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Northumbrian was a dialect of the Old English language spoken in the English Kingdom of Northumbria. Together with Mercian, Kentish and West Saxon, it forms one of the sub-categories of Old English invented and employed by modern scholars.

The dialect was spoken from the Humber, now within England, to the Firth of Forth, now within Scotland. During the Viking invasions of the 9th century, Northumbrian came under the influence of the languages of the Viking invaders.

The earliest surviving Old English texts were written in Northumbrian: these are Caedmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song. Other works including the bulk of Caedmon's poetry have been lost.

The Viking invasion forced the dialect to split in two. The southern Northumbrian dialect was heavily influenced by Norse. The northern Northumbrian dialect not only retained a lot of the Old English words (replaced in the south by Norse words) but was also a strong influence on the development of the English language in northern England, especially the dialects of modern North east England and Scotland. The north-south split was around the Tees river.

The Lord's Prayer

Examples of the first English literature include Christ's Prayer in Old English from c. 650, which begins "Faeder ure, Thu the eart on heofonum,". Some Scottish and Northumbrian folk still say /uːr ˈfeðər/ or /uːr ˈfɪðər/"our father" and [ðuː eːrt] "thou art".[1]

FADER USÆR ðu arðin heofnu
Sie gehalgad NOMA ÐIN.
Tocymeð RÍC ÐIN.
suæ is in heofne and in eorðo.
HLAF USERNE of'wistlic sel ús todæg,
and f'gef us SCYLDA USRA,
suæ uoe f'gefon SCYLDGUM USUM.
And ne inlæd usih in costunge,
ah is in heofne and in eorðo.

Other examples of this dialect are the Runes on the Ruthwell Cross from the Dream of the Rood.


  1. ^ Gray, Alasdair, The Book of Prefaces, Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2000 (2002 edition) ISBN 0-7475-5912-0

Further reading

  • Sweet, H., ed. (1885) The Oldest English Texts: glossaries, the Vespasian Psalter, and other works written before A.D. 900. London: for the Early English Text Society

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