Mental Floss

The Land Where Old English Survives

Ransom Riggs

No, I'm not talking about inexpensive malt liquor -- that land would've been my high school. I mean the language that predates modern English by some thousand years, having come about when certain Germanic tribes migrated to Britain in the fifth century A.D., the language of Beowulf and big, hairy, dark-ages dudes which looks and sounds most unlike our own. Gradually supplanted by Middle English around the end of the eleventh century (which introduced large doses of Norman French and Latin) it's been a long time since anyone heard or spoke the tongue of our linguistic ancestors.

Or has it? It turns out there's a small region in the north of Holland called Freisland where people speak a language that greatly resembles Old English -- Fresian -- because that's where some of the old Anglo-Saxon tribes originally come from. To demonstrate their similarity, the comic linguist Eddie Izzard took a trip to Freisland, found a farmer, and tried to communicate with him in Old English -- with some success. Watch and be amazed!