The Info List - Old Saxon

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Old Saxon, also known as Old Low German, was a Germanic language
Germanic language
and the earliest recorded form of Low German
Low German
(spoken nowadays in Northern Germany, the northeastern Netherlands, southern Denmark, the Americas and parts of Eastern Europe). It is a West Germanic language, closely related to the Anglo-Frisian
languages.[2] It has been documented from the 8th century until the 12th century, when it gradually evolved into Middle Low German. It was spoken throughout modern northwestern Germany, primarily in the coastal regions and in the eastern Netherlands
by Saxons, a Germanic tribe who inhabited the region of Saxony. It partially shares Anglo-Frisian's (Old Frisian, Old English) Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law
Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law
which sets it apart from Low Franconian and Irminonic languages, such as Dutch, Luxembourgish
and German. The grammar of Old Saxon
Old Saxon
was fully inflected with five grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental), three grammatical numbers (singular, plural, and dual) and three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter). The dual forms occurred in the first and second persons only and referred to groups of two. Historically, Old Saxon
Old Saxon
and Old Dutch
Old Dutch
were considered to be distinct dialects of an otherwise one unitary language rather than two languages, primarily because they were linked through a dialect continuum spanning modern Netherlands
and Germany. However, while these two languages both shared the same historical origins and some very similar writing styles, Old Saxon
Old Saxon
shows a slightly reduced morphology compared to Old Dutch, which kept some grammatical distinctions that Old Saxon
Old Saxon
abandoned. There are also various differences in their phonological evolutions, Old Saxon
Old Saxon
being classified as an Ingvaeonic
language whereas Old Dutch
Old Dutch
is one of the Istvaeonic


1 Characteristics

1.1 Relation with other West Germanic languages 1.2 Relation to Middle Low German

2 Phonology

2.1 Early developments 2.2 Consonants 2.3 Vowels 2.4 Diphthongs

3 Grammar

3.1 Morphology 3.2 Nouns 3.3 Verbs 3.4 Syntax

4 Orthography 5 Literature 6 Text sample 7 See also 8 Notes 9 Bibliography

9.1 Sources 9.2 General 9.3 Lexicons 9.4 External history

10 External links

Characteristics[edit] Relation with other West Germanic languages[edit] In the Middle Ages, a dialect continuum existed between Old Dutch
Old Dutch
and Old Saxon; this was only recently interrupted by the simultaneous dissemination of standard languages within each nation and the dissolution of folk dialects. Despite sharing some features, a number of disparities separate Old Saxon, Old English, and Old Dutch; one such difference is the Old Dutch
Old Dutch
utilization of -a as its plural a-stem noun ending, while Old Saxon
Old Saxon
and Old English
Old English
employ -as or -os. However, it seems that some Middle Dutch took the Old Saxon
Old Saxon
a-stem ending from some Middle Low German
Middle Low German
dialects, as modern Dutch still shows the plural ending -s added to certain words. Old Saxon
Old Saxon
(or Old Low German) probably evolved primarily from Ingvaeonic
dialects in the West Germanic branch of Proto-Germanic
in the 5th century. However, Old Saxon, even if it is considered as an Ingvaeonic
language, is not a pure Ingvaeonic
dialect as Old Frisian and Old English
Old English
are, the two latter sharing some other Ingvaeonic characteristics, like the great vowel shift that took place in both Old English
Old English
and Old Frisian. This, plus the large number of different forms that the language took, often showing different West-Germanic features, led some philologists to mistakenly think that Old Dutch
Old Dutch
and Old Saxon
Old Saxon
were variations of the same language, and that Old Saxon
Old Saxon
was indeed an Istvaeonic
language.[3] Relation to Middle Low German[edit] Old Saxon
Old Saxon
naturally evolved into Middle Low German
Middle Low German
during the 12th century, but the evolution from Old Saxon
Old Saxon
towards Middle Low German was long and uninterrupted – it took about 200 years to evolve the language. However, 1150 marks the inceptive period of profuse Low German writing wherein the language is patently different from Old Saxon. One of the most striking differences between Middle Low German
Middle Low German
and Old Saxon is in a feature of speech known as vowel reduction; that also took place in Middle Dutch and Middle English. While round vowels in word-final syllables were rather frequent in Old Saxon, in Middle Low German, such are leveled to a schwa. Thus, such Old Saxon
Old Saxon
words like gisprekan (spoken) or dagô (days' – gen. pl.) became gespreken and daghe, dage. Phonology[edit] Main article: Old Saxon
Old Saxon
phonology Early developments[edit] Old Saxon
Old Saxon
did not participate in the High German consonant shift, and thus preserves stop consonants p, t, k that have been shifted in Old High German to various fricatives and affricates. The Germanic diphthongs ai, au consistently develop into long vowels ē, ō, whereas in Old High German
Old High German
they appear either as ei, ou or ē, ō depending on the following consonant. Old Saxon, alone of the West Germanic languages
Germanic languages
except for Frisian, consistently preserves Germanic -j- after a consonant, e.g. hēliand "savior" (Old High German: heilant, Old English: hǣlend, Gothic: háiljands). Germanic umlaut, when it occurs with short a, is inconsistent, e.g. hebbean or habbian "to have" (Old English: habban). This feature was carried over into the descendant-language of Old Saxon, Middle Low German, where e.g. the adjective krank (sick, ill) had the comparative forms krenker and kranker. Apart from the e, however, the umlaut is not marked in writing. Consonants[edit] The table below lists the consonants of Old Saxon. Phonemes written in parentheses represent allophones and are not independent phonemes.

Old Saxon
Old Saxon
consonant phonemes

Labial Dental/ Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal

Nasal m n

Plosive voiceless p t


voiced b d

ɣ (x)

Fricative sibilant

s̺ (z)

non-sibilant f (v) θ (ð)



l j w




The voiceless spirants /f/, /θ/, and /s/ gain voiced allophones ([v], [ð], and [z]) when between vowels. This change is only faithfully reflected in writing for [v] (represented with letters such as ⟨ƀ⟩ and ⟨u⟩). The other two allophones continued to be written as before. Fricatives were devoiced again word-finally. Beginning in the later Old Saxon
Old Saxon
period, stops became devoiced word-finally as well. Most consonants could be geminated. Notably, geminated /v/ gave /bb/, and geminated /ɣ/ probably gave /ɡɡ/. Geminated /h/ resulted in /xx/. Germanic *h is retained as [x] in these positions and thus merges with devoiced /ɣ/.


Old Saxon
Old Saxon

Front Back

unrounded rounded

short long short long short long

Close ɪ iː (ʏ) (yː) ʊ uː

Close-mid (e) eː


Open-mid ɛ ɛː (œ) (œː) ɔ ɔː

Near-open (æ) (æː)

Open ɑ ɑː


Long vowels were rare in unstressed syllables and mostly occurred due to suffixation or compounding.


Old Saxon
Old Saxon


Opening io  (ia  ie)

Height-harmonic iu


The closing diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/ sometimes occur in texts (especially in Genesis), probably under the influence of Franconian or High German dialects, where they replace Old Saxon
Old Saxon
developments /ɛː/ and /ɔː/ (which evolved from Proto-Germanic
/ai/ and /au/). The situation for the front opening diphthongs is somewhat unclear in some texts. Words written with io in the Heliand, the most extensive record of Old Saxon
Old Saxon
writing, are often found written variably with ia or even ie in most other texts, notably the later ones. The diphthong eventually merges into /eː/ in almost every Middle Low German dialect. There also existed 'long' diphthongs /oːu/, /aːu/ and /eːu/. These were, however, treated as two-syllable sequences of a long vowel followed by a short one, not proper diphthongs.

Grammar[edit] Main article: Old Saxon
Old Saxon
grammar Morphology[edit] Unlike modern English, but like Old English, Old Saxon
Old Saxon
is an inflected language, rich in morphological diversity. It kept several distinct cases from Proto-Germanic: the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative and (vestigially in oldest texts) instrumental. Old Saxon
Old Saxon
also had three grammatical numbers (singular, plural, and dual) and three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter). The dual forms occurred in the first and second persons only and referred to groups of two. Nouns[edit] Old Saxon
Old Saxon
nouns were inflected in very different ways following their classes. Here are the endings for dag, "day" an a-stem masculine noun:

dag 'day' m.

