There is no tag for English literature or Old English literature. If the former will not be added because it would fit most questions on this site, I'd propose the latter be added, as a tag limited in scope but also useful.

  • Re an English literature tag, see this meta post and the others linked from it. Re Old English, you're probably right that it's a distinct enough language to merit its own tag.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 20:49
  • It might be worth adding a middle English tag as well, but I wouldn't describe middle English as a separate language from modern english.
    – user111
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 20:52

2 Answers 2


Old English in a linguistic sense (as opposed to "old English" with a lowercase 'o') is significantly different from later stages of English due to impact of the Norman Conquest in the 11th century. There is no similar watershed moment that separates Middle English (1066 – late 15th century) from Modern English. This is why Chaucer's Middle English and Shakespeare's Early Modern English are significantly easier to read than Old English: the difference with Old English is not simply due to a different distance in time but also to the enormous influence of the Norman French that the conquerors brought to the "sceptred isle" (apologies for the anachronism).

The issue of how to tag Old English literature was raised again in the chatroom in late July – early August 2021 without reference to this meta question, except to say that it wasn't very conclusive. As a result, we have started using , with as a synonym. Why not the other way around? This is to avoid users typing english into the tags field and picking for any stage of English that strikes them as old (Shakespeare's English, possibly even 19th-century English); the issue is common enough on English Language & Usage, for example.

TLDR: The tag for Old English literature is currently .


I think an tag would definitely be useful. I think a tag would also be useful, for works such as The Canterbury Tales. There is specific expertise involved in questions about both variants, so a tag would be useful.

However, Old English and Middle English aren't separate languages, they're versions of English. So in this case I would not follow the [language-X-literature] naming convention, which is used for questions that are about non-English works, so as to make this distinction clear. I.e. use , not .

  • I've downvoted this answer because there's an existing consensus not to use special tags for variants of English (e.g. American English - we already got rid of the american-literature tag). If you're proposing an exception to this rule, you need to give more of an explanation for why we should make an exception.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 23:14
  • 1
    BESW has more or less convinced me that Old English is different enough from modern English to be considered a separate language, so I would probably support an old-english-literature tag. Just not in exactly the way you've presented here.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 23:16
  • middle english/shakespearean english, perhaps.
    – auden
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 23:38
  • 2
    @Heather no, actually Shakespeare didn't write in middle english, he wrote in modern English. See shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespearelanguage.html
    – user111
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 23:41
  • 1
    @Hamlet shakespearean english is not modern english (at least to unknowing ears) =)
    – auden
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 23:42
  • 1
    @Rand you've read parts of the Canterbury tales, right. The difference between the language there and modern English is substantial. The difference between American English and British English is not.
    – user111
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 1:27
  • @Hamlet Well, where do we draw the line? As heather says, there's a noticeable difference between Shakespeare's English and modern English too. Evolution of language is a very hard thing to pin down ...
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 13:47
  • I think Old English is quite distinct enough to deserve a tag, and a tag that covers shakespearean english, and that era's english (which if I remember correctly also feels similar to the english in the Canterbury tales) might be useful.
    – auden
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 15:08
  • @Heather there is negligable difference between Shakespearean English and modern English. If you are an expert in modern English, you know enough to answer questions about shakesperian English. Tags are supposed to help people find questions to answer, a shakesperian English tag would not do that.
    – user111
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 15:12
  • @Hamlet perhaps, but Shakespearean english is filled with phrasings that are quite uncommon to the speaker of modern english - for example, in Hamlet a helmet's visor is referred to as a "beaver" (my personal favorite example). Tagging something shakespearean english does help people find questions - questions about specific phrasings or words unique to that time.
    – auden
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 15:19
  • I've seen Shakespeare's English referred to as "early modern English" to distinguish it from the stuff by later authors like Jonathan Swift that really is indistinguishable from modern English.
    – Torisuda
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 7:03

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