West Saxon dialect

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West Saxon was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian (the latter two known as the Anglian dialects).

There were two stages of the West Saxon dialect: Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon.

Early West Saxon was the language of King Alfred (849–899). By the eleventh century, the language had evolved into Late West Saxon.[1]

Late West Saxon was the dialect that became the first "standardised" written English ("Winchester standard"). This dialect was spoken mostly in the south and west of England around the important monastery at Winchester, which was also the capital city of the English kings. However, while other Old English dialects were still spoken in other parts of the country, it seems that all scribes wrote and copied manuscripts in this prestigious written form. Well-known poems recorded in this language include Beowulf and Judith. However, both these poems appear to have been written originally in other Old English dialects, but they were later "translated" into the standard Late West Saxon literary language when they were copied by scribes.

In the Wessex Gospels from around 990, the text of Matthew 6:9–13, the Lord's Prayer, is as follows:

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum,
si þin nama gehalgod.
To becume þin rice,
gewurþe ðin willa,
on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
Urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
and forgyf us ure gyltas,
swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum.
And ne gelæd þu us on costnunge,
ac alys us of yfele.

The "Winchester standard" gradually fell out of use after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Monasteries did not keep the standard going because English bishops were soon replaced by Norman bishops who brought their own Latin textbooks and scribal conventions, and there was less need to copy or write in Old English. Latin soon became the "language for all serious writing", with Anglo-Norman as the language of the aristocracy, and any standard written English became a distant memory by the mid-twelfth century as the last scribes trained as boys before the conquest in West Saxon, died as old men.

Low Late West Saxon is the distant ancestor of the West Country dialects.


  1. ^ Old English Plus. "Appendix 1."
  2. ^ The Anglo-Saxon Version of the Holy Gospels, Benjamin Thorpe, 1848, p.11.