A First Book of Old English: Grammar, Reader, Notes, And Vocabulary

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A Short French Grammar by C. Old English Grammar by Joseph Wright.

The sooner one would finish Reading Old English , the sooner one would be able to move on to texts from another reader, but more than likely one would not read as many full texts in the original. So in other words, one might expect after a semester of Reading Old English to find the students have learned the language well, but have not read many of the typical Old English texts one would expect students to encounter in an introductory course e. In a perfect world, one might use Reading Old English for a semester, then the Guide or the Marsden Reader for a second semester, then a semester on Beowulf.

Reading Old English is a very good undergraduate textbook; some graduate students might find it a bit elementary at times, but often the graduate students have just as much need for elementary language instruction as the undergraduates. Reading Old English is obviously directed toward the undergraduate side of the aisle; other new textbooks follow the same trajectory, to the point where they are really designed as introductions to the language, rather than carrying a full systematic semester's worth of instruction in the traditional sense.

Baker's Introduction and Reading Old English supply information about Anglo-Saxon culture as a way to supplement and make palatable the linguistic instruction. Other new texts proceed quite a bit further in this direction. As the texts adjust their rhetoric and presentation for the needs of today's students, they also tend to rely more and more on an introduction to Anglo-Saxon culture.

The emphasis on culture makes sense when one realizes that Old English is generally not a compulsory course any more at any institutions, either at the undergraduate or the graduate level. That means that if a student does enroll in an Old English course, his or her interest probably has been piqued previously by exposure to medieval or Anglo-Saxon literature or culture from another course—from the Tolkien books or films, mythology, or whatever.

Since they are interested enough in the culture and literature to enroll, it makes sense to season the linguistic work with healthy doses of cultural information. The first lesson to be learned, I think, is to keep sight of the reason students enrolled in the course in the first place and nurture that interest accordingly, since it is presumably what they expect out of the course. Bruce Mitchell's Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England has the feel of all the personal pedagogical attention lavished upon students over the years codified in book form.

Old English Grammar Byte 1: Cases and gender

Here the Old English grammatical material is thoroughly embedded in an extensive pedagogical voice. The Fourth Section "The Garden of Old English Literature" consists of a large number of further short passages of prose and poetry, a few including translations but most without. The Invitation is, at least in North America, an underused resource. The problem is that if a class used it as its central textbook and worked through the whole thing in one semester or most of it , students would learn a great deal about Anglo-Saxon culture, and they would have made a start on the language; at the end of the semester, however, they would not really have learned Old English.

Perhaps one could supplement the Invitation with free texts off the web? If the price were not a problem, the Invitation could be used in tandem with another text book in an Old English class. One could use it and the Guide at the same time; the Invitation could also be used with Reading Old English very nicely since the latter does not have an extensive reader.

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It is also a very good book to recommend to the independent student. The authors explain the purpose of the book in their Preface: "It is not the purpose of this book to dwell in detail on the linguistic subtleties of Old English: it is designed as a 'taster' to introduce [the student] to the character of the language and—crucially—to give [the student] confidence first in reading simple and simplified West Saxon texts and then in tackling some original literature" ix. The first chapter, "Origins," introduces the student to Old English through a discussion of Anglo-Saxon history and culture; chapter 2, "Recognising Old English Words," takes the innovative step compared to other grammars of devoting an entire chapter to instructing students in some ways to recognize modern derivatives of Old English words through spelling and pronunciation rules.

The chapter also introduces the student to very common words such as personal pronouns, conjunctions, and adverbs. Chapter 3, "People and Things," focuses on nouns and pronouns, again first working on getting students to recognize nominal phrases they can see in Modern English and slowly introducing complications, generally by presenting short passages in Old English with dedicated vocabulary lists and talking the student through the passages with a great deal of provisional summary and recapitulation.

This is a bit like what Mitchell does in the Invitation , but I would say that Beginning Old English is slower and more basic, concentrating more extensively upon fewer examples. Chapter 4, "Place, Time, Manner and Reason," introduces prepositional phrases and adverbs. This and other chapters use Sweet's prose paraphrase of Beowulf as a reading text.

The pattern for each chapter is the same: the authors first introduce the grammatical topic at hand, then provide "Reading practice": they give a passage with a dedicated short vocabulary list, and ask a series of content-based comprehension questions about the passage: e. Where did Grendel wish to flee? Who lived there?

Why could Grendel not escape? The authors then talk the student through the passage and answers to the questions, pointing out the relevant grammatical features. Chapter 5, "Actions and Events," introduces verbs without really delving into the distinction between different types—weak, strong, anomalous, etc. Each section ends with a "Glossary of Common or Familiar Words," making each selection a self-contained unit. The second section consists of passages from Beowulf ; the third is the Battle of Maldon ; the fourth is the Dream of the Rood. The book concludes with a "Glossary of Technical Terms," an appendix of some basic Old English paradigms, and a brief guide to further reading.

There is no final comprehensive glossary, vocabulary instead being delivered after each reading in the form of short lists. The book is illustrated with twelve black and white images, ranging from manuscript pages to an image from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film.

