This is the style guide for grammar and writing on Wikipædia, should be regarded as authoritative for writing Old English content on Wikipædia.
A key concept when discussing historical language is historical authenticity. Because the only direct attestation of Old English is written texts, we rely heavily on comparison with historical Old English writings to assess what is authentic and what is not.
When a person learns Old English with a mind to producing new, correct Old English sentences, Old English as seen in the known historical body of writing is the highest authority and standard to assess whether a new sentence is correct or not.
Although learning an additional language, such as Old English, requires positively acquiring new knowledge and skills, it also must involve unlearning false assumptions, and error-prone habits. When trying to write good quality, authentic Old English, unlearning what is wrong is crucial, in addition to learning what is right.
A bottom line for writing Old English on the Old English Wikipedia is that we should (almost) always strive to use historically precedented Old English grammar.
Because Old English is a dead language with no native speakers, we cannot rely on native speakers to correct our grammar mistakes, which we all inevitably make. Therefore, please proofread your own articles after first writing them, to try to detect any grammar mistakes. You may also wish to ask a trusted community member or person known to have some degree of proficiency in Old English, to proofread your articles and edits.
If you notice another editor consistently making the same grammar mistake, please notify them in a kind way, so that they can stop creating poor quality Old English, and improve their own Old English. Additionally, when pointing grammar mistakes out to somebody, also be ready to point to authoritative textbooks, or even better, historical examples, to demonstrate why a grammar feature is or is not historically correct.
From time to time, there will be established stylistic norms which deviate from historical Old English practice. These should only occur when endorsed by community policy - and historically precedented stylistic practice should generally be adhered to if there is no considerable disadvantage to doing so.
If you find yourself the object of grammar corrections, please be willing to accept that you made a grammar mistake if a credible case is made that this is the case and you are unable to refute it. Please also do make the effort to try to remember to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Ideally, the Old English wiki should contain much more good quality Old English than poor quality Old English.
Learning a historical language well is an exceptionally difficult task - it is highly desirable to be constantly aware of your own tendency to make mistakes. You may find it desirable to be constantly combing through Bosworth and Toller to find historical examples of sentence patterns and grammar structures etc. to ensure your writing is as historically credible as possible.
You may also find it helpful to systematically refer to the Old English self-correction checklist when proofreading your own or other people's Old English.
Idiom and normal phrasing is a much harder thing to master than grammar. Yet, there is such a thing as grammatically correct but unidiomatic phrasing. You should view learning and using Old English idiomatic phrasing as an important aspect of writing credible Old English.
However, not all idioms are obligative. Being sensitive to idioms is a fine line to walk. Please be aware of idioms, be willing to learn new Old English idioms, and avoid language which can be reasonably considered unidiomatic.
It is permissible to use the grammar and orthographic tendencies of any recorded Old English variant which:
- Lacks distinction of "e" and "oe"
- Does not usually or regularly represent a labiodental fricative as "u"
The reason for these limitations is to exclude marginal or marginally documented tendencies in Old English, which might invite excessive and needless reconstruction of unattested historical forms.
Do not use macrons to represent long vowels when writing Old English. This practice is historically inauthentic. It is also often slightly inconvenient to input. In historical Old English script, long vowels and short vowels were usually not distinguished in writing, which is why you should follow this practice. Even though macrons are helpful for learning Old English pronunciation, ang.wikipedia.org is very inadequate as a primary source to learn Old English. Please use credible textbooks and examine historical Old English texts to learn Old English.
Although not a good primary source to learn Old English from, ang.wikipedia.org may serve auxillary purposes in learning Old English, such as:
- It may stoke interest in Old English.
- It provides people an opportunity to write in Old English.
- It should ideally provide an opportunity to meet other people who are interested in Old English.
- It provides people an opportunity to learn by proofreading other people's Old English - proofreading for mistakes can be an effective method of learning what mistakes to not make.
- Ideally, ang.wikipedia.org would have a decent number of good-quality articles about the culture and happenings in England and Britain from ~500-1100CE.
- If an article happens to be written in high-quality Old English, it would be a useful example of *written* Old English, which is what this Wikipedia is primarily concerned with.
You may notice macrons used within articles and within article titles. This is due to legacy norms on this Wikipedia. Please feel free to remove such macrons and request articles be moved, except in cases where the macron is inherently meaningful, such as in articles about the macron itself, or articles about macron-bearing letters.
"Ð" and "Þ" may be used interchangeably in any place within a word, including in article names. Historically, "þ" most often occurred at the starts of words and syllables, whereas "ð" most often occurred at the end of words and syllables. Editors may wish to mimic this historical norm; however, it was not obligatory, and it is not obligatory on ang.wikipedia.org. Corrective edits should not consist of switching "þ" and "ð", except where there is a meaningful distinction to be made: e.g. talking about the letter ð specifically in the article about the letter ð.
The current community standard is to not use Ƿ on the source text for Old English pages. Until the community arrives at a different conclusion via discussion, please adhere to using w, not Ƿ, even if you don't like it. If you wish to read pages with Ƿ, you may do so using the script switch at the top of pages.
Although ahistorical, we understand that rich modern punctuation makes texts more readable and less ambiguous. The established norm is to use punctuation more or less as in Modern English. Please adhere to this general norm.
Also although ahistorical, we normally use Arabic numerals on this Wikipedia. This is due to them being ubiquitous in the modern world, and having design qualities which make them more practical for mathematics than Roman numerals. Please use Arabic numerals, except where it makes particular sense not to.
In general, neologisms are discouraged or forbidden across Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia, which aspires to be documentative in character.
The Latin Wikipedia is somewhat comparable to the Old English Wikipedia in that Latin was used thousands of years ago. However, modern Latin actually is a modern language (which can be distinguished from classical Latin), with an established history of coinings and borrowings.
Unlike modern Latin, modern Old English has no such established history of coinings and borrowings. By necessity, we may often find it necessary for the sake of avoiding gross inelegance to make coinings or borrowings if discussing modern concepts, or making distinctions which humans have only become aware of since the Old English period.
As a general guideline, avoid neologisms wherever feasible. However, all neologisms must be documented on the article they are used in, with Modern English translations, in a "Niwu word" section, which should be placed near the end of the article, just above "Fruman". See the article Wæterþoðer for a good example of how to document neologisms.
Insofar as new words are necessary, coinings, calques, and borrowings may all be applicable, at editors' discretion. However, coinings and calques should, except where unfeasible, fit into historical Old English norms of word compounding. Borrowings should generally be Old Englishized in spelling. Depending on the ending of a borrowed noun or name, it may be suitable to treat it as indeclinable - for example, if an ending which would be historically unusual in Old English is maintained, it may be best to treat the noun or name as indeclinable.
Whereever possible, neologisms should be sensical and obviously related in meaning via their components, to whatever meaning they are being assigned. Direct calques of other modern Germanic words, should not only take etymology and cognateness into consideration - they should prioritize using appropriate-meaning components over cognate components. If a calque uses both cognate components to a modern Germanic word and is sensical in Old English, that is ideal, but not always possible.
Reconstructed forms are to be regarded as neologisms and documented as such, and likewise avoided where feasible.
Personal names of modern people, or people who don't have established names in Old English, should always be borrowed from language of origin, and transcribed if necessary.