Old English Translator

Posted: 8 November 2007 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Phil Barthram recently announced on the ENGLISC mailing list a new Old English translator. For those unfamiliar with Old English, this is not the really cheap malt liquor. This is the grandmother of Modern English (by way of its mother, Middle English and a few others, chiefly Norman French). Whereas an Olde English (the malt liquor) translator might look like this:

“You look pretty.”
“I’m trashed on cheap swill.”

an Old English (Anglo-Saxon) translator looks more like:

Nu sculon herigean heofonrıces weard
Now we should praise the guardian of the kingdom of heaven

This is the first line of Cædmon’s Hymn. Check out the wikipedia page for Cædmon to read the whole nine lines.

The tool offers the user the ability to get dictionary look-ups of inflected Old English words. So this is a word-for-word translator with no regard to context. So in the realm of Old English machine translation, this is the first step. This is called a direct translation system in the hierarchy of MT since it looks only at words at not at syntax or semantics when offering translations. A sister method is statistical machine translation, which looks at co-occurrence probabilities between the source and target languages (Old English/Modern English) to suggest word and phrase matches.

I’ve been considering for a while now working on such a system for Old English as a pet project. Lack of time is the major hurdle there. I’ve also been continuing (slowly) to work on a morphological analyzer for Old English verbs (and extending it to nouns, adjectives, etc).

The way Phil handles morphology is in the pre-processing phase. He has taken several Modern English to Old English (and vice versa) dictionaries and extracted inflected forms from the format they encode. He then populates the database with each inflected form as a separate entry, tagged with the proper morphological information. At query time, he checks for variations in acutes and also returns similar matches.

Unfortunately (for me), he does not intend to take the code open source. I certainly understand his desire to keep this as his own project, and he has put a lot of work into it. I hope at some point he’ll release the data as an xml dictionary. One of the problems with open source projects for the hobbyist is the sudden overhead in managing the project combined with the fact that niche creations like this don’t attract very many collaborators. So you get more work with no benefit.

Using Phil’s translator to translate the first line of Cædmon’s hymn:

Derived from: lo! behold! come! ~ lá now

sculon (failed to translate)

herigean (failed to translate)

heofon Masculine Noun – irregular ending
Derived from: heofon m (-es/heofenas) f (-e/-a) sky firmament heaven the power of heaven
Case(s) with this inflected ending:
> Nominative Singular
> Accusative Singular

rices (failed to translate, genetive form of rice, which did translate)
rice Strong Neuter Noun
Derived from: rice n (-es/-) BT la. add :– On middeweardum hire rice hió getimbrede
Case(s) with this inflected ending:
> Nominative Singular
> Nominative Plural
> Accusative Singular
> Accusative Plural

weard Strong Masculine Noun
Derived from: weard m (-es/-as) keeper watchman guard guardian protector 2 lord king 2 possessor
Case(s) with this inflected ending:
> Nominative Singular
> Accusative Singular

So Phil still has some work to do (and I know he’s going to be working on cleaning up the UI, since up to now he’s been focused on the underlying stuff).

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  1. lyndsey says:

    Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
    But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
    How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
    Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
    Oh, how shall the summer’s honey breath hold out
    Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
    When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
    Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
    O fearful meditation! Where alack,
    Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
    Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
    Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
    Oh, none, unless this miracle have might,
    That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

  2. mike tan from pvec says:


  3. Tikhova Kristina says:

    Thank you for your wonderful site. I’m a student from the russian institute of foreign languages. And yesterday I will have an exam(Old English) and your Old english translator help me very much. Best regards, Kristina Tikhova.

  4. [...] it on my most popular post, you get the following [...]

  5. moka says:

    the which, if you with patient ears attend,
    what here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

  6. kevin says:

    I have been trying to get the old english translation for the line from the book of prayer: ‘ from the wrath of the northmen, dear lord deliver us’
    no luck so far

  7. Jason Adams says:

    A good resource for getting OE translations is the englisc mailing list: http://www.rochester.edu/englisc/

  8. dagmaer says:

    this is quite simple. please can you give the anglo saxon for



  9. I was looking up synonyms of “steward” and discovered it is from the Old English word stigweard, or stig weard. I actually would like to know how this OE word would be translated into any of the Gaelic languages of that similar elder age. As in “how would translators of the OE period translate stigweard into Gaelic Irish or Gaelic Scottish?” I wonder if I win the most obscure question of the year award?

    I know this question means I want you to be familiar with all the old languages of the United Kingdom which is a tall order, but I am having trouble finding on-line resources for translating from one region to another within the same time period.

    Thank you for your site,
    Kinley Johnson

  10. Joe Lawson says:

    please translate this in modern language for me

    Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
    tune my heart to sing thy grace;
    streams of mercy, never ceasing,
    call for songs of loudest praise.
    Teach me some melodious sonnet,
    sung by flaming tongues above.
    Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
    mount of thy redeeming love.

    O to grace how great a debtor
    daily I’m constrained to be!
    Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
    bind my wandering heart to thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    prone to leave the God I love;
    here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
    seal it for thy courts above.

    O that day when freed from sinning,
    I shall see Thy lovely face;
    Clothed then in blood washed linen
    How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
    Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
    Take my ransomed soul away;
    Send thine angels now to carry
    Me to realms of endless day.

    Please hurry i have to have this for a class and i didnt know where else to turn………..

  11. Jason Adams says:

    That is in modern english. :P It was written in 1757. Change thee and thou to you and thy to your and you’re pretty much done. Dictionary should suffice for the rest of the words if you need to paraphrase.

  12. Jason Adams says:

    Kinley, unfortunately, I have no idea if such a thing exists, though that’s an interesting idea. I imagine there would still be the same issues you have with translations today, just the mistranslations would be a reflection of the source language as well as the translators knowledge of the target.

  13. Melinda says:

    Hi, doing my c-level in English and I need a word by word translation of Genesis 1 from Old English to Modern English. Anyone that can help me where I can find one?

  14. Khalifa says:

    No, ’tis not so deep as a well,
    nor so wide as a church door,
    but tis enough; you ask for me tomorrow;
    and shall find me a grave man.
    Where is my page? Go villain,
    and fetch me a surgeon. Fetch me a surgeon!
    (To Romeo) Why the Devil came you between us? I
    was hurt under your arm…Help me into some house,
    Benvolio, or I shall faint.
    A plague on both your houses!
    They’ve made worms’ meat of me.
    I have it, and soundly too, your houses
    (He falls dead)

    Please this is a part of Romeo and Juliet.
    Can you send me an e-mail telling me what it means??
    Please send me an e-mail, i need all the help i need.
    And thank you.

  15. Jason Adams says:

    Nope, I don’t do your homework. Plus that’s not old english.

  16. Jonquile says:

    How would you translate “mægræden” ? Family? Kinship? Or is it a past participle?

  17. Jason Adams says:

    I’ve seen it as just a masculine noun meaning relationship.

    See A Grammar of the Anglo-Saxon Tongue by Rasmus Rask, Benjamin Thorpe, page 103.

    • Jonquile says:

      Thanks Jason. I think in the context I have it it’s probably “group of supporters” “gang”. OE is so flexible it’s difficult to pin down, isn’t it?

  18. Alfie Mallett says:

    could you translate this poem by Geoffrey Chancer into modern english for me cheers:D :
    Ha! Ha! the fox! And after hym they ran,
    Ran Colle our dogge, and Talbot and Gerland,
    And Malkyn, with a distaf in hir hand;
    Ran cow and calf, and eek the verray hogges.
    So were they fered for berking of the dogges
    And shouting of the men and wimmen eke,
    They ronne so hem thoughte hir herte breke.
    Thanks again

  19. Jason Adams says:

    That’s middle english, not old. Roughly, it is:

    Ha! Ha! the fox! And after him they ran,
    Ran Colle our dog, and Talbot and Gerland,
    And Malkyn, with a spindle staff in her hand;
    Ran cow and calf, and even? the very hogs.
    So frightened were they of the barking of the dogs
    And shouting of the men and even the women,
    They ran so he thought her heart would break.

    something like that anyway, not sure about the last sentence especially. Seems literally to be “They ran so him thought her heart breaks”..

  20. ellemae says:

    this is crap. it doesnt have a translator which is all we needed, it just goes on about random crap. use your time better!