All the new books tend to have nice plates. Throughout the book, the authors introduce not only grammatical information about how to construe passages, but also cultural and literary information relevant to comprehension. So like Mitchell's Invitation , the text serves as an introduction to the culture of Anglo-Saxon England even as it introduces the language. However, the emphasis must be on "introduce. The ideal situation would be to use this text in an institution with a healthy medieval studies program so that it or the Invitation would perhaps be used as a supplement to a lower level course on medieval literature for undergraduates, or an undergraduate history course on Anglo-Saxon England, or perhaps as part of a History of the English language course.

Students would then go on to a more in-depth formal course in learning Old English, using a more advanced textbook.

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Another way these texts survey a greater variety of Anglo-Saxon cultural forms than their predecessors is by simply including a greater variety of texts. While Marckwardt and Rosier spend most of their instructional chapters reading selections from one text Apollonius of Tyre , the Baker Introduction and Reading Old English excerpt a variety of short texts for exercises, from medical remedies to laws to homilies to riddles and beyond.

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Mitchell's Invitation does this as well. Similarly, the readers of these various books keep expanding: more texts continually added to the Guide , to Baker's Introduction in its second edition with more planned for future editions , Eight Old English Poems up from seven, and so forth. The Cambridge Old English Reader of Richard Marsden offers the greatest example of this expansion principle, presenting the widest array of Old English documents of any of these books and therefore the broadest picture of Anglo-Saxon culture. The Marsden Reader presents 56 separate items of prose and verse some of these are more than one text, e.

After a nineteen-page introduction that includes a short guide to manuscripts, pronunciation and the features of Old English poetry, the texts with their headnotes comprise pages; a ten-page apparatus then details the manuscripts and textual emendations used in the volume; this is followed by a forty-page detailed reference grammar. In a very useful feature, all nouns in the glossary include after the headword a cross-reference to the relevant section of the Reference Grammar for the proper declension; thus a student can easily check to see how each individual noun fully declines.

A First Book in Old English: Grammar, Reader, Notes and Vocabulary

Also there is overdotting throughout the glossary marking palatal c and g. The most commented-upon aspect of the Marsden Reader is likely to be its extensive on-the-page glossing: in addition to the excellent final glossary to the whole work, the text includes extensive page glossing. Thus a page of prose is divided into three zones: the main text heavily sprinkled with degree signs and brackets ; numbered single word glosses in the zone immediately below; numbered bracket glosses keyed to the main text in another zone immediately below that.

To one accustomed to a cleaner page, the initial effect is disconcerting; however, with use the effect quickly dissipates. Opinion on this is likely to differ and instructors will need to find out for themselves. It would be important to require steady parsing exercises if using the book.

The Marsden Reader is just that—a selection of texts, lacking a formal series of chapters breaking down the language and teaching it in a series of lessons. A very experienced instructor with a large stockpile of handouts might be able to teach an introductory course with the Reader as the sole text, but in general it seems that the Reader would need to be paired with another book or online resources for instruction. The Reader would also be very good for a second-semester course in Old English that ranged widely over a number of Anglo-Saxon texts; it would also be a good text for graduate students to use in independent reading, particularly graduate students working in later fields, who wish to read quickly and broadly in Old English.

Given its price and its extensive glossing, the Marsden Reader is a text one could see using in a variety of courses and educational settings, independently or paired with a variety of other books and resources.

Such flexibility is another distinguishing characteristic of these books. Once upon a time, deciding which book to order for an Old English course was fairly simple: no matter the institution or the level of class, all one needed to do was choose one of the two or three main textbooks. Now, with a greater variety of possibilities, the choice is more difficult. I've already remarked that a book like the Mitchell Invitation and Beginning Old English are really introductory texts for the undergraduate experience; Reading Old English would work for graduate students, but is particularly good for undergraduates; Baker's Introduction is quite good for graduate students and skilled undergraduates: different books for different constituencies.

The mixture is rendered more complex when one adds in readers such as Fulk's Eight Old English Poems or Marsden's Reader , and even more complex when online resources and electronic reserve are brought into play.

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In the future, choosing the instructional materials for an Old English class might be more like assembling the pieces of a custom-made puzzle than the simple choice it was in the past. Hogg's Introduction consists of ten brief chapters that follow the usual sequence of grammatical presentation: 1.

It is Hogg's aim to write an introductory text; the preface "To readers" explains that the book is "designed for students for whom this is the first experience of the language of the earliest period of English" viii. He distinguishes his book from books like the Guide that present a "freestanding account of the grammar" followed by a "group of texts which the student is expected to read by reference to the relevant material in the grammar" viii.

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In his own words: "The distinctive feature of this work is that I have attempted to present an integrated account, in which, for the most part, accounts of the linguistic history of Old English are immediately followed by relevant and exemplary texts" viii. The book conveys a great deal of information in a lucid, conversational and amazingly compact form, but it is difficult to imagine it as the only book for a semester-long course in Old English.

Should the instructor use it with the Guide? With Mitchell's Invitation? With the Marsden Reader? This is an embarrassment of riches, but certain ramifications will only be seen in the future when more students have been taught with these books.

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