Honors Program Thesis (UNI Access Only)
The English language has a long and varied history. In its earliest forms it was most closely related to German, and was the dominant language in England during the Anglo-Saxon period (449 CE to 1066 CE). During this time, Christian missionaries came to England from the continent, bringing not only their religion, but also new ideas and philosophies. This thesis aimed to discover whether those philosophies had an impact on the language itself, specifically the Old English word mod, which becomes 'mood' in Modern English.1 The word mod had several different meanings which will be discussed in later sections. However, there is a general consensus that it was used to describe the immaterial part of a person, meaning a soul or spirit, with connotations of 'heart' and 'mind' as well. There were other mind/heart/soul words in Old English, most notably gast (spirit, ghost), and sawel (soul) (“gast,” & “sawel,” 2010 ). These words also have multiple meanings, often overlapping 'spirit' and 'heart' with 'mind.' This indicates that the sense of the self was perceived differently in the AnlgoSaxon period than it is today, as Modern English distinguishes between the mind, the heart, and the soul as separate entities. At some point, then, mod lost its holistic meaning and mind/heart/soul words began to replace it, losing their multiple meanings and becoming Modern English words. There is little to no research tracking the change from mod as a holistic word denoting a sense of self to the mind/heart/soul words used later on in the Anglo-Saxon period. Through this project, I attempted to track those changes, through glosses, Old English translations of Latin texts, and poetry, and trace them back to the influences of and ideas from Christianity between 449 C.E. to 1066 C.E., the date of the Norman Conquest. Tracing the semantic drift back to its definite source may offer evidence that Christianity fundamentally and permanently changed not only the way the Anglo-Saxon people thought of themselves, but also the English language itself. There is certainly evidence that a shift was happening during this time period, and that mod was moving away from a holistic word to one focused specifically on the mind. These changes are still present in Modern English, and, as this paper will discuss, the language a speaker uses has an effect on the way they think. Although these changes happened centuries ago, they still have a profound effect on the way English speakers around the world define their sense of self, regardless of religion or philosophy.
Date of Award
Department of Languages and Literatures
University Honors Designation
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors
1 PDF file (25 pages)
©2018 Joanna Eyanson
Eyanson, Joanna, "The use of mod in Old English: Tracking semantic drift in the Anglo-Saxon period" (2018). Honors Program Theses. 314.