Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 14

Posted: Sep 02, 2016 18:09;
Last Modified: Sep 02, 2016 18:09

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Hi all!

I spent this week putting information into the newly updated database. It works much faster than it did before, and is very intuitive to use. Dan mentioned that he would like to see some screenshots, so please enjoy the following images:

Here we see the front page of the database, with two text boxes, one for the Source and one for the Reference.

Options will pop up after you begin typing which makes adding sources and references super quick.

The Location box allows you to type the page number on which you found the reference in your source material (I simply type the number without any “p.” or “pg” preceding it) and the drop down box allows you to choose whether the reference is a Text Quote, Text Mention, Scholarly Reference, or Other Reference.

Clicking on the “View Entries” link allows you to view all of the entries that you have made. They are listed from oldest to newest in one big list.

So far I have had zero problems with the database, however I have been coming across a few snags with regards to gathering references from the sources. To use this first article by Lenore Abraham as an example, it is not noted anywhere which edition of Bede’s “History of the English Church and People” that she uses, she just simply gives the title. I am not sure how to figure this out, but feel that it is important to know as the edition cited is the most important piece of information that we are attempting to gather. I am concerned that a lot of other articles might omit this information as well, but I suppose we shall see as the collection continues. I was also curious as to whether or not we count the “about the author” blurbs when adding references. The beginnings of articles will occasionally list other pieces the author has published and I am not sure whether or not to count these as references. My initial instinct was to ignore them, as they do not necessarily have anything to do with the article in question, and if they are important they will be cited again further on, however I thought I would bring it up to be sure.

I am excited to continue collecting information. I will be back in Lethbridge for school on Tuesday, so I can start requesting inter-library loans again and keep our project rolling!

Until next week,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 12+13

Posted: Aug 23, 2016 10:08;
Last Modified: Aug 23, 2016 10:08

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Hi all!

Summer is winding to a close, and our project continues to progress. The database is working, and is currently being made faster for even easier use. Books and articles are still being collected and scanned, and I am trying to split my time between scanning sources and collecting data.

At our last meeting Dan and I went over the exact specifications for the references I am collecting. Information is sorted into four types:

Text Quotes (TQ)

Text Mentions ™

Scholarly References (SR)

Other References (OR)

Text Quotes and Text Mentions come from editions, facsimiles, translations, and manuscripts, and only refer to Cædmon’s Hymn itself. Quotes are direct quotations from the poem, while mentions are references to other editions.

Scholarly References will consist of references made to anything other than Cædmon’s own words. This can include books and articles about the hymn or other topics, as well as supplementary text from the editions of the hymn.

Other References is simply a catch-all category for anything that does not fit into the previous three categories.

Unfortunately I have been having laptop issues and had to reinstall the operating system on my computer, losing some programs in the process. I am not sure if this will affect my GLOBUS endpoint, but I will try transferring some files later to determine if I need to figure all of that out again.

My goals for this week are to scan the ILL books that I currently have checked out, transfer all the files I have scanned to GLOBUS, and fine tune the way I collect my data from the books and articles. I have been finding that it is quicker to write down a large chunk of references on paper and then input the info to the database in one go. This may change as Garret makes the database quicker. The faster version of the database should be ready this week, but I do not currently have access to it so today will be a scanning day. I also plan to request another chunk of ILL books and articles from the library.

For next week’s blog I hope to write a sort of how-to guide on collecting information from the sources and inputting the info into the database. As the new semester starts in two weeks, I will have less time to spend on the project and I believe Dan plans on hiring more students to help the collection go faster. The how-to guide should ensure that we are all collecting data in the same way, and should ease any confusion that might cause errors. As the semester progresses I and whoever else might be working on the project can go through the data collection at a steady pace, and I can continue to collect and scan the sources needed to complete the bibliography.

Things seem to be on track, and hopefully the transition into the new semester will be smooth!

Until next week,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 10

Posted: Jul 25, 2016 10:07;
Last Modified: Jul 25, 2016 10:07

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Hi all,

It is week 10 already, and I feel like I am nowhere near where I thought I would be with regards to this project. While the list of the sources we need for our data collection on Zotero are as complete as we can know at present, not everything on the list has been collected yet. I was in high spirits at the beginning of last week thinking that the collection of sources was nearly complete, however I realised later on that I had missed a good chunk of the list. It turned out that I had some filters set that were omitting a portion of the 700-ish books and articles. To make a long story short, more collection is still needed!

This will mean more inter-library loan books will need to be ordered and scanned, and more articles will need to be transferred to the GLOBUS folder. Thankfully the book scanner is back up and running again! If it holds out it should make the process painless and a good deal quicker than scanning things on the photocopier.

My plan for this week is to:

- finish scanning the inter-library loan books I currently have checked out (there are about four left to scan)

- finish collecting EVERYTHING on the Zotero list, keeping track of how many inter-library loan books are due to come in so I can account for future scanning time.

- transfer all electronic copies of articles and books to the GLOBUS folder (the internet guy is FINALLY coming on Tuesday to hook up my apartment, so I can work on this every night starting tomorrow)

- And then, if by some miracle I finish everything before the end of the week, I will begin data collection.

To be quite honest, I have been very frustrated with myself and the fact that I have not begun the data collection sooner. I suppose that collecting and organising hundreds of articles just takes longer than I imagined. I really have been working at it steadily throughout the summer, trying to maintain a level of organisation that allows information on the project to transfer easily between myself, Dan, Garret, and anyone else that might happen to work on the project. Although scanning and photocopying seem like menial tasks, I think I need to remind myself that such tasks take time and are necessary to keep our project organised and moving forward.

I do hope though that if Dan has any concerns with the pace of the project that he will let me know, as I do not want to drag things out way longer than he was expecting. The project IS moving forward, however slow it may have seemed the past couple of weeks. Although collecting and organising the sources is not the most exciting part of the job to write updates about, you all can be assured that it is almost complete and the data collection will begin very soon! I am very much looking forward to beginning this part of the project, seeing what we find, and facing the challenges that I am sure we will encounter.

Until later,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 9

Posted: Jul 18, 2016 09:07;
Last Modified: Jul 18, 2016 09:07

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Hi all!

I finally get to start reading this week!!! While I am still not 100% complete in my sourcing of all the books and articles, it is looking as though I will definitely be able to start reading by Wednesday if not earlier.

I also have a bunch of books from inter-library loans that I need to scan portions of. That will be part of my job today.

The database will be ready this week as well. Garret says that there will be a few improvements that he will want to make, but I will be able to start using it this week. All the information that I collect will still be available as the database is upgraded.

You may have noticed that I have switched to blogging at the beginning of the week as opposed to the end. I have found that at this point it is more beneficial to myself to post at the start of the week outlining some goals and then adding an update post sometime during the middle of the week. I am going to continue this model for the next while.

Until next time!

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 8

Posted: Jul 11, 2016 10:07;
Last Modified: Jul 11, 2016 10:07

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Hello!

Just a quick blog post this morning to give you an update of what’s to come this week:

I am continuing to gather all of the articles/books needed for the project, and hope to complete the search this week. There may be a few inter-library loans that we will be waiting on, but I would like everything else to be ready to go!

Not all the articles will be accessible on GLOBUS right away, as the transfers do not work on the university network and I am currently living without internet at my apartment (The horror! The horror!). I will be transferring them when I can, as free wi-fi will allow.

This means that reading and data collection can start next week! The database should be good to go by then as well. It is all coming together!

Until Friday,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 7.5

Posted: Jul 07, 2016 13:07;
Last Modified: Jul 07, 2016 13:07

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Hi all!
You might have noticed that I forgot to blog last week… This is true and totally my fault. I moved into a new apartment and in the process may have suffered a mild concussion. Oops! I have been keeping up with my work, however because I was working at random times of the day and night in chunks of a few hours each I definitely forgot to blog! So here is my update from the last two weeks:

Unfortunately I don’t have much news to report. I have been going through our Zotero bibliography and collecting missing articles through online databases and inter-library loans. It is going well, but it is taking a bit of time.
GLOBUS is now working for me thanks to Gurpreet’s help figuring out what was going on. It was mainly a permissions issue. I can now access our group research folder which is excellent.

The database is also on its way. I am expecting an update from Garret regarding that this weekend.

I will post another blog tomorrow to outline my goals for next week. In the meantime I will continue to pull articles to complete our pool of data.

Until tomorrow!
Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 6

Posted: Jun 24, 2016 09:06;
Last Modified: Jun 24, 2016 09:06

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Hi all!

This week I have been gathering sources for the pieces in our Cædmon bibliography. This is not a speedy task by any means! I admit that I have felt a bit impatient with myself and have been concerned that I should be at the point where I am gathering data by now, but I try to remind myself that it is important to make sure that we have a complete pool of sources from which to pull data, otherwise people could poke holes in our findings when we are all done. All of the proper experimental procedures that I learned way back in 7th grade science fair still apply here!

Dan gave me the key to the Digital Humanities lab on Monday, and I was able to go in and dig through Rachel’s drawer in the filing cabinet from last summer. I was excited to find that she had a ton of articles in there that simply need to be scanned. This will be time consuming, but worth it to have them all organized in the GLOBUS folder and accessible to everyone in our group. I am wondering if when I scan articles if there is a way for the pdf’s of the scans to be grouped together or if each individual page will have to be put in order on the computer… I will have to see!

I was having trouble with GLOBUS yesterday, so I am meeting Gurpreet this afternoon to figure out what’s wrong. I updated to the new version of Windows a few days ago and it is causing my computer major hassles. I doubt that’s why I can’t get GLOBUS to work, but I would still like to blame Windows anyway.

My goals for next week are to have all of the articles from Rachel’s drawer scanned and transferred to GLOBUS and for everything that we don’t have from the Cædmon bibliography be requested or found on the internet. I will have to motor, but I think it is do-able. The database should be ready for me to start reading/counting the following Monday, and from that point on I can read, count, and determine whether or not we will need extra students hired to help get these 700 articles read!

Until next week!

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 5

Posted: Jun 17, 2016 10:06;
Last Modified: Jun 17, 2016 10:06

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Hi all!

Painfully short blog entry this week, I’m afraid. A lot has been accomplished this week, but there is not a lot to report.

The bibliography has been completed, with the final count being approximately 700 pieces of Cædmon scholarship. This number may increase or decrease as I read through the actual works. Some may have nothing to do with Cædmon (I erred on the side of having to much rather than too little), and others may point me in the direction of something I might have missed.

I have also begun to search out access to the pieces that make up the bibliography. This week I have been finding most things on JSTOR, but I expect that I will be requesting a lot of inter-library loans next week! Once I have found all I can find online I can start reading while I wait for the inter-library loans to come in. As the loans come in I will be splitting my days between scanning the loans and reading. (Note to self: locate that book scanner Dan told you about.)

The database to record what I find while I read is in the works as well. I should have an update from Garret early next week, so I will have more info on that in next week’s blog!

Until then!

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 3

Posted: Jun 03, 2016 10:06;
Last Modified: Jun 03, 2016 10:06

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Hi all!

Another short post this week, but I will try to make up for it by posting more than one blog next week as I get further and further into the project!

Most of this week was spent methodically checking our body of Cædmon scholarship against various databases (all listed in my previous post). I felt a bit bad that it was going so slowly, as I do not want to lollygag in my work at all. Several things seemed to make the task slower than I hoped, however.

First of all, when I started going through the lists I would try and find access to each article or book that was missing from our body of scholarship as I became aware of it. I soon abandoned this practice and decided that I would create a running list of what we are missing FIRST, and then find access to these pieces as my next step.

I also found that many of the works we are missing were in a foreign language, which made my search for them (before I submitted to simply creating a list) more difficult. I will need to ask Dan if we are including foreign language articles in our data. If we are I will also need to figure out how I am going to comb the articles for quotes later on if we do decide to include them. I suppose quotes of the original will be written in Old English, so that is simple enough to pick out, but paraphrasing of the poem in something like Italian or German might prove difficult.

And finally I was a bit impeded by my own inability to figure out how to add new entries to our shared bibliography on Zotero. This is not a huge deal at the moment as I eventually decided to create a running list of missing pieces before finding sources, however I did waste quite a bit of time fighting with the program to add new entries before settling on this. This is something else that I’m sure Dan can help me with. I believe I might just need some sort of permission to add to the shared database.

In any case, next week should provide fodder for a some more interesting blog posts! It will be like a mystery: The Search For the Missing Cædmon Articles…

Until then,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - The Return

Posted: May 19, 2016 10:05;
Last Modified: May 19, 2016 11:05

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Hello, Readers of Dan’s Blog!

My name is Colleen Copland, and I am a student of Dan’s who will be working with him on the Cædmon Citation Network which he and Rachel Hanks began work on last summer. I will be blogging here weekly, and thought I’d use this first post to introduce myself and more-or-less explain the project as I understand it so far. I am still familiarizing myself with everything, so my descriptions may fall short of the actual scope of the project or they might be totally off-base altogether, but as I learn more I will let you know all the juicy details!

Little intro on myself: I am an undergraduate student at the University of Lethbridge, majoring in English and hoping to be accepted into the English/Language Arts Education program this fall (cross your fingers for me, internet!). I have taken three courses with Dan in the past two years, Medieval English, Intro to Old English, and Advanced Old English in which we spent an entire semester reading Beowulf. Suffice to say I think Dan is a pretty excellent prof and I am excited to work for him this summer so I can continue to learn from him!

The Cædmon Citation Network (also known as the Cædmon Bibliography Project and possibly a few other names – I will need to ask Dan if there is something he’d like me to call it officially) is a gathering of data on the citations of various editions of Cædmon’s Hymn. The project is interested in tracking how long it takes a new edition of a work to start being cited in studies of said work. Cædmon’s Hymn, since it is such a short piece, has been re-translated and re-published a great many times since 1644, which should allow us to notice some patterns in the way each new edition is cited.

The project is also interested in looking at the differences between the citing of digital editions of works as opposed to print editions. Many people assume that it takes longer for digital editions to begin being cited, but this project aims to suggest that they are actually cited more quickly. It will be interesting to see what the data shows us.

Where are we right now with regards to the project? Personally, I am becoming oriented with the project’s goals and working to gain access to all of the excellent data collected by Rachel Hanks who worked on the project last year – figuring out where everything was left off and where Dan would like it to go this summer.

I am excited about gathering more information and will share it with you as I progress. It often seems that I gain a better understanding of a project when I explain what is happening to someone else, so I think this blog will be an excellent tool. It will also serve as a good record of what went on at different points during the project for Dan and I. Any questions you might have can be left in the comments section that I believe is located below this post…

Until next week,

Colleen

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English 3450a: Old English (Fall 2015)

Posted: Sep 09, 2015 12:09;
Last Modified: Jul 25, 2017 17:07

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Contents

Contact information

My office is room B810B.

My email is daniel.odonnell@uleth.ca.

My telephone number is +1 403 329-2377.

My office hours (Sept-Dec, 2015) are:

About this course

English 3450 introduces students to Old English, the principal ancestor of our present day English, and the language of daily life in early medieval (Anglo-Saxon) England (from approximately the mid 400s to the mid 1100s).

The Calendar describes the course in this way:

The study of Old English language and literature. Instruction in basic Old English grammar and syntax, translation practice, and an introduction to the language’s literary and historical context.

As this suggests, our main goal will be to learn the Language. The English we speak today is derived largely from that spoken in the Anglo-Saxon period. Indeed, although the English language has borrowed a huge number of words from other languages, our core vocabulary, as much as 80% of the words we use in daily conversation, have their origins in Old English. The Anglo-Saxons often had different words for things we have since borrowed words to discuss—and of course we have developed many words for things the Anglo-Saxons had no knowledge of or reason to discuss! But they might well recognise many of the words we use to tie our sentences together and discuss every day activities.

The real difference will be in the grammar. Old English grammar is quite different from Modern English grammar, and, as a result, must be learned by most students as if it were a foreign language (students who know modern germanic languages such as High or Low German,Dutch, or the Nordic languages may find useful congruences to Old English).

In the course of the year, we will study and practice Old English grammar, phonology (the study of the sounds of a language), and script (how it is written). To provide us with a basis for comparison, we will also devote some attention to practicing and improving our knowledge of Modern English grammar and phonology. Our principal method of study, however, will be practical: most class and study time will be devoted to translation work from Old to Modern English.

Although it will not be the main focus of the course, students will complement their study of the Old English language with some study of its speakers and the culture in which it was used. We will discuss the range of Anglo-Saxon literature, learn about Anglo-Saxon culture and history, investigate the place of the Anglo-Saxons among their European contemporaries, and read some Anglo-Saxon literature in translation along side our readings in the original language.

Learning goals

By the end of the course students should have a basic reading knowledge of Old English and a sense of the period in which it was used. This involves being able to

Texts

Required

Assessment

This course uses two types of evaluation, formative (intended primarily to assist the student measure their progress and identify areas of improvement) and summative (intended primarily to assess a student’s success in accomplishing the course’s main learning goals.

Formative Assessment

Formative assignments are divided into two categories: exercises and reviews. Although grades will be assigned to most of these assignments, your final formative grade will consist of an equally weighted average of your best performance in each categories.

I will mark formative assignments handed in on the specific due date and will not mark work handed in late without a prior request for an extension or evidence of an emergency. While it is strongly recommended that students complete these projects on time, there is no specific penalty for failing to do so in any one instance. Students who do not receive a grade for at least one assignment in a formative category, however, will receive a grade of 0 for the entire category.

I reserve the right to add additional formative assignments to these categories throughout the semester in response to class interests and needs.

Category Assignment
Exercises What I did/did not know about Anglo-Saxon England
Poster and Presentation
Reviews Basic Paradigms and Translation
(Moodle: early October)
Advanced Paradigms and Translation
(Moodle: mid November)

Summative Assessment

Summative Assignments are used to determine how well students have accomplished the course’s learning goals. In addition to an average of students’ best score in each formative category, these will include a final exam, a research project, a translation project, and an attendance mark.

Assignment Value
Attendance [* 5%
Blog 10%
Average of best score from each formative category 15%
Translation leadership 10%
Research Prospectus 5 %
Independent Research Project. Due: End of Semester 30%
Final Exam (Moodle) Exam Period 25%

* Note: Students will be graded on their presence and preparedness each class. All students will be allowed up to 4 unexcused absences or days in which they cannot translate in class. After these 4 are used up ever absence or lack of preparedness will result in a 2% penalty. Unexcused absences beyond this will result in the docking of a letter grade for each additional absence/lack of preparedness. Excused absences (i.e. absences due to illness, medical appointments, emergencies or accidents, etc.) will not count against these totals.

The summative evaluation scheme presented here should be considered tentative and open to change until the beginning of the last class before the Add/Drop deadline. After this date, the version found on-line will be definitive.

Policies

The following policies will be followed in all my classes unless otherwise announced. You are expected to be familiar with the policies reproduced here and in the more general section on my website. These additional web pages are to be considered part of this syllabus for the purposes of this course. Failure to conform to any of these policies may result in your grade being lowered.

Grade scale

The University of Lethbridge keeps track of student performance using a letter and grade point system (See section 4 of the University Calendar). Instructors assign students a letter grade at the end of each course (the University does not issue or record mid-term grades). These letter grades are converted to a numerical value (a Grade Point) for assessing overall academic performance (a Grade Point Average or GPA). The University does not record percentage-type grades and does not have a fixed scale for conversion from percentage scores to letter grades and grade points. Each instructor is responsible for determining their own methodology for determining students’ final letter grade.

In my classes, I use the following letter-grade to percentage correspondences:

  Excellent Good Satisfactory Poor Minimal pass Failing
Letter A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D F
Percent range 100-94 93-90 89-86 85-82 81-78 77-74 73-70 69-66 65-62 61-58 57-50 49-0
Conventional value 100 92 88 84 80 76 72 68 64 60 56 49-0
Grade point 4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.7 1.3 1.0 0

How your grade is determined depends on the type of work being assessed. Tests of specific skills or knowledge (such as identification questions in literature classes, or fact-oriented tests in my grammar and language classes) are usually assigned a numeric score which is easily converted to a percentage. Essays, presentations, and other performance-oriented tests are usually graded by letter. I convert letter grades to percentages by taking the median value in each grade-range, and rounding up to the nearest whole percent. The only exceptions are A+ (which is converted to 100%), and F (which is converted to an arbitrary percentage between 0% and 49% based on my estimation of the work’s quality). These scores can be found in the conventional value row of the above table.

In marking work I try to keep the University’s official description of these grades in mind (a description can be found in the University Calendar, Part IV.3.a). If you get an A it means your work is excellent; a B means your work is good; a C means it is satisfactory; a D that it is barely acceptable (minimal pass); and an F that it is failing to meet University-level standards.

I have prepared rubrics for most types of qualitative assignments (assignments that do not expect the student simply to provide a correct factual answer). These can be found in my Academic Policies section: http://people.uleth.ca/~daniel.odonnell/Academic-Policies/

Submitting Work

Tests, Exams, and Quizzes

Tests and Exams will be written in the University’s testing labs on Moodle. Quizzes may be presented on Moodle.

Essays and Reports

Essays and reports will normally be collected using Turnitin. Information on our account (URL, ID number, and Password) will be made available in our class space on Moodle: http://learning.uleth.ca/

Plagiarism

This course uses plagiarism detection software. Any plagiarism will be treated very seriously: you can expect to receive a grade of 0 on the assignment as well as other penalties depending on the seriousness of the offence.

Class schedule

The following schedule is intended to help you plan your work for this course. The schedule is tentative and subject to change.

Week Date Topic Classwork Background Reading
1 Mon. 7/9 No class
Wed. 9/9 Welcome Syllabus and assessment  
Fri. 11/9 Spelling and Pronunciation
  • 1.a Practice Sentences
2 Sun 13/9 Please complete your profile on Moodle (with picture and statement of interests) by midnight tonight.
Mon. 14/9  
  • 1.b Practice Sentences
  • § 6-9: Stress, Vowels, Diphthongs, Consonants
Wed. 16/9 Lecture: Inflected vs word order languages.
Fri. 18/9 Grammar Whole Class Tutorial: Old and Modern English Grammar
3 Mon. 21/9  
  • 1.c Practice Sentences
 
Wed. 23/9 Whole Class Tutorial: Grammar Practice I
Fri. 25/9 Whole Class Tutorial: Grammar Practice II
4 Sun. 27/9 What I did not know about Anglo-Saxon England Due by 23:59)
Mon. 28/9 Nouns: The Major Declensions
1) Strong Nouns
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy. 1-11
  • Cheatsheet: Nouns Row;
  • § 33: Masculine Strong Nouns; § 34 Strong Neuter Nouns; § 37 Strong Feminine Nouns
Wed. 30/9  
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy. 12-21
 
Fri. 2/10 2) Weak Nouns
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy 22-45
 
5 Mon. 3/10  
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy. 45-91
  • Cheatsheet: Nouns Row;
  • § 25: Weak Nouns
Wed. 7/10  
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy. 45-91
 
Fri. 9/10  
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy. 92-130
 
6 Basic Paradigms and Translation Review (Moodle) 12/10-19/10
Mon. 12/10 Holiday
Wed. 14/10 Whole Class Tutorial: Translation Techniques. Tips and Tricks.
Fri. 16/10  
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy, 150-178
 
7 Mon. 19/10 Verbs: The Major Declensions
1) Weak Verbs
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy. 131-167
  • Cheatsheet: Verbs Row;
  • §§ 87-88, 114: Introduction to OE Verbs; §§ 124-125: Weak verb lufian
Wed. 21/10      
Fri. 23/10 2) Strong Verbs
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy. 168-end
  • Cheatsheet: Verbs Row;
  • §§ 110-113: Strong Verb singan
8 Mon. 26/10 3) Irregular verbs
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 126 (beginning)-149 (translation)
  • Cheatsheet: Verbs Row;
  • §§ 126, 127, A.3b: habban, bēon, wēorðian
Wed. 28/10      
Fri. 30/10  
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 150-180
 
9 Mon. 2/11 Adjectives: Declension and Syntax
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 180-212
  • Cheatsheet: Adjectives column;
  • §§ 66-67 Strong adjectives (learn gōd not til)
Wed. 4/11  
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 212-250
 
Fri. 6/11  
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 250-292
 
10 Advanced Paradigms and Translation Review 9/11-16/11
Mon. 9/11      
Wed. 11/11 Holiday
Fri. 13/11  
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 292-331 (end)
 
11 Mon. 16/11  
  • 9. Bede’s Account of the Poet Cædmon, 1-35
 
Wed. 18/11 Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Metre
  • 9. Bede’s Account of the Poet Cædmon, 35-44 (Cædmon’s Hymn)
Fri. 20/11  
  • 9. Bede’s Account of the Poet Cædmon, 45-86
 
12 Mon. 23/11  
  • 9. Bede’s Account of the Poet Cædmon, 87-126 (end)
 
Wed. 25/11 Paleography Tutorial: Whole Class
Fri. 27/11  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 1-20a
 
13 Mon. 30/11  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 40-60a
 
Wed. 2/12  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 60b-80a
 
Fri. 4/12  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 80b-101a
 
14 Mon. 7/12  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 101b-121
 
Wed. 9/12 Poster session
Fri. 11/12 Catch up and review
Independent Research Project Due.
  14/12-22/12 Final Exam Period
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On translating sense and syntax in Old English

Posted: Jan 25, 2014 13:01;
Last Modified: Jan 25, 2014 13:01

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A student in my Old English class asked a good question today in her class blog:

I’m confused. The point of this class is to be able to read Old English. Does this mean we are supposed to be building a lexicon that would eventually become so engrained in us that the words don’t require as much of a “translation” as an innate understanding of the meaning of the text? This seems rather frightening. When I hear the words “nominative accusative singular” sweep one after the other my head begins to spin. I have to look at the dictionary three times in three minutes to remember what one word means.

I think what process seems natural to me would be to translate a sentence, and after knowing what the words are in modern English, to determine what words are nominative, objects, etc. in the translated sentence. At which point I would then transfer this over to the Old English. Is this wrong? Is the point to learn to do that without first translating it into Modern English? If so, I feel like I should break a bad habit before it starts.

The question touches on the two main issues we face in translating from Old English to Modern English: Lexis (i.e. the meaning of the words) and Syntax (i.e. the grammar that ties the words together in a sentence).

The short answer is that translating (or learning to read) Old English requires both: you need to know what the words mean and you need to know what the syntax is telling you about their relationships to each other. This means that there are really three discrete things we need to do in translating:

Although, because OE is often very close to Modern English in Syntax, it might look like you can translate the meaning of a sentence accurately by just looking up the meaning of the words and writing them out (i.e. doing a lexical translation alone or first), there are enough differences that this will lead to trouble when you get more complex Old English (especially poetry).

You can see this in Modern English if you consider the following group of words: Because had Friday money no on on Saturday Store Suzy the to Tom went.

Although we understand what all of these words mean lexically, the “sentence” they form doesn’t make any sense to us because the syntax doesn’t conform to any rules of Modern English (I just arranged the words alphabetically). In order to get a real sentence out of this, we need to know more about the intended syntax as well, which in Modern English means the intended word order. If I put the words in a word order that reflects Modern English syntatic rules, the sentence suddenly makes sense: Because Tom went to the store on Friday, Suzy had no money on Saturday.

Note that in the above example, the only difference between the nonsensical and sensible versions was word order. The first version did not make sense because we didn’t understand the syntax, not because we didn’t understand the meanings of the individual words.

The primary equivalent of this in Old English is its inflections: nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, etc (Old English relies on word order as well, but word order is less important than inflection: there is some evidence to show that scribes fail to understand sentences that have appropriate word order but errors in inflection; in Modern English, we almost always assume that word order is correct and the inflections are wrong if there is a contradiction between the two).

In order to understand fully a sentence in Old English, therefore, we need to know what endings are associated with each word in the sentence and what those endings indicate about the relationship of the word to the rest of the sentence. Because Modern English doesn’t rely on inflections as much as Old English, our “translation” of our analysis of this syntax will be reflected in the word order we choose.

Now, because Modern English is descended from Old English, word order in the two languages is often identical and you can “get away” with just translating the words: e.g. Sēo sunne is miċel, “The sun is big.”

The problem is that you can’t rely on this: Old English and Modern English word order can diverge even in simple sentences; they do diverge in more complex sentences and especially in more literary contexts like poetry or artistic prose. If you haven’t got into the habit of analysing the Old English grammar as well as translating the meanings of the words, you can run into real problems when you hit a sentence where the word order is different from what we can allow in Modern English.

Here’s a simple example to show what I mean:

Þone stān slōh þæt wīf

The lexical translation of this sentence (i.e. just a translation of the words), would be as follows:

The stone struck the woman

This sentence makes sense in Modern English, so if you only translate the words, you will be tempted to stop here.

But if we analyse the endings, we’ll see that a purely lexical translation gets things exactly wrong. Here is an anlysis of the endings in the sentence. ASM = accusative singular masculine, NSN = nominative singular neuter, 3SPast = 3rd person, singular, past tense:

ASM ASM 3SPast NSN NSN

(note: although stān and wīf don’t have any endings, we know their grammatical information because of the demonstrative pronouns that precede them: þone and þæt respectively)

Anglo-Saxons use the accusative to indicate direct objects (amongst other things), and the nominative to indicate subjects. In Modern English, we normally use the first position in the sentence for our subjects, and the first or second slot after a verb for our direct objects. So in order to translate the sentence correctly, we also have to “translate” this syntax by moving the words around in our final translation:

The woman struck the stone

This is a simple example that could easily be real Old English (it implies that the Anglo-Saxon author wanted to emphasise that it was a stone the woman hit). But translating only the words produced exactly the wrong translation. When sentences get more complicated, the chances for things going wrong increase greatly!

So a Modern English translation actually has two translations built into it: a translation of the Old English words into Modern English words, and a translation of Old English inflections into Modern English word order. It is only when you have done both that you can be sure you understand what the sentence means.

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English 3450a: Old English (Spring 2014)

Posted: Dec 25, 2013 15:12;
Last Modified: Aug 23, 2014 19:08

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Note: This is a draft syllabus and is subject to revision before the last day of the add/drop period.

English 3450 introduces students to Old English, the principal ancestor of our present day English, and the language of daily life in early medieval (Anglo-Saxon) England (from approximately the mid 400s to the mid 1100s).

Contents

Times and location

Office and Office Hours

My office is room B810B. My telephone numbers, a map, office hours, and other contact information is available on my Contact page.

My office hours are TBA. In the meantime, feel free to set an appointment

About this course

English 3450 introduces students to Old English, the principal ancestor of our present day English, and the language of daily life in early medieval (Anglo-Saxon) England (from approximately the mid 400s to the mid 1100s).

The Calendar describes the course in this way:

The study of Old English language and literature. Instruction in basic Old English grammar and syntax, translation practice, and an introduction to the language’s literary and historical context.

As this suggests, our main goal will be to learn the Language. The English we speak today is derived largely from that spoken in the Anglo-Saxon period. Indeed, although the English language has borrowed a huge number of words from other languages, our core vocabulary, as much as 80% of the words we use in daily conversation, have their origins in Old English. The Anglo-Saxons often had different words for things we have since borrowed words to discuss—and of course we have developed many words for things the Anglo-Saxons had no knowledge of or reason to discuss! But they might well recognise many of the words we use to tie our sentences together and discuss every day activities.

The real difference will be in the grammar. Old English grammar is quite different from Modern English grammar, and, as a result, must be learned by most students as if it were a foreign language (students who know modern germanic languages such as High or Low German,Dutch, or the Nordic languages may find useful congruences to Old English).

In the course of the year, we will study and practice Old English grammar, phonology (the study of the sounds of a language), and script (how it is written). To provide us with a basis for comparison, we will also devote some attention to practicing and improving our knowledge of Modern English grammar and phonology. Our principal method of study, however, will be practical: most class and study time will be devoted to translation work from Old to Modern English.

Although it will not be the main focus of the course, students will complement their study of the Old English language with some study of its speakers and the culture in which it was used. We will discuss the range of Anglo-Saxon literature, learn about Anglo-Saxon culture and history, investigate the place of the Anglo-Saxons among their European contemporaries, and read some Anglo-Saxon literature in translation along side our readings in the original language.

Learning goals

By the end of the course students should have a basic reading knowledge of Old English and a sense of the period in which it was used. This involves being able to

Texts

Required

Assessment

This course uses two types of evaluation, formative (intended primarily to assist the student measure their progress and identify areas of improvement) and summative (intended primarily to assess a student’s success in accomplishing the course’s main learning goals.

Formative Assessment

Formative assignments are divided into two categories: exercises and reviews. Although grades will be assigned to most of these assignments, your final formative grade will consist of an equally weighted average of your best performance in each categories.

I will mark formative assignments handed in on the specific due date and will not mark work handed in late without a prior request for an extension or evidence of an emergency. While it is strongly recommended that students complete these projects on time, there is no specific penalty for failing to do so in any one instance. Students who do not receive a grade for at least one assignment in a formative category, however, will receive a grade of 0 for the entire category.

I reserve the right to add additional formative assignments to these categories throughout the semester in response to class interests and needs.

Category Assignment
Exercises What I did/did not know about Anglo-Saxon England
Poster and Presentation
Reviews Basic Paradigms and Translation
(Moodle: early February)
Advanced Paradigms and Translation
(Moodle: mid March)

Summative Assessment

Summative Assignments are used to determine how well students have accomplished the course’s learning goals. In addition to an average of students’ best score in each formative category, these will include a final exam, a research project, a translation project, and an attendance mark.

Assignment Value
Attendance [*] 5%
Blog 10%
Average of best score from each formative category 15%
Translation leadership 15%
Research Prospectus 5 %
Independent Research Project. Due: End of Semester 25%
Final Exam (Moodle) Exam Period 25%

* Note: Students will be graded on their presence and preparedness each class. All students will be allowed up to 4 unexcused absences or days in which they cannot translate in class. After these 4 are used up ever absence or lack of preparedness will result in a 2% penalty. Unexcused absences beyond this will result in the docking of a letter grade for each additional absence/lack of preparedness. Excused absences (i.e. absences due to illness, medical appointments, emergencies or accidents, etc.) will not count against these totals.

The summative evaluation scheme presented here should be considered tentative and open to change until the beginning of the last class before the Add/Drop deadline. After this date, the version found on-line will be definitive.

Policies

The following policies will be followed in all my classes unless otherwise announced. You are expected to be familiar with the policies reproduced here and in the more general section on my website. These additional web pages are to be considered part of this syllabus for the purposes of this course. Failure to conform to any of these policies may result in your grade being lowered.

Grade scale

The University of Lethbridge keeps track of student performance using a letter and grade point system (See section 4 of the University Calendar). Instructors assign students a letter grade at the end of each course (the University does not issue or record mid-term grades). These letter grades are converted to a numerical value (a Grade Point) for assessing overall academic performance (a Grade Point Average or GPA). The University does not record percentage-type grades and does not have a fixed scale for conversion from percentage scores to letter grades and grade points. Each instructor is responsible for determining their own methodology for determining students’ final letter grade.

In my classes, I use the following letter-grade to percentage correspondences:

  Excellent Good Satisfactory Poor Minimal pass Failing
Letter A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D F
Percent range 100-94 93-90 89-86 85-82 81-78 77-74 73-70 69-66 65-62 61-58 57-50 49-0
Conventional value 100 92 88 84 80 76 72 68 64 60 56 49-0
Grade point 4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.7 1.3 1.0 0

How your grade is determined depends on the type of work being assessed. Tests of specific skills or knowledge (such as identification questions in literature classes, or fact-oriented tests in my grammar and language classes) are usually assigned a numeric score which is easily converted to a percentage. Essays, presentations, and other performance-oriented tests are usually graded by letter. I convert letter grades to percentages by taking the median value in each grade-range, and rounding up to the nearest whole percent. The only exceptions are A+ (which is converted to 100%), and F (which is converted to an arbitrary percentage between 0% and 49% based on my estimation of the work’s quality). These scores can be found in the conventional value row of the above table.

In marking work I try to keep the University’s official description of these grades in mind (a description can be found in the University Calendar, Part IV.3.a). If you get an A it means your work is excellent; a B means your work is good; a C means it is satisfactory; a D that it is barely acceptable (minimal pass); and an F that it is failing to meet University-level standards.

I have prepared rubrics for most types of qualitative assignments (assignments that do not expect the student simply to provide a correct factual answer). These can be found in my Academic Policies section: http://people.uleth.ca/~daniel.odonnell/Academic-Policies/

Submitting Work

Tests, Exams, and Quizzes

Tests and Exams will be written in the University’s testing labs on Moodle. Quizzes may be presented on Moodle.

Essays and Reports

Essays and reports will normally be collected using Turnitin. Information on our account (URL, ID number, and Password) will be made available in our class space on Moodle: http://learning.uleth.ca/

Plagiarism

This course uses plagiarism detection software. Any plagiarism will be treated very seriously: you can expect to receive a grade of 0 on the assignment as well as other penalties depending on the seriousness of the offence.

Class schedule

OE Schedule
The following schedule is intended to help you plan your work for this course. The schedule is tentative and subject to change.

Week Date Topic Classwork Background Reading
1 Mon. 6/1 No class
Wed. 8/1 Welcome Syllabus and assessment  
Fri. 10/1 Spelling and Pronunciation
  • 1.a Practice Sentences
2 Sun 12/1 Please complete your profile on Moodle (with picture and statement of interests) by midnight tonight.
Mon. 13/1  
  • 1.b Practice Sentences
  • § 6-9: Stress, Vowels, Diphthongs, Consonants
Wed. 15/1 Lecture: Inflected vs word order languages.
Fri. 17/1 Grammar Whole Class Tutorial: Old and Modern English Grammar
3 Mon. 20/1  
  • 1.c Practice Sentences
 
Wed. 22/1 Whole Class Tutorial: Grammar Practice I
Fri. 24/1 Whole Class Tutorial: Grammar Practice II
4 Sun. 26/1 What I did not know about Anglo-Saxon England Due by 23:59)
Mon. 27/1 Nouns: The Major Declensions
1) Strong Nouns
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy.
    • Performance (1-21): Group A
    • Translation (1-11): Group F
    • Translation (11-21): Group E
  • Cheatsheet: Nouns Row;
  • § 33: Masculine Strong Nouns; § 34 Strong Neuter Nouns; § 37 Strong Feminine Nouns
Wed. 29/1 Learning in Anglo-Saxon England   Read “Introduction,” from “The Life of King Alfred,” “Preface to Gregory,” and “Colloquy” in the section Example and Exhortation in The Anglo-Saxon World
Fri. 31/1 2) Weak Nouns
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy.
    • Performance (22-45): Group C
    • Translation (22-40): Group D
 
5 Mon. 3/2  
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy.
    • Performance (45-91): Group E
    • Translation (41-70): Group C
  • Cheatsheet: Nouns Row;
  • § 25: Weak Nouns
Wed. 5/2 Sermons   Read “Sermon of the Wolf to the English” in The Anglo-Saxon World
Fri. 7/2  
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy.
    • Performance (92-130): Group F
    • Translation (71-107): Group B
 
6 Basic Paradigms and Translation Review (Moodle) 10/2-17/2
Mon. 10/2 Whole Class Tutorial: Translation Techniques. Tips and Tricks.
Wed. 12/2      
Fri. 14/2  
  • Translation (150-178): Individual Students
 
Mon. 17/2-Friday 21/2: Reading Week (No classes)
7 Mon. 24/2 Verbs: The Major Declensions
1) Weak Verbs
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy.
    • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy.
      • Performance (131-167): Group D
      • Translation (108-149): Group A
  • Cheatsheet: Verbs Row;
  • §§ 87-88, 114: Introduction to OE Verbs; §§ 124-125: Weak verb lufian
Wed. 26/2      
Fri. 28/2 2) Strong Verbs
  • 3. Ælfric’s Colloquy.
    • Performance (168-205): Group B
    • Translation (179-215): Individual Students
  • Cheatsheet: Verbs Row;
  • §§ 110-113: Strong Verb singan
8 Mon. 3/3 3) Irregular verbs
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 126 (beginning)-149 (translation)
  • Cheatsheet: Verbs Row;
  • §§ 126, 127, A.3b: habban, bēon, wēorðian
Wed. 5/3 History   Read “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” in The Anglo-Saxon World
Fri. 7/3  
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 150-180
 
9 Mon. 10/3 Adjectives: Declension and Syntax
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 180-212
  • Cheatsheet: Adjectives column;
  • §§ 66-67 Strong adjectives (learn gōd not til)
Wed. 12/3  
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 212-250
 
Fri. 14/3  
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 250-292
 
10 Advanced Paradigms and Translation Review 17/3-24/3
Mon. 17/3 Statuatory Holiday
Wed. 19/3      
Fri. 21/3  
  • 4. Ælfric’s Life of Edward, 292-331 (end)
 
11 Mon. 24/3  
  • 9. Bede’s Account of the Poet Cædmon, 1-35
 
Wed. 26/3 Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Metre
  • 9. Bede’s Account of the Poet Cædmon, 35-44 (Cædmon’s Hymn)
Fri. 28/3  
  • 9. Bede’s Account of the Poet Cædmon, 45-86
 
12 Mon. 31/3  
  • 9. Bede’s Account of the Poet Cædmon, 87-126 (end)
 
Wed. 2/4 Paleography Tutorial: Whole Class
Fri. 4/4  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 1-20a
 
13 Mon. 7/4  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 40-60a
 
Wed. 9/4  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 60b-80a
 
Fri. 11/4  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 80b-101a
 
14 Mon. 14/4  
  • 14. The Dream of the Rood, 101b-121
 
Wed. 16/4 No class
Fri. 18/4 No class
Independent Research Project Due.
  22/4-30/4 Final Exam Period
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The Old English Alphabet

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 17:09;
Last Modified: Jun 07, 2016 12:06

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Old English texts were copied in manuscripts by scribes. These scribes used an alphabet based on the Latin alphabet, but with some native additions and occasionally runes.

The most important of these additions were

Otherwise the Old English alphabet contained more or less the same letters as the Modern English alphabet, though as we’ll see, several looked somewhat different. The main exceptions are our letters k, v, z, w, the Norman-derived spellings wh, th, sh, and also dg (as in edge), and some differences in the sounds associated with the letters c, g, f, s, and y (For a more detailed discussion of these sounds with example sound files, see my tutorial on the Pronunciation of Old English).

Although Old and Modern English have a large number of letters in common, the forms of these letter were not always the same. Some of the differences can be seen if you compare the image below, a detail from the late tenth/early eleventh century manuscript Winchester Cathedral I folio 81r showing the text of Cædmon’s Hymn, with its transcription in a modern computer font:

Nuƿe sculon heria
heri heofon rices ƿ
metoddes mihte ⁊h
mod ge þanc ƿeorc ƿ

(Winchester Cathedral I folio 81r. Manuscript reproduced with the permission of the Dean and Chapter of Winchester/Winchester Cathedral Library. Please to not reproduce without permission). The background to this image has been simplified slightly for pedagogical purposes. The unmodified version is available here.

In addition to these letters, Anglo-Saxon scribes also very occasionally use runes, as letters in their own right and occasionally to stand for a complete word. Thus the rune ᛟ (eþel) sometimes appears instead of the word eþel ‘estate’, ‘homestead’ in Old English texts. Most often, however, the use of runes in Old English manuscripts is ornamental or self-consciously literary.

Computers and the Anglo-Saxon alphabet.

All Anglo-Saxon letters, including þ, ð, and ƿ are represented in Unicode, the modern standard for encoding characters on a computer.

Old English Character Unicode Code Point
Minuscule Majuscule Lowercase Uppercase
þ Þ U+00FE U+00DE
ð Ð U+00F0 U+00D0
ƿ Ƿ U+01BF U+01F7

A runic alphabet can be found in Unicode between U+16A0 and U+16F0.

On most modern computer systems, these characters can be accessed via a character map utility or, within a word processor, via the Insert Special Characters menu option. It is also possible to modify your keyboard to allow direct typing. See, for Linux, my article on creating custom keyboards. Commercial software allowing you to achieve similar effects is available for both Mac and Windows.

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Basic Old English Grammar

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 17:09;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 18:05

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Old English as an Inflectional Language

Old English and Modern English can be deceptively similar from a syntactic point of view. In particular, word order frequently is the same in the two languages (though Old English is actually probably closer in some aspects of its word order to other Low German languages such as Dutch). This means that it is often possible to translate simple declarative sentences from Old English by simply looking up the meaning of each word in a dictionary.

This similarity is deceptive, however, because speakers of Modern English and speakers of Old English thought of their languages’ grammar in different ways. To speakers of Modern English, word order is by far the most important syntactic clue to a sentence’s grammar: we always try to make the subject of a sentence out of the first word or phrase and the verb out of the second, even if other features are telling us otherwise.

To speakers of Old English, on the other hand, word order was only one clue to a sentence’s grammatical sense—and even then not necessarily the most important: a speaker of Old English would pay as much or more attention to a word’s inflections (special endings—like “apostrophe s” in Modern English—that indicate a word’s grammatical function in a sentence) in deciphering a sentence as to a word’s position in the sentence.

This can be best illustrated by an example. Consider the following sentence:

me broke the bridge

Most speakers of Modern English, would understand the above sentence as meaning “I broke the bridge.” Although the “subject” me is actually what most standard varieties of English would consider to be an object form, its position at the beginning of the sentence trumps this consideration: the word comes first, so it must be the subject; the bridge, likewise, must be the object, because it follows the verb—even though its form would also suit a subject. In other words, no speaker of Modern English would allow the information provided by the sentence’s morphology (the form of the words and their endings) to overrule conflicting information from the sentence’s word order. Except in the most extreme cases—such as in the following sentence, which an informal survey suggests most speakers of Modern English have trouble understanding—speakers of Modern English always resolve conflicts between word order and morphology in word order’s favour:

The girl’s breaks the bridge

Speakers of Old English, on the other hand, seem to have privileged morphology over word order. When information from a word’s position in the sentence and its morphology conflict, morphology generally triumphs.

Here are two translations of the first example sentence into Old English:

me bræc þære bricg
me bræc seo bricg

Semantically (in terms of meaning), the words in each sentence are identical to the first Modern English example: me means me, bræc means broke, seo and þære are both forms of a word meaning the, and bricg means bridge.

Syntactically, however, only the second sentence makes any kind of sense in Old English—and it means “the bridge broke me.” If we keep me, the object form of the first person pronoun, as the first word of the sentence, the sentence can never mean “I broke the bridge” in Old English1; to an Anglo-Saxon, a subject is only a subject if it has the correct morphological form. In the first Old English sentence, all the words except the verb broke are in the object form (þære is an object form of “the” in Old English): to a speaker of Old English, it is as hard to decipher as “The girl’s breaks the bridge” is to us. In the second Old English example, seo bricg is in the subject form (seo is a subject form of “the”). To an Anglo-Saxon, that means it must be the subject, despite its odd place in the sentence (Anglo-Saxons prefer Subject-Verb-Object word order, just like we do, even if they can understand sentences that violate it).

What this means is that in learning to read Old English, we must train ourselves to privilege morphology over word order. If the endings don’t make sense, we have to train ourselves to find the sentence as being as non-sensical as “The girl’s breaks the bridge,” regardless of whether we think we could come up with a sensible sentence by just following the word order.

It also means that we will have to learn some inflectional morphology (i.e. the pattern of endings, like “apostrophe s” in Modern English, that indicate a word’s grammatical function in a sentence). Modern English has relatively little inflectional morphology: nouns can have ‘s or s’ for the possessive and indicate singular and plural; verbs can use the presence or absence of s to indicate person in the present (i.e. whether the subject is “I”, “you” or “he/she/it.” Only in the case of the personal pronouns (I/we, you/you, he, she, it/they) do we have a more complete set of endings that allow us to do things like distinguish among subjects and objects (a more thorough discussion of basic Modern English morphology can be found in my tutorial Grammar Essentials I: Inflections/Inflectional Morphology):

First person pronoun
Number Function Form
Singular Subject I
Object/Indirect Object me
Possessive my
Plural Subject we
Object/Indirect Object us
Possessive our
Second person pronoun
Number Function Form
Singular Subject you
Object/Indirect Object you
Possessive your
Plural Subject you
Object/Indirect Object you
Possessive your
Third person pronoun
Number Function Form
Singular Subject he she it
Object/Indirect Object him her it
Possessive his her its
Plural Subject they
Object/Indirect Object them
Possessive their

In Old English, similar patterns of inflections are found on other types of words as well: articles (more properly in this case known as demonstrative pronouns), like this, that, and the; nouns; and adjectives. In the same way we can distinguish between subject and object forms of a pronoun by form (even if we sometimes ignore this information), so too Anglo-Saxons can distinguish between subject, object, possessive, and even indirect object forms of their pronouns, nouns, and adjectives (you can brush-up on your knowledge of Modern English word classes with my tutorial Grammar Essentials 2: Parts of Speech/Word Classes).

Learning these forms is a major goal of any Old English course. As you progress with our translations you will become increasingly familiar with the different forms for the various parts of speech. To begin with, however, we can start by learning the endings on the demonstrative and personal pronouns. These both (in the case of the personal pronouns) are the most similar to what we already know as speakers of Modern English, and, fortunately, show endings that we will see over and over again with other forms.

A note about terminology

In the above discussion, I have used the terms “subject,” “object,” “indirect object” when speaking of both word order and morphology. In actual fact this is not really accurate: subject, object, indirect object, and possessive are really syntactic functions (words that describe what a word does in the sentence) rather than morphological categories (some of which can perform more than one function). From now on, we will be using the more tradition inflectional terminology to describe cases:

Syntactic Function Morphological Form
Subject Nominative
Object Accusative
Possession Genitive
Indirect/Prepositional Object Dative

Each morphological form can perform more than one function—in Old English you use the subject form to call people as well as indicate the subject of a sentence, for example. But as a rule of thumb, the above table shows the main equivalences.

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Notes

1 “Never” is a large claim. In actual fact, of course, writers of Old English, like writers of any other language occasionally commit solecisms and in the very late period the endings became more confused.

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The Pronunciation of Old English

Posted: Sep 18, 2008 17:09;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 18:05

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Introduction

The sounds of Old English should not prove difficult, with a few exceptions, for speakers of Modern English. It can be hard at first to get used to some of the spelling conventions, such as the fact that all letters—including final e—are pronounced; but on the whole Old English does not have many sounds that are not the same as in Modern English, and, in most cases, indicated by the same letters (you can read a brief tutorial on Old English script here).

This is particularly true of the short vowels and the consonants, most of which are thought to have been largely the same as their Modern English equivalents. The lax e /ɛ/ in Modern English edge, for example, is probably not all that different from the short e [ɛ] the word’s Old English ancestor, ecg [1]. Likewise the d [d] in Old English dysiġ (‘foolish’), was pronounced much the same as the same letter in dizzy, the Modern English descendant of dysiġ.

There are two major exceptions to this. The first involves the Old English long vowels, which underwent great changes in the transition from late Middle to early Modern English (roughly the period between Chaucer and Shakespeare). The second is the existence of a few vowel and consonant sounds that are rare or no longer exist in Modern English or that fail to reflect distinctions we now consider important. These include the sounds associated with the letter *, some of the sounds associated with *c, *, and *h, and the fact that the sounds we now associate with s and z and with f and v do not seem to have been seen as distinct meaningful sounds (phonemes) in Anglo-Saxon England.

The following sections discuss each of the major groups of sounds in turn. In each case you are given some examples of the sound in Old and Modern English and a sound clip illustrating the sound in and Old English context. At the end of each section there is an exercise, suitable for downloading to an Digital Audio Player (such as an iPod or similar), that allows you to practice the sounds out loud while comparing yourself to a reference sample.

Consonants

With a very few exceptions, the Old English consonant system is essentially identical that of Old English. Hence the sound spelled by the Old English letter b was pronounced more or less as is that spelled by our modern b: Old English bār, Modern English boar (i.e. wild pig).

Even when Anglo-Saxons used different characters or spellings, the actual sounds were mostly the same:

Old English also distinguished between long and short consonants. This distinction, which is found in Modern Italian, has no equivalent in Modern English. When pronouncing a long consonant, which were usually written as double consonants, try to hold the consonant longer than you would for a regular (i.e. short) consonant.

Consonant IPA Value1 Old English Example Comments
b b bār, ‘boar’  
c k cyning, ‘king’ Often spelled with a k in Middle and Modern English
ʧ ċīese The dot above the letter for this sound is a modern convention not found in the manuscripts.
cg ʤ ecg, ‘edge’  
d d dysiġ, ‘foolish’  
f f wīf, ‘woman’  
v wīfum, ‘to/by/for/with the women’  
g g gār, ‘spear’  
ɣ būgan, ‘to bow’ These sounds are commonly spelled with a w in modern English.
j ġeard, ‘enclosure, yard’ The dot above the letter for this sound is a modern convention not found in the manuscripts.
h h hlūde, ‘loud’ Initially
x cniht Medially and finally; often spelled gh in Middle and Modern English
l l lār, ‘teaching, lore’ &#:x00A0;
m m miċel, ‘great, big; Yorkshire: mickle’  
n n nȳd, ‘necessity’  
ŋ sang When in combination with g, say the sound as in modern English -ing words, but then also add the g.
p p pleoh, ‘danger, risk’  
r r rōf, ‘strong’ Rolled.
s s seġl, ‘sail’  
z cēosan, ‘to choose’  
sc ʃ æsc, ‘ash’  
sk ascian, ‘to ask’ Many (but not all) words with sk in Modern English are of Norse original while those with sh are from Old English; cf. shirt (from Old English) and skirt (same word, but from Norse)
t t til, ‘good’  
þ or ð θ þær (or ðær), ‘there’  
ð cweðan (or cweþan), ‘to say’  

Vowels

Old English made a quantitative and probably qualitative distinction between long and short vowels. This means that vowels were distinguished by how long they were held as much or more than by differences in how they sound. The vowel in Old English god (Modern English God) was certainly shorter and probably had a different sound (though not as dramatically different a sound as its Modern English descendent has) than gōd (Modern English good); the Old English words āc (Modern English oak) and ac (‘but, and’) differed primarily in length.

In Modern English, we no longer recognise length as a meaningful distinction between vowels. Instead we recognise differences in tenseness and quality. What are often called “short” vowels in Old English are really lax; so-called “long vowels” are actually tense. Fortunately, however, Modern English short vowels correspond quite closely to Old English short vowels; and while Modern English tense vowels sound quite different from Old English long vowels, our set of tense vowels matches the Old English set of long vowels.

Old English did have one set of vowels, at least in the earlier periods, which we no longer have: front rounded vowels, long and short, written as y. This is similar to an umlauted u in German, or the u in French tu. To form it, begin by saying (and holding) a long or short i. While you are saying the i, round your lips as if you were saying a u. When your lips are rounded, you’ll have the sound. Listen to the reference examples to practice—but even if you can’t do it in the end, take heart; by the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, the sounds were more or less indistinguishable from the corresponding form of i.

Long vowels

Because length is not a quality we hear naturally any more as native speakers of English, it is the quality of the long vowels that probably is most striking to our ears. In addition to being longer than their Modern English descendants, Old English long vowels also tend to have the values associated with them in continental languages like French, Dutch, German, or Italian, rather than their Modern English sounds:

Old English Vowel IPA Symbol1 Mnemonic Old English Example
ȳ French ruse cȳþþ ‘kith, friends’
ī beat wīte, ‘punishment’
ē bait ēþel, ‘homeland, territory’
ā ɑː  aunt (non-Canadian pronunciation) [2] stān, ‘stone’
ǣ æː bat bæde, ‘bade, i.e. asked, commanded’
ō boat gōd, ‘good’
ū boot brūcan, ‘to enjoy’

Listen to the Long vowels and example words

Short Vowels

As noted above the short vowels correspond very closely, with the exception of y, to our Modern English lax vowels:

Old English Vowel IPA Symbol1 Mnemonic Old English Example
y y French tu cynn ‘kin, family’
i ɪ bit scip, ‘ship’
e ɛ bet ecg, ‘ecg, sword’
a ɑ father pað, ‘path’
æ æ bad cræft, ‘skill or trade’
o ɔ bought god, ‘God’
u ʊ book sunu, ‘son’

Listen to the short vowels and example words

Diphthongs

Old English had three main sets of long and short diphthongs: ea/ēa, eo/ēo, and ie/īe:

Old English Diphthong IPA Symbol1 Equivalent to Old English Example
ea æa æ+a  
ēa æːa ǣ+a  
eo ɛɔ e+o  
ēo eːɔ ē+o  
ie ɪɛ i+e  
īe iːɛ ī+e  

The Old English diphthongs were strongly falling. That is to say they gave a much stronger prominence to the first part of the glide than the second. By the late Old English period, all were probably equivalent to long and short æ, e, and i, respectively.

Exercise

The following podcast contains an exercise that will let you practice your Old English consonants, long and short vowels, and diphthongs.

You complete the exercise as follows:

  1. Listen to the Old English sound, example word, and Modern English translation
  2. In the pause that follows this, trying saying the Old English sound and example word yourself
  3. Listen again as the sound, Old English word, and Modern English translation is repeated
  4. Then try the Old English sound and word again, correcting any problems.
  5. If you are still having difficulty, repeat the exercise for the sound and word, before moving on to the next.

Listen to an exercise involving long vowels

Listen to an exercise involving short vowels


Notes

1 Symbols in square or slanted brackets (e.g. /ɛ/ or [ɛ]) are notations for the relevant sound in IPA. Not all students will understand this system, so I have also provided spelling pronunciations based on North American English. If you would like to hear the sounds associated with the IPA symbols, a good site to visit is the following: http://www.phonetics.ucla.edu/course/chapter1/chapter1.html (thanks to Lee Ann Schneider for the link).

2 In Canadian English aunt (i.e. the sister of your father or mother) sounds the same as (is a homophone of) ant (i.e. the creepy crawly thing). Old English ā sounds like the first sound in aunt when spoken by people who can hear the difference between aunts and ants.

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How to Study Old English (or Latin or any other dead language) for a Test or an Exam

Posted: Oct 08, 2007 19:10;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

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Introduction

Students who study Old English need to call on skills and learning techniques that they probably have not had much opportunity to use in other university-level literature classes, especially if this literature was in their native language. They need to know and keep in the front of their minds the grammar of both Old English and Modern English; they need to do intensive work with dictionaries and glossaries; and they are working with texts that can seem quite alien to modern sensibilities.

So how should you study in Old English class? Here are some tips I’ve compiled from personal experience and asking other scholars of my generation who have studied ancient or medieval languages (e.g. Latin, Greek, Old English, Old Frisian, etc.).

There is one principle running through them all: the point of an Old English class is to learn Old English. In everything you do you should keep the Old English at the centre of your work.

1. Do not write in your text book

The first tip is to avoid writing in your text book. When you come to study for a final exam, you will find a clean text book is much more useful for self-testing than one that has all your glosses marked on the page.

2. Write out the original text (in Old English) in your note book (1 side of the page, triple or quadruple spaced)

Writing out the target language is a useful habit to get into in the early days of your language study. It gets you used to the spelling conventions and trains your eye as to standard linguistic and lexical patterns. You may even find by the end of the semester that you are beginning to recognise unusual forms (particularly morphology) as you copy them out.

Triple or quadruple space your text in order to give you plenty of space for glossing, arrows, and corrections from your seminar.

You should write out your text on one side of the page only so that you can use the back of the previous page for additional notes: writing down words you find yourself looking up constantly (I used to write out every word I looked up), explanatory notes or idiomatic translations.

3. Gloss both sense and syntax.

As we’ve mentioned in class, translating from Old to Modern English involves two distinct types of translation: lexical/semantic and syntactic. It is not enough to know what a word means, you also need to understand what its inflections and position tell you it is doing in the sentence. Get in the habit early of writing both the meaning and information about grammatical form of words in the specific context you are translating—e.g. case, gender, number, person, tense, part of speech, etc. as applicable.

When you are glossing words, be sure to reflect the Old English syntax in your gloss. If you discover that a form like scipes is genitive singular, for example, gloss it as “of a ship” or “a ship’s” not as “ship”—this will help you put the sentence together in your head by preventing you from placing the form in the wrong place in your sentence.

This approach is particularly important with personal pronouns: the dative singular third person plural personal pronoun should be glossed initially as “by/with/to/for them” and not as “they” (which would be nominative, after all).

4. Leave the words in Old English word order and use arrows or numbers to indicate the correct order for your translation.

While it is tempting, especially in the early weeks of a class, to bring a finished running translation to class, this is less useful in the end than a glossed text. If you make a mistake in a finished translation, it can be difficult to correct—you need to rewrite your translation and this can be very difficult to do quickly in class. The problem is worse if you bring only a modern English translation to class: you’ll end up having no idea what went wrong because you won’t have a glossed Old English to consult.

If you leave the text in Old English word order and use arrows or numbers to help you figure out the order you should be using in your Modern English, you’ll find in-class correction much easier. Made a mistake in word order? Just scratch out the wrong arrows and add new ones showing the correct order.

5. Study by rereading everything—Two or three times!

The best way of studying for a translation exam is by rereading everything several times.

This may seem like an impossible task—how could you possibly reread in reading week or the week before an exam texts that took the entire class an entire semester to translate the first time?

In actual fact, you’ll find the translation goes much fast the second and third and fourth times:

  1. You know a lot more than you did at the beginning of the semester
  2. Your notebook has all the dictionary work and syntactic information and arrows you need, so you don’t need to look everything up again
  3. You know what the texts are about now, and, if you’ve been attending class, should recognise the difficult passages as soon as they show up in your reading.

I recommend the following approach to rereading your material

  1. On your first pass, read the Old English from your text book (fortunately you’ve not marked it up!). Keep your notebook open beside you. Consult your notebook as often as you need, but focus on your text book: you are trying to retranslate everything, not study your previous translations.
  2. On your second pass, try to read the Old English from your text book. This time, try not to consult your notebook except when you are really stuck. If you find yourself looking up words that you know you should know, write down these words and their translations on a list that you can use to study/memorise later.
  3. On your third and fourth passes try to read the Old English from your textbook with your notebook closed. If you really need to look something up, go ahead (either in your notebook or using the gloss at the back of the book), but push yourself not to. If you are stuck, try guessing before you look things up. Guessing is also a good skill to practice before you go into the exam!

By the time you’ve completed your third or fourth pass you are as prepared as you are ever going to be: get a good night’s sleep and come to the exam with a clear head!

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Old English Metre: A Brief Guide

Posted: Nov 21, 2006 21:11;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

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Although the Anglo-Saxons left no accounts of their metrical organisation, statistical and linguistic analysis of the poetic corpus has allowed us to come up with a good idea as to how their verse worked.

Like all early Germanic metres, Old English verse is accentual and alliterative. With very few exceptions, end rhyme does not play a structural role. And even when it is found, it never takes the place of alliteration (initial rhyme) in the earlier verse.

Stress and line division

The basic line consists of four stressed syllables and at least four lesser-stressed syllables (conventionally described as ‘unstressed’). A very strong caesura (metrical break) is found between stresses two and three. This caesura is so strong, indeed, that we tend to describe the verse in terms of half-lines: the half-line before the caesura is known as the a-verse or on-verse, the half-line after the caesura as the b-verse or off-verse.

In modern printed editions, on- and off-verses are separated graphically by a gap of three or four spaces, as in the following except from Cædmon’s Hymn (ed. O’Donnell 2005, adapted from the transcription of Tanner 10 [T1]):

Nu sculon herigean    heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte,    ond his modgeþanc,
weorc wuldorfæder—    swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece drihten,    or onstealde!

Now we must honour the guardian of heaven,
The might of the measurer, and his thoughts,
The work of the father of glory—as he, the eternal lord,
Created the beginning of each of wonders!

In Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, poetry is written from margin to margin, as in the following facsimile (reproduction) and diplomatic transcription from the same manuscript (adapted from O’Donnell 2005)1. While Anglo-Saxon scribes did not place each line of poetry on a separate line in their manuscripts, they often did mark line boundaries and caesuras with a raised point or other punctuation. There is also considerable evidence to suggest that they were aware of metre as they copied (see O’Brien O’Keeffe 1990 and O’Donnell 1996).

Detail from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Tanner 10 showing the beginning and end of Cædmon's Hymn. Contrast and colour balance has been artificially enhanced to show detail.

[ Approx. 28 characters omitted ] Nusculon herıgean heofon|
rıces ƿeard meotodes meahte ⁊hıs 〈mod〉geþanc ƿeorc|
ƿuldor fæder sƿahe ƿundra gehƿæs ee{c}e 〈a{d}〉rih〈t〉en or on|
stealde· he ærest sceop eorðan bearnū heofonto hrofe|
halıg scyppend· þamıddangeard moncynnes ƿeard ece|
drıhten æfter teode fın{r}um foldan frea ælmıhtıg· [ Approx. 3 characters omitted ]

Alliteration

The half-lines are tied together by alliteration. The rule is that one or both of stressed syllables in the on-verse must alliterate with the first stressed syllable in the off-verse. The second stressed syllable in the off-verse must not share in the alliteration. The following lines show the standard pattern of alliteration (alliterating syllables in bold):

meotodes meahte,    ond hıs modgeþanc,

weorc wuldorfæder—    swa he wundra gehwæs,

ece drıhten    æfter teode

Consonantal Alliteration

When the alliterating syllables begin with a consonant, the sounds must be identical. Hence s alliterates only with s, b only with b, and so on. This is also true of certain consonant clusters beginning with s: stressed syllables beginning with sp only alliterate with other stressed syllables beginning with sp, stressed syllables beginning with st only alliterate with other stressed syllables beginning with st, and stressed syllables beginning with sc alliterate only with other stressed syllables beginning with sc.

Two exceptions (though they may not look like exceptions to the beginning student) are stressed syllables beginning with the characters 〈c〉 and 〈g〉. For most of the historical period, these characters were used to represent two distinct sounds each: 〈c〉 was used for /ʧ/, the sound at the beginning of Modern English church (Old English cyric), and /k/, the sound at the beginning of Modern English king (Old English cyning); 〈g〉 was used for /y/, the sound at the beginning of Modern English yard (Old English geard), and /g/, the sound at the beginning of Modern English good (Old English gōd) (see Campbell 1959/1991, Chapter 1).2 Except in the latest Old English poetry, however, poets do not distinguish between these sounds in their alliteration: stressed syllables beginning with the letter 〈c〉 alliterate with other stressed syllables beginning in 〈c〉 regardless of whether the sound being represented is /ʧ/ or /k/; likewise, stressed syllables beginning with the letter 〈g〉 alliterate with other stressed syllables beginning with 〈g〉 regardless of whether the letter stands for /y/ or /g/. Thus Old English cēap ‘bargain, purchase’ (Modern English cheap) alliterates with cyn ‘race, tribe’ (Modern English kin) in Beowulf 2482:

heardan cēape;    Hæðcynne wearð

…a hard bargain; to Hæðcyn was…

More common is alliteration between /g/ and /k/ (e.g. as between begoten ‘covered’, golde (Modern English gold), and gimmas ‘jewels’ (Modern English gems) in The Dream of the Rood, 7:

begoten mid golde;    gimmas stōdon

In the tenth-century or later, poets do distinguish between these sounds in their alliteration (see Amos 1980). Thus in the late poem The Battle of Maldon, 32, the 〈g〉 in gārrǣs ‘Spear-rush’ and gafole ‘tribute’ (both of which would be pronounced /g/) alliterate with each other, but not with the 〈g〉 in forgieldan, which would be pronounced /j/ (compare Modern English yield which shares the same etymology)3:

þæt gē þisne gārrǣs    mid gafole forgielden

…that you repay this spear-rush with tribute…

Vocalic Alliteration

All vowels and diphthongs alliterate with each other (i.e. stressed syllables beginning in a can