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Post  Admin on Thu Feb 10, 2011 10:43 am

10) Can you read OE? Why? Why not (aldy, Chloe)


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part 2 question 10 Empty Re: part 2 question 10

Post  Nadeau on Thu Feb 24, 2011 10:38 am

So, we all shout 'wes hal!' when we see one another, but why? It's actually Old English (Englisc) for 'hello' or 'good health.' Old English is the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. It's a Germanic language which lacks the post-Conquest French additions we use in modern English and which has a grammar system more like modern German than modern English (it is inflected). If you speak German or Dutch, you will probably find you can get the gist of many texts written in Old English with a dictionary and not too much difficulty. Old English was spoken from the mid 5th to the mid 12th Century, by which time it had mutated into Middle English. It was mutually comprehensible with Old Norse, and some linguists suggest that it was contact between Anglo-Saxons and incoming Old Norse speakers that necessitated the shift from an inflected language to a non-inflected one.
England was pretty unique at this time in history in using the vernacular (i.e. not Latin) in many written documents - both secular and religious - so we actually know a great deal about how the language worked.

How to learn Old English
We would definitely need an Old English dictionary in order to be able to speak and or read it. Here are some steps we would need to follow to get a good start. For the speaker of modern English, learning the Old English language can be like learning a completely different language
1. Learn Old English spelling and pronunciation. While the majority of Old English letters are the same as Modern English letters, there are a few characters you will need to learn. If you want to pronounce the language correctly, spend some time learning how to pronounce Old English vowels, which are markedly different than Modern English vowels. Much of the material available for learning Old English is geared toward scholars, so taking a peek at the International Phonetic Alphabet before attempting to learn the sounds would prove helpful.
2. Learn basic verb conjugations. In Modern English, verb endings are not very complex. For example, think of the verb "sing." In present tense we have two choices either "sing" or "sings." The verb only changes in third person singular. In Old English, on the other hand, verb suffixes display more variety. "I sing" would be "singe," while "you sing" would be "singest." "He sings" would be "singeþ," and all plural forms would be "singaþ." This is just an example of how much more complex the verb endings are.
Old English verbs come in two basic varieties: weak verbs and strongs verbs. There are multiple sub-classes for each type that display different conjugation patterns. There are several websites that offer material for learning Old English verbs and grammar. One of the most comprehensive resources is the ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. Indexed there is an introductory course in Old English by professor Murray McGillivary of the University of Calgary.
3. Develop your vocabulary. This is where a good Old English dictionary comes in. For the beginning student, an affordable option is Wordcraft's New English to Old English Dictionary and Thesaurus. McGillivray's course offers vocabulary lessons and flashcards as part of the online resource materials. Alternatively you could buy a textbook like Teach Yourself Old English (includes 2 CDs) or Peter S. Baker's Introduction to Old English.

4. Practice reading shorter passages. It may be tempting to jump straight to Beowulf, but developing your reading can take some time. Start with shorter passages like poems or passages from the Old English Bible. The ORB page lists links for several short texts that you can read for practice. If you are familiar with the Bible, choosing passages from the Old English version would be a great learning tool. You may be able to find some Old English readers in a nearby research library, but if you are studying at home you can order a copy of something like Sweet's Old English Reader to get you started.


The old English Alphabet

The Anglo-Saxons adopted the styles of script employed by the Irish missionaries who had been instrumental in the conversion of the northern kingdoms. These styles included Insular half-uncial, used for fine books in Latin, and the less formal minuscule, used for both Latin and the vernacular. Beginning in the tenth century Anglo-Saxon scribes began to use caroline minuscule (developed in Francia during the reign of Charlemagne) for Latin while continuing to write Old English in Insular minuscule. Thereafter Old English script was increasingly influenced by caroline minuscule even as it retained certain distinctively Insular letter-forms. Once you have learned these letter-forms you will be able to read Old English manuscripts of all periods without difficulty.
Here are the basic letter-forms of Old English script, illustrated in a late Old English style:

Take particular note of these features:
• the rounded shape of d;
• the f that extends below the baseline instead of sitting on top of it;
• the distinctive Insular g;
• the dotless i;
• the r that extends below the baseline;
• the three shapes of s, of which the first two (the Insular long s and the high s,) are most common;
• the t that does not extend above the cross-stroke;
• the ƿ ("wynn"), usually transliterated as w but sometimes retained in print, derived from the runic letter ᚹ;
• the y, usually dotted, which comes in several different shapes.
Old English has no use for q or z. J and v do not have the status of separate letters but are occasional variant shapes of i and u (more common in roman numbers than elsewhere). Old English scribes used k rarely, and only to represent the [k] sound, never the [ʧ] (ċ).

Copyright 2003 by Peter S. Baker. All Rights Reserved


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