Case Singular Plural

Nominative dag dagos

Accusative dag dagos

Genitive dages, -as dago

Dative dage, -a dagum, -un

At the end of the Old Saxon
Old Saxon
period, distinctions between noun classes began to disappear, and endings from one were often transferred to the other declension, and vice versa. This happened to be a large process, and the most common noun classes started to cause the least represented to disappear. As a result, in Middle Low German, only the former weak n-stem and strong a-stem classes remained. These two noun inflection classes started being added to words not only following the historical belonging of this word, but also following the root of the word. Verbs[edit] The Old Saxon
Old Saxon
verb inflection system reflects an intermediate stage between Old English
Old English
and Old Dutch, and further Old High German. Unlike Old High German
Old High German
and Old Dutch, but similarly to Old English, it did not preserve the three different verb endings in the plural, all featured as -ad (also -iad or -iod following the different verb inflection classes). Like Old Dutch, it had only two classes of weak verb, with only a few relic verbs of the third weak class (namely four verbs: libbian, seggian, huggian and hebbian). This table sums up all the seven Old Saxon
Old Saxon
strong verb classes and the three weak verb classes:

Strong verbs Weak verbs

Conjugation Pronoun 'to ride' 'to fly' 'to help' 'to break' 'to speak' 'to travel' 'to wield' 'to deem' 'to declare' 'to say'

Infinitive rīdan fliogan helpan brekan sprekan faran waldan dōmian mahlon seggian

Present indicative

ik rīdu fliugu hilpu briku spriku faru waldu dōmiu mahlo(n) seggiu

thū rīdis fliugis hilpis brikis sprikis feris weldis dōmis mahlos sages

hē/it/siu rīdid fliugid hilpid brikid sprikid ferid weldid dōmid mahlod saged

wī/gī/sia rīdad fliogad helpad brekad sprekad farad waldad dōmiad mahliod seggiad

Past indicative

ik rēd flōg halp brak sprak fōr wēld dōmda mahloda sagda

thū ridi flugi hulpi brāki sprāki fōri wēldi dōmdes mahlodes sagdes

hē/it/siu rēd flōg halp brak sprak fōr wēld dōmda mahloda sagda

wī/gī/sia ridun flugun hulpun brākun sprākun fōrun wēldun dōmdun mahlodun sagdun

Present subjunctive

ik rīde flioge helpe breke spreke fare walde dōmie mahlo seggie

thū rīdes flioges helpes brekes sprekes fares waldes dōmies mahlos seggies

hē/it/siu rīde flioge helpe breke spreke fare walde dōmie mahlo seggie

wī/gī/sia rīden fliogen helpen breken spreken faren walden dōmien mahlion seggien

Past subjunctive

ik ridi flugi hulpi brāki sprāki fōri wēldi dōmdi mahlodi sagdi

thū ridis flugis hulpis brākis sprākis fōris wēldis dōmdis mahlodis sagdis

hē/it/siu ridi flugi hulpi brāki sprāki fōri wēldi dōmdi mahlodi sagdi

wī/gī/sia ridin flugin hulpin brākin sprākin fōrin wēldin dōmdin mahlodin sagdin

Imperative Singular rīd fliog help brek sprek far wald dōmi mahlo sage

Plural rīdad fliogad helpad brekad sprekad farad waldad dōmiad mahliod seggiad

Present participle rīdandi fliogandi helpandi brekandi sprekandi farandi waldandi dōmiandi mahlondi seggiandi

Past participle (gi)ridan (gi)flogan (gi)holpan (gi)brokan (gi)sprekan (gi)faran (gi)waldan (gi)dōmid (gi)mahlod (gi)sagd

It should be noticed that the third weak verb class includes only four verbs (namely libbian, seggian, huggian and hebbian); it is a remnant of an older and larger class that was kept in Old High German. Syntax[edit] Old Saxon
Old Saxon
syntax is mostly different from that of English. Some were simply consequences of the greater level of nominal and verbal inflection – e.g., word order was generally freer. In addition:

The default word order was verb-second, very close to that of modern Dutch or modern German. There was no do-support in questions and negatives. Multiple negatives could stack up in a sentence and intensify each other (negative concord), which is not always the case in modern English, modern Dutch, or modern German. Sentences with subordinate clauses of the type "when X, Y" (e.g. "When I got home, I ate dinner.") did not use a wh-type conjunction, but rather used a th-type correlative conjunction (e.g. thô X, thô Y in place of "when X, Y"). The wh-type conjunctions were used only as interrogative pronouns and indefinite pronouns. Similarly, wh- forms were not used as relative pronouns (as in "the man who saw me" or "the car which I bought"). Instead, an indeclinable word the was used, often in conjunction with the definite article (which was declined for case, number and gender).

