session with my 16-yr-old sister, she remarked, “u spl so wel”. I responded, “Yes I do, and I use proper punctuation, too.” I wonder what business documents will look like in 15 years when that generation is in charge of their generation (hee hee).

  5. Don’t U mean gnR8shun?

Comments are closed.

© 2018 Coyote Mercury

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: