Old Saxon, also dubbed Old Low German in scholarship, is another ancient Germanic language for which I have affection, in part owing to its closeness to Old English/Anglo-Saxon, with which it is roughly contemporaneous in history. Indeed, from Old English spoken on the British Isles to Old Saxon spoken in mainland Europe in the area of what is now northern Germany, a linguistic continuum exists, marking off these languages from Old High German (OHG) with a set of sound changes in OHG leaving a clear mark of distinction in its modern descendant- standard German. Looking at the data below, one should compare with the English cognates, and it will be seen that like Old Saxon, English is similarly unaffected by these shifts in High German, thus placing English and Old Saxon on the same spectrum.
|High German Sound Change||Old Saxon||Modern German|
|v>b||geḅan [pronounced 'gevan']||geben|
As far as morphology, syntax and vocabulary go, Old Saxon is very similar to Old English and one need not say too much. For instance, seven recognisable strong verb classes according to variation in the root vowel in tense and form (gradation/ablaut), generally four distinct noun and adjective cases (nominative, accusative, genitive and dative) with traces of the instrumental case, and so on. A small sample of comparative data points below.
|Old Saxon||Old English|
|ik ('I')||ic (pronounced like 'itch')|
The Old Saxon extant corpus of literature is much smaller than Old English. The main surviving text is the Heliand ['Saviour', from the Old Saxon verb hēlian- 'to heal/save'] epic of distinctly Christian flavour. Of greater interest to me are some very minor incantations/spells presented and translated below.
1. Against Spurihalz [some kind of lameness in horses]- 9th century CE?
Primum pater noster. Visc flōt aftar themo uuatare, verbrustun sīna vetherun. Thō gihēlida ina ūse druhtin. Thē selvo druhtin, thie thena visc gihēlda, thie gihēle that hers theru spurihelti! Amen
"First 'Our Father'. A fish floated along the water, its gills burst. Then our Lord [Christ] healed it. The same Lord, who healed the fish: may he heal the horse of the spurihalz! Amen."
"primum pater noster"- Latin phrase.
"visc"- 'fisc' (cf. Old English: fisc). Old Saxon shows considerable spelling variation in representation of key phonemes. Thus, as Rauch ("The Old Saxon Language"- p. 114) points out, phoneme /f/ has two allophones: [f] and [v]. Nonetheless, initial [f] has at least three different representations in the main extant literature: f-, u- and uu-.
"themo"- Dative singular of the masculine/neuter of the definite article 'the/thie' (neuter: 'that'). Immediately recognisable by comparison with Modern English forms. The definite article forms can also function as relative pronouns, as can be seen later in the text.
"uuatare"- Initial [wa-] represented as 'uua-'. cf. 'uueg' ('path/way') where initial [we-] represented as 'uue-'.
"gihēlida"- Old Saxon prefix gi- is cognate with Old English ge- is normally used to indicate past participle form. Thus, 'bindan' (bind), past participle gibundan, cf. Old English bindan and gebunden (both are Class III strong verbs following the same vowel gradation/ablaut pattern). Nonetheless, gi-/ge- also comes to be used as a verbal prefix to other forms for emphasis, which is the case here.
"druhtin"- cf. Old English dryhten.
"selvo"- cf. Old English/Modern English 'self'- used in the sense of 'same' (cf. Latin idem). The inflectional form here is weak masculine nominative singular, which follows the grammatical rule also observed in Old English whereby attributive adjectives after a definite article take weak forms (cf. Old English se gōda cyning- 'the good king'- vs. ic beo gōd cyning- 'I am (a) good king).
2. Against Worms
Gang ūt, nesso, mid nigun nessiklīnon, ūt fana themo marge an that bēn, fan themo bēne an that flēsg, ūt fan themo flesgke an thia hūd, ūt fan thera hūd an thesa strāla! Drohtin, uuerthe sō!
"Go out, worm, with nine little worms, out from the mark onto the bone, from the bone onto the flesh, out from the flesh onto the skin, out from the skin onto this arrow! Lord, make it so!"
"Gang"- cf. Old English gangan.
"nigun"- cf. Old English nigon ('nine')
"nessiklīnon"- Compound word, of 'ness-' ('worm') and klīn ('small'), cf. German klein.
"bēn"- cf. Old English bān. Likewise the ē/ā contrast between Old Saxon and Old English is seen in Class I strong verb gradation: grīpan ('grasp') to preterite singular grēp vs. Old English bīdan ('wait') to preterite singular bād.
"drohtin"- cf. "druhtin" spelling variation in the first incantation.
3. Against Catarrh
Crist uuarth giuund
thō uuarth hē hēlgi ōk gisund
that bluod forstuond
sō duo thū bluod!
Amen ter, pater noster ter.
"Christ was wounded. Then he was healed and healthy. The blood stopped. So do thus, thou blood. Amen 3x, 'Our Father' 3x."
"uuarth"- 'warth' from werþan ('be/become'), Class III strong verb. cf. Old English weorþan, of same verb category.
"giuund"- "giwund" cf. wounded
"thū"- cf. Old English þū and Early Modern English thou
"bluod/forstuond/duo"- representation of long ō by sequence uo. cf. Old English blōd and English stood and do.
"Amen ter, pater noster ter"- Latin.
NB: All these examples taken from Rauch's "The Old Saxon Language" (p. 251).