Old English or Anglo-Saxon is the earliest historical form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers probably in the mid 5th century, Old English developed from a set of Anglo-Frisian or North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes traditionally known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. As the Anglo-Saxons became dominant in England, their language replaced the languages of Roman Britain, Common Brittonic, a Celtic language, Old English had four main dialects, associated with particular Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish and West Saxon. It was West Saxon that formed the basis for the standard of the later Old English period, although the dominant forms of Middle. The speech of eastern and northern parts of England was subject to strong Old Norse influence due to Scandinavian rule, Old English is one of the West Germanic languages, and its closest relatives are Old Frisian and Old Saxon. Like other old Germanic languages, it is different from Modern English. Old English grammar is similar to that of modern German, nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs have many inflectional endings and forms. The oldest Old English inscriptions were using a runic system. Old English was not static, and its usage covered a period of 700 years, from the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century to the late 11th century, some time after the Norman invasion. While indicating that the establishment of dates is a process, Albert Baugh dates Old English from 450 to 1150, a period of full inflections. Perhaps around 85 per cent of Old English words are no longer in use, Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of Ingvaeonic dialects from the 5th century. It came to be spoken over most of the territory of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which became the Kingdom of England and this included most of present-day England, as well as part of what is now southeastern Scotland, which for several centuries belonged to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Other parts of the island – Wales and most of Scotland – continued to use Celtic languages, Norse was also widely spoken in the parts of England which fell under Danish law. Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century, the oldest surviving text of Old English literature is Cædmons Hymn, composed between 658 and 680. There is a corpus of runic inscriptions from the 5th to 7th centuries. The Old English Latin alphabet was introduced around the 9th century, with the unification of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms by Alfred the Great in the later 9th century, the language of government and literature became standardised around the West Saxon dialect. In Old English, typical of the development of literature, poetry arose before prose, a later literary standard, dating from the later 10th century, arose under the influence of Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester, and was followed by such writers as the prolific Ælfric of Eynsham. This form of the language is known as the Winchester standard and it is considered to represent the classical form of Old English
A detail of the first page of the Beowulf manuscript, showing the words "ofer hron rade", translated as "over the whale's road (sea)". It is an example of an Old English stylistic device, the kenning.
Alfred the Great statue in Winchester, Hampshire. The 9th-century English King proposed that primary education be taught in English, with those wishing to advance to holy orders to continue their studies in Latin.