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The opening to the Old English epic poem Beowulf, handwritten in half-uncial script: Hƿæt ƿē Gārde/na ingēar dagum þēod cyninga / þrym ge frunon..."Listen!

We of the Spear-Danes from days of yore have heard of the glory of the folk-kings..." The earliest form of English is called Old English or Anglo-Saxon (c. Old English developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken along the coasts of Frisia, Lower Saxony, Jutland, and Southern Sweden by Germanic tribes known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.

Low German/Low Saxon is also closely related, and sometimes English, the Frisian languages, and Low German are grouped together as the Ingvaeonic (North Sea Germanic) languages, though this grouping remains debated.

It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England.

Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea.

Some shared features of Germanic languages include the division of verbs into strong and weak classes, the use of modal verbs, and the sound changes affecting Proto-Indo-European consonants, known as Grimm's and Verner's laws.

English is classified as an Anglo-Frisian language because Frisian and English share other features, such as the palatalisation of consonants that were velar consonants in Proto-Germanic (see Phonological history of Old English § Palatalization).

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