Podcast 6: How to ‘say’ things in Old English

Have you ever wanted to speak Old English? Or say things in Anglo-Saxon?

Can you tell the difference between those two questions?

This week we were joined by Myriam Frenkel, who specialises in verbs for speech in Old English poetry. As it turns out, ‘to say’ (‘secgan’), ‘to speak’ (‘sprecan’), and ‘to tell’ (‘tellan’) were all used rather differently in Old English (spoken in England from around 450CE – 1150ish, when it crossed the boundary into what we now called Early Middle English).


The word ‘secgan’, for instance, seems to have often been used in assertions of truth. This  has possibly carried on into modern English in the form of ‘sooth sayer’ – soð (the ð is pronounced -th) being the OE word for truth.

‘Tellan’ is an Old Norse loan word, which originally had to do with counting. We still get it in words like ‘bank teller’ and telling cattle.