Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Anglo-Saxon, originally a substantival term used only in the plural as a collective name for the Saxon invaders of Britain as distinct from the Saxons on the continent of Europe. It appeared first in a Latin form, and the earliest example of its use which has come down to us dates from the eighth century. From the ninth to the eleventh centuries inclusive the name was sometimes applied to the whole body of Teutonic invaders, and occurs, though very rarely, in old native documents, and somewhat more commonly in Latin ones. But it was always a term of formal description, and never employed by the people, who, when they did not speak of themselves as Angles, Jutes, and Saxons respectively, called themselves English. Saxon was the word used by the displaced Celts to denote any of the Teutonic invaders, and it had been used by the Romans in an almost identical sense centuries before. Freeman asserts that the opposition between Norman and Anglo-Saxon, commonly made by modern writers, is not found in contemporary documents. At the Conquest the native race was called English by the Norman invaders, while down to the 12th century Saxon and Anglo-Saxon were applied indifferently by the Latin chroniclers to the English of the period before Senlac as distinct from the nation formed by the union of the English and the Normans.

The term then fell into disuse till it was revived in the 16th century by Camden to denote the English Saxons and the Old English tongue in its inflected stage. This use continued till early in the second half of the 19th century, when a vigorous attempt was made - notably by Palgrave, Freeman, and Green - to banish the term and to substitute for it what they considered to be the correct expression - English. Freeman says : "Our tongue has always been called English as far back as we can go; so that it is better to call it English at all times, and, when needful, to distinguish the older form as Old English, than to talk, as many people do, about Saxon or Anglo-Saxon, which makes people fancy that one language has been changed for another." Despite this weight of authority, the name Anglo-Saxon is firmly fixed in the language. Professor Skeat is of opinion that it should be retained as being generally understood. "Besides, it has a special technical sense - the old Southern dialect of Wessex. It does not in the least follow that the people of ancient England, or even of the South of it, ought to be called Anglo-Saxons. They should be called English." But it is of little consequence which name is used in speaking of the language prior to 1100, for the literary remains which have come down to us from before this date are almost all in the Southern or Wessex dialect, to which the name Anglo-Saxon is specially applied, so that the dispute is one about names, rather than things. The examples which we possess of the Mercian or Midland dialect are chiefly in the form of glosses on Latin texts, while those of the Northumbrian or Northern dialect are similar glosses, and a few fragments of poetry. As the subject will be fully treated under English Language and Literature, it will be sufficient to say that the English of the first period was a highly inflected language, having grammatical gender, declension of nouns, adjectives, and pronouns, these last with a dual number expressive of two and no more, the plural being reserved for more than two. Of late years the study of Anglo-Saxon has greatly increased among English-speaking peoples, though some of the best books on the subject have been written by Germans, and in the German language.

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