Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oldest Example of Written English Discovered

No, not quite. The title of this post comes from a Digg link which linked to this article. The writing is dated at around 500 years old, which couldn't possible be "oldest example of written English" could it? The Huntington Library has the Ellesmere Chaucer, a manuscript c. 1405, so that's got it beat by a 100 years already and I haven't even bothered to look for Old English manuscripts. The claim in the title is quite different from the claim in the original article which begins with this:

What is believed to be the first ever example of English written in a British church has been discovered. Problem is, no-one can read it.

This just means there's a lot of Latin written in English churches. The cool part is that they're crowdsourcing the interpretation.

If anyone thinks they can identify any further letters from the enhanced photographs, please contact us via the Salisbury Cathedral website.The basic questions of what exactly the words are and why the text was written on the cathedral wall remain unanswered. It would be wonderful for us to solve the mystery (link added).

Go on, give it a shot.

Looks like the original lyrics to Judas Priest's Better by You Better Than Me to me.


be_slayed said...

The article says "first ever example of English written in a British church", which is different from "the oldest example of written English". Of course we have Old English mss. from pre-1000, and runic inscriptions before that.

Chris said...

be_slayed, I see now that I could have been more clear in my post. I was referring to the title of the Digg link, not the content of the article. You're right, the article is clear. It's the Digg link that makes the misleading claim. I should have stated that more clearly.

Ethan Tucker said...

Just finished reading a biography of 14th century English mercenary Sir John Hawkwood*. It quotes two brief letters written by Hawkwood in February 1393 to sort out his English estates, and notes:

'Discovered in the 1930s amongst a dusty pile of records at the Guildhall, and now preserved at the British Museum, these two brief missives are the oldest extant letters in English'

Of course the book was published in 2004 so perhaps other, older examples have been found since then.

* Frances Stonor Saunders, 'Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman', London, Faber & Faber, 2004.

Laurenn said...

what is the title of the oldest example of english?

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