  21. jenifer says:

    i need this translated… hurry

    Am I thy gold? Or purse, Lord, for thy wealth;
    Whether in mine or mint refined for thee?
    I’m counted so, but count me o’er thyself,
    Lest gold washt face, and brass in heart I be.
    I fear my touchstone touches when I try
    Me, and my counted gold too overly.

    Am I new minted by thy stamp indeed?
    Mine eyes are dim, I cannot clearly see.
    Be thou my spectacles that I may read
    Thine image and inscription stampt on me.
    If thy bright image do upon me stand,
    I am a golden angel in thy hand

    Lord, make my soul thy plate: thine image bright
    Within the circle of the same enfoil.
    And on its brims in golden letters write
    Thy superscription in an holy style.
    Then I shall be thy money, thou my hoard:
    Let me thy Angel be, be thou my Lord.

  22. Sam says:

    hahahahahah! I love how everyone thinks that thee and thou makes it a different language…

  23. Peter Mc says:

    Thanks…I’m writing a book that will need some Old English words and that link was a treasure. I’m writing a few miles from where Caedmon lived and his boss St Hilda had her retreat – the village is called Hinderwell, a corpution of Hildewell. She consecrated a well here, which is meant to have theraputic properties. You want any pics from Whitby, let me know.

  24. Nancy Crenshaw says:

    I’m remembering a poem or proverb – it may even be from the book of Proverbs – and I was wondering if you know what the word “hie” means here.

    Awake! Awake, O sluggard, and hie thee to thy Saviour’s breast;
    There He will encompass thee and to thou grant eternal rest.

    I may not be remembering it verbatum.
    Thank you for your consideration!

    • Jason Adams says:

      It means to hasten. It comes from the Old English higian “to strive”. It is actually a Modern English word, though it has been rarely used since about the 1930’s, except in churches that still use the KJV.. :)

  25. double a says:

    how do you say merry christmas in old english.

  26. Matt says:

    trying to translate the following:
    Thou bawdy beef witted cox comb.
    Thoe mammering hedge bornbasket cockle.
    Thou Wart necked unwashed toad.
    Thou rank sheet biting scut.

    Can anyone help ?

    Thanks, Matt

  27. Raych says:


    Could you please give me the old english translation for “Linger and Die”.

    Thanks so much


  28. Dave says:

    Can you please translate this

    O, for a muse of fire that would ascend
    The brightest heaven of invention;
    A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
    And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
    Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
    assume the port of Mars.
    Suppose, within the girdle of these walls
    Are now confined two monarchies

    I understand what it means more or less but but I don’t know how I’d say it and put depth behind it in a drama peace

    Thanks a lot Dave

  29. i need to see the olde and medival english alphabets…do you think you can help me out with them???

    • Jason Adams says:

      here you go:

      much writing during medieval times in britain was done in the roman alphabet (which is basically what we use now), with a few additions from anglo saxon runes (which you can see in the second link there). the reason being the educated people of the time were mostly monks and priests. a better history is given in the first link, or you can check out the wikipedia article on old english.

  30. puzzle says:

    I have a horse–a ryghte good horse –
    Ne doe Y envye those
    Who scoure ye playne yn headye course
    Tyll soddayne on theyre nose
    They lyghte wyth unexpected force
    Yt ys–a horse of clothes.

    I have a saddel–“Say’st thou soe?
    Wyth styrruppes, Knyghte, to boote?”
    I sayde not that–I answere “Noe” –
    Yt lacketh such, I woote:
    Yt ys a mutton-saddel, loe!
    Parte of ye fleecye brute.

    I have a bytte–a ryghte good bytte –
    As shall bee seene yn tyme.
    Ye jawe of horse yt wyll not fytte;
    Yts use ys more sublyme.
    Fayre Syr, how deemest thou of yt?
    Yt ys–thys bytte of rhyme.

    i need this translated

    • Jason Adams says:

      This appears to be Middle English. You can probably translate most yourself just by saying the words aloud. Like “wyth” = “with”, “styrrupes” = “stirrups”, “bytte” = “bit”.

