I asked a question recently (Send, sent; end, *ent?), which hasn’t yet received a straight answer. It leads me to wonder if questions about Old and Middle English are actually on-topic for this site; while it’s certainly acceptable for answers to draw on historical English to substantiate speculation or elucidate etymology, should questions about non-Modern English be considered off-topic? After all, Old English is a very different language from English as we now know it—is it different enough to warrant separation?

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    If the question seems to go beyond the scope of this site, you might want to see if it would be welcome on Linguistics.se.
    – aedia λ
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 18:22
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    What about Early Modern English? Should we define a cut-off date? Somewhere around the fifteenth of sixteenth century? Maybe the seventeenth? And in like wise as she said so they departed, that neither the king nor none of his council were ware of their departing. Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 12:21

3 Answers 3

  • questions about Old and Middle English are on-topic (there is past discussion on the topic)
  • but that doesn't guarantee that anybody here will have an answer to in OE or ME question
  • whether they are on-topic currently or not, I don't think they should be considered and made off-topic.
  • as suggested linguistics.SE is an appropriate alternative that might get the answers you seek.
  • yes, OE is quite different from Modern English and they are mutually unintelligible.
  • but Modern English is closer to OE than any other.
  • why bother with concerns of separation? just ask it here and it will be welcome (but consider ling.SE as an alternative).
  • Edited. Unfortunately for the claim that there was previous discussion, I can't find any supporting evidence yet by searching ELU. I search more, but that claim is provisional then.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 13:21

While I would get worried if most of the questions on EL&U are about Old or Middle English, it is also true that EL&U is described using the following sentence:

The English Language and Usage Stack Exchange is for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts.

The description doesn't talk of Old English, Middle English, or Modern English. What limits the questions asked on EL&U is the other sentence reported in the FAQ:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

This means, for example, that I should not read Beowulf just to be able to ask questions on EL&U.

We should also consider that some Old English (or Middle English) words are still used nowadays in specific contexts, or in some dialects; for example, thou and thee are reported by the NOAD to be dialectal words for you.
Clearly, when it is possible to answer the question simply reading a dictionary, then the question should be probably closed as "general reference" (which was just added only recently, considering that the public beta phase of EL&U started on August 2010).

I don't think questions on Old English are a problem: Looking at the questions asked until now on EL&U, the questions are about the quotidian usage of the language.


I'm posting my position as an answer because I don't agree with the only other one.

Like OP, I'm happy for Old and Middle English to be referenced in answers where the etymology and history of words are relevant. But I don't want questions asking what some expression in Beowulf or the Canterbury Tales means. To me, questions about Old/Middle English are off-topic.

The language of those times isn't exactly dead in the same way as Latin, but it's largely unintelligible to Modern English speakers. EL&U is all about how we speak and write today and tomorrow. If people specifically want to learn about earlier forms, they need their own site (unless linguistics.se wants such stuff, which I doubt).

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    Yeah, Linguistics isn’t necessarily the best forum for the sort of question I have in mind. Thing is, I don’t think there’s nearly enough desire out there for an Old English SE site either, so I guess perhaps OE and ME questions remain in a necessary grey area.
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 2:01
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    @Jon: I don't have a problem with your send/sent question. I've no doubt there are one or more actual reasons why some verb forms changed in ways that others didn't. But most likely it's complex, not generally agreed, and/or unknown/little known. Almost certainly that information is of little practical use to speakers of modern English, so it doesn't bother me that the question hasn't been as fully answered as it might be. EL&U is just a Q&A forum, not a heavy-duty academic research site. Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 2:28
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    Good point. OE is a bit deader than Latin.
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 13:24
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    I'm with FF. I suppose I could live with it as long as such questions use their Middle-English and Old-English tags, but IMHO they are so far removed from modern English that they are different languages. However, the question in ...er... question only got into Old English as a way of postulating how modern English got the way it is. That seems completely on topic to me.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 19:16
  • @Jon Purdy: why do you feel Linguistics wouldn’t be a good fit for these questions? A question about OE/ME literature, I would agree isn’t linguistics; but your send/sent question seems absolutely on-topic as linguistics to me!
    – PLL
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 18:34
  • @FumbleFingers "EL&U is all about how we speak and write today and tomorrow." The Help does not say say so: English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 4:29
  • @ivanhoescott FF says I'm happy for Old and Middle English to be referenced in answers where the etymology and history of words are relevant. Three years ago he was not excluding any questions concerning OEng, and MEng.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 6:42
  • @ivanhoescott I was sympathetic to your "uneasiness" about asking "Old/Middle English" questions on ELU, and certainly you were not asking about the meaning of the Hamlet text but you are now attacking FF when you clearly stated that your Meta question was unrelated to him. I think it's a great pity that questions about the great English literary works seem to be largely ignored by the community. If we limit ourselves by saying that low view counts are indicative to the interestingness of a question, we might as well do away with 85% (and I'm being generous) of all questions.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 7:16
  • @Mari-LouA I'm not personally atacking FF. I'm just saying a logically obvious matter. A linguistic question on English is very on-topic. And linguistics does study archaic languages. Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 8:46
  • @ivanhoescott you've left three comments. The last one was clearly meant to sting "I think you have a wrong idea about this forum." You're talking to a user who's been on EL&U for over three years! In that amount of time, he's got a pretty good idea, and FF is free to express his opinion, too.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 9:06
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    @Mari-LouA, ivanhoescott: I think the issue here turns on exactly how one defines On/Off Topic. I said "To me, [blah blah]" in my answer because I personally don't want to see ELU devote significant attention to elements of English so obsolete they're largely unknown and irrelevant to current usage. Not everyone agrees with my position (I have 4 downvotes as well as 7 upvotes here). I knew that would be the case when I posted the answer, as implied by its first sentence. We have opinions on such matters - no-one is objectively "RIGHT/WRONG". Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 13:10
  • @FumbleFingers Do you agree with that this is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts? Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 21:53

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