Anglo-Saxon Minuscule: New Letters

New Letters.

Anglo-Saxon had sounds which were not covered by the Latin alphabet. They had to devise new letters for them.

The letter represented the 'short a' vowel sound as in cat
This is a version of the ligature of the A and E of the diphthong in Caesar .
By the 6th century this was pronounced as a single sound, possibly [e], and often written as an e with a little loop to the left.
There is a version of this in the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Later versions of enlarge this loop, so that the letter again looks like a joined-up version of a and e. The capital, when it comes, is written .
This is from the Benedictional of St elwold, written in Winchester between 970-980. It comes from a rubric (in gold) written in an Artificial Uncial style.
The vowel [y], as in French lune, was represented by Greek g, which sounded much the same. This also appears in Insular Majuscule.
The consonant [q] as in thin was first spelled either with a d or a th, as we spell it today: but eventually they adapted the Half-Uncial d
and put a cross-stroke through its ascender. The resulting letter is called 'eth' by modern scholars. We do not know what the Anglo-Saxons called it.
There was however another alphabet on which they could draw. Runic letters were devised for the Germanic languages, and have letters to match Germanic sounds. They were not intended for writing literature, but for carving in stone, metal, or bone. Two of these letters were adapted into Anglo-Saxon scripts:
The rune wynn (meaning joy) represented the consonantal w.
Clearly the Anglo-Saxons perceived a difference between w and u which the Romans did not find necessary to represent.
The runic letter ('thorn') joined the as a symbol for [q]
In this manuscript, however, only is used. The one appearance of is in the later insertion in line 8, in the abbreviation for t.

Return to Question Page.

Return to Index Page.