      I have a horse – a right good horse,
      Now do you envy those
      Who scour your plane in heady course
      til sudden on their nose
      they light with unexpected force
      it is a horse of clothes

      i have a saddle “do you say so?
      with stirrups, knight, to boot?”
      i said not that, i answer “no”
      it lacks such, i replied (??):
      it is a mutton-saddle, lo
      part of you fleecy brute

      i have a bit – a right good bit
      as shall be seen in time
      you jaw of horse it will not fit
      its use is more sublime
      fair sir, what do you think of it?
      it is – this bit of rhyme

      that’s pretty rough, i’m not a middle english expert by any means

  31. Stefanie says:

    I have this phrase that my ex-fiance had said if you understand Old English, it perfectly describes his life and I could only figure out one word. The phrase is “yn eal gedreas” can you please help in translating. I want to know where his head is at, and I can’t figure it out if he uses a language I don’t understand. Plus, I’m incredibly curious. Thanks.

  32. Emmie maylin says:

    I need this to be translated from old english to modern english
    Solely sovereign sway and materdom

  33. Sam says:

    I’ve tried to find sites that can translate this “unknown being I can’t see,you will appear to me, what was lost shall be found, in the air or on the ground, I summon you!” from modern English to old English or Anglo-Saxon can you translate it or advise of any websites that can translate
    kindest regards sam

  34. Kat says:

    Hi everyone. I have been struggling to find a translation site over the internet that can translate the phrase ‘shadow walkers’ into Saxon. I know it sounds a strange request but it’s for my brother and I’ve been trying to get this done all year and emailed so many sites etc but with no luck. I really wanted to be able to give h the translation at christmas so any help would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  35. rachel. says:

    could anyone translate this for me into modern english please?
    we are doing about macbeth at school, and for my homework i need to find macbeth’s thoughts and feeling in this scene:/
    if anyone can help me i would be SOO greatful!

    Is this a dagger which i see before me,
    The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee:
    I have thee not, and yet i see thee still.
    Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
    To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
    A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
    Procedding from the heat-oppressed brain?
    I see thee yet, in form as palpable
    As this is which i now draw.
    Thou marshall’st me the way that i was going:
    And such an instrument i was to use.
    Mine eyes are made the fools of the other senses,
    Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still;
    And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
    Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:
    It is the bloody buisness which informs
    Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one-half world
    Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
    The curtain’d sleep…
    Thou sure and firm-set earth,
    Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
    Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
    And take the present horror from the time,
    Which now suits with it. Whiles i threat, he lives:
    Words now to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
    (A bell rings)
    I go, and it is done; the bell invited me.
    Hear it now, Duncan; for it is a knell
    That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.

  36. austin23cook says:

    youd think people would at least skim through the comments or read the post before asking you to translate modern english to modern english.

  37. Jay says:

    Sweet mother of…really? Did I really just see 4 or 5 comments asking for translations of Modern English texts…into Modern English? Are high school kids these days really THAT DENSE? That they’d rather turn to the Internet for answers than figure it out themselves?

    Future advice to those who are too stupid to understand basic Shakespeare:

    1. Replace “thou,” “thee” and “ye” with “you” and replace “thy/thine” with “your.”

    2. Replace “art” with “are,” and anything ending in “-th” with “-s” (“rideth” becomes “rides”…DUH!).

    3. The most important step: USE YOUR FREAKIN’ BRAIN! Or a DICTIONARY, for God’s sake! Archaic Modern English is something ALL native English speakers should be able to understand, even if only marginally. Quit confusing it with Old English, which is something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

    Sorry for all the Capslock, but man, kids these days are messed up. I bet they’re all American, too…sometimes I’m ashamed to be one myself.

  38. Aneesah Karim says:

    please translate this:
    how much salt water thrown away in waste, to season love, that of it doth not taste!

  39. julia says:

    I am curious if there is an Anglo Saxon word for Chalybeate? I tried a translator http://www.oldenglishtranslator.co.uk/
    No reference to chalybeate
    then tried, red, iron, stream, well, spring which gave results but nothing that seamed to fit.
    Of course it is just possible that they stuck with the latin/greek!
    Or perhaps, healing, mineral, spring waters had an independant name all of their own.
    Any ideas appreciated

  40. Gwen says:

    I haven’t studied OE myself, though I plan to, but I was wondering how one would translate “Now sing I of the sister’s prophecy.”

    I’ve wrangled this out by translating word-for-word: “Nú, ic i ágæle þára sweostor forebícnunge.” But I’m afraid it’s probably pretty wrangled.

    Do you have any suggestions on how it might be better translated?

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