Orthography[edit] Old Saxon
Old Saxon
comes down in a number of different manuscripts whose spelling systems sometimes differ markedly. In this section, only the letters used in normalized versions of the Heliand
will be kept, and the sounds modern scholars have traditionally assigned to these letters. Where spelling deviations in other texts may point to significant pronunciation variants, this will be indicated. In general, the spelling of Old Saxon
Old Saxon
corresponds quite well to that of the other ancient Germanic languages, such as Old High German
Old High German
or Gothic.

c and k were both used for [k]. However, it seems that, as in other West-Germanic dialects, when [k] was followed by i or e, it had the pronunciation /ts/ or /kʲsʲ/.[4] The letters c and x were preferred for the palatalisations, k and even sometimes ch being rather used before u, o or a for /k/ (kuning for [kʏnɪŋk] 'king', modern köning ; crûci for [kryːtsi] ; forsachistu for [forsakistuː]). g represented [ɣ] or its allophone [ɡ]: brengian [brɛŋɡjan] 'to bring', seggian [sɛɡɡjan] 'to say', wege [wɛɣe] 'way' (dative). g seems, at least in a few dialects, to have had the pronunciation [j] or [ʝ] at the beginning of a word, only when followed by i or e. Thus we find giār [jaːr] 'year' and even gēr [jeːr] 'year', the latter betraying a strong Old Frisian influence. h represents [h] and its allophone [x]: holt [hɔlt] 'wood', naht [naxt] 'night' (mod. nacht). i is used for both the vowels [ɪ] and [iː] and the consonant [j]: ik [ɪk] 'I' (mod. ick, ik), iār [jaːr] 'year'. qu and kw always represents [kw]: quāmun [kwaːmʊn] 'they came'. s represented [s], and between two vowels also [z]. th is used to indicate [θ]: thōhtun [θoːxtun] 'they thought'. ð is used for [ð], occasionally also written dh. u represented the vowels [ʊ] and [uː] or the consonant [v] which was usually written with ƀ.[citation needed] uu was normally used to represent [w], predating the letter w. z only appeared in a few texts due to Old High German
Old High German


excerpt from the German Historical Museum

Only a few texts survive, predominantly baptismal vows the Saxons
were required to perform at the behest of Charlemagne. The only literary texts preserved are Heliand
and fragments of the Old Saxon
Old Saxon

Heliand Beda
homily (Homilie Bedas) Credo (Abrenunciatio diaboli et credo) → Old Saxon
Old Saxon
baptismal vow. Old Saxon Genesis
Old Saxon Genesis
fragments Essener Heberegister Old Saxon Baptismal Vow (German: Sächsisches Taufgelöbnis) Penitentiary (altsächsische Beichte, altwestfälische Beichte) Trierer Blutsegen ( de.) Spurihalz (Wiener Pferdsegen) ( de.) Wurmsegen (Wiener Wurmsegen) ( de). Psalms commentary (Gernroder Psalmenkommentar)

Text sample[edit] A poetic version of the Lord's Prayer
Lord's Prayer
in the form of the traditional Germanic alliterative verse is given in Old Saxon
Old Saxon
below as it appears in the Heliand.

Line Original Translation

[1] Fadar usa firiho barno, Father of us, the sons of men,

[2] thu bist an them hohon himila rikea, You are in the high heavenly kingdom,

[3] geuuihid si thin namo uuordo gehuuilico, Blessed be Your name in every word [special word],

[4] Cuma thin craftag riki. May Your mighty kingdom come.

[5] UUerða thin uuilleo oƀar thesa werold alla, May [become] Your will be done over all this world,

[6] so sama an erðo, so thar uppa ist Just the same on earth, as [just like] it is up there

[7] an them hohon himilo rikea. in the high heavenly kingdom [in the kingdom of the heavens].

[8] Gef us dag gehuuilikes rad, drohtin the godo, Give us support [advices/counsels] each day, good Chieftain [Chieftain/Lord the Good],

[9] thina helaga helpa, endi alat us, heƀenes uuard, Your holy help, and pardon us, Protector [Lord/Ruler] of Heaven,

[10] managoro mensculdio, [of] our many crimes,

[11] al so uue oðrum mannum doan. just as we do to other human beings [to other men].

[12] Ne lat us farledean leða uuihti Do not let evil little creatures lead us off [cause us to leave]

[13] so forð an iro uuileon, so uui uuirðige sind, to do [to go on with] their will, as we deserve,

[14] ac help us uuiðar allun uƀilon dadiun. but help us [to fight?] against all evil deeds.

See also[edit]

Middle Ages
Middle Ages
portal Germany
portal languages portal

Old Saxon
Old Saxon
Genesis Old Saxon
Old Saxon
Baptismal Vow Heliand Middle Low German Low German Ingvaeonic
nasal spirant law


^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Old Saxon". Glottolog
3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.  ^ Old Saxon
Old Saxon
language at Encyclopædia Britannica ^ Helfenstein, Jacob (1901). A Comparative Grammar of the Teutonic Languages. Stanford University Library. ISBN 1440056625.  ^ Lasch 1914, §339

Bibliography[edit] Sources[edit]

Galleé, Johan Hendrik (1910). Altsächsische Grammatik. Halle: Max Niemeyer.  Lasch, Agathe (1914). Mittelniederdeutsche Grammatik. Halle: Max Niemeyer. 


Euler, Wolfram (2013). Das Westgermanische - von der Herausbildung im 3. bis zur Aufgliederung im 7. Jahrhundert - Analyse und Rekonstruktion (West Germanic - from its Emergence in the 3rd up until its Dissolution in the 7th Century CE - Analyses and Reconstruction). 244 p., in German with English summary, London/Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-9812110-7-8. Rauch, Irmengard (1992). The Old Saxon
Old Saxon
Language. Berkeley Models of Grammar: Peter Lang Publishing.  Ringe, Donald R. and Taylor, Ann (2014). The Development of Old English - A Linguistic History of English, vol. II, 632p. ISBN 978-0199207848. Oxford. Holthausen, Ferdinand (1923). Altsächsisches Elementarbuch. Ulan Press. 


Tiefenbach, Heinrich (2010). Altsächsisches Handwörterbuch / A Concise Old Saxon
Old Saxon
Dictionary. De Gruyter.  Gerhard Köbler: Altsächsisches Wörterbuch, (3. Auflage) 2000ff. ("An Old Saxon
Old Saxon

External history[edit]

Robinson, Orrin W. (1947). Old English
Old English
and its closest relatives. Stanford: Stanford University Press.  Helfenstein, Jacob (1901). Comparative Grammar of the Teutonic languages. Oxford: Forgotten Books.  Meidinger, Heinrich (1923). Vergleichendes Etymologisches Wörterbuch Der Gothisch-Teutonischen Mundarten. Ulan Press.  Schade, Oskar (1923). Altdeutsches Lesebuch. Ulan Press.  Ammon, Hermann (1922). Repetitorium der deutschen sprache, gotisch, althochdeutsch, altsächsisch. Michigan: University of Michigan Library. 

External links[edit]

Old Saxon
Old Saxon
test of at Wikimedia Incubator

Look up Old Saxon
Old Saxon
in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

For a list of words relating to Old Saxon, see the Old Saxon
Old Saxon
language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Old Saxon.

Einführung in das Altsächsische (An Introduction to Old Saxon) by Roland Schuhmann (in German); copy at the Internet Archive Galleé, Johan Hendrik (1910). Altsächsische Grammatik. Halle: Max Niemeyer.  (at the Internet Archive)

v t e

Philology of Germanic languages

Language subgroups

North East West — Elbe Weser-Rhine North Sea

Northwest Gotho-Nordic South


Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic
grammar Germanic parent language

Historical languages


Proto-Norse Old Norse Old Swedish Old Gutnish Norn Greenlandic Norse Old Norwegian Middle Norwegian


Gothic Crimean Gothic Vandalic Burgundian


Old Saxon Middle Low German Old High German Middle High German Frankish Old Dutch Middle Dutch Old Frisian Middle Frisian Old English Middle English Early Scots Middle Scots Lombardic

Modern languages

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Diachronic features

Grimm's law Verner's law Holtzmann's law Sievers' law Kluge's law Germanic substrate hypothesis West Germanic gemination High German consonant shift Germanic a-mutation Germanic umlaut Germanic spirant law Ingvaeonic
nasal spirant law Great Vowel Shift

Synchronic features

Germanic verb Germanic strong verb Germanic weak verb Preterite-present verb Grammatischer Wechsel Indo-European ablaut

Language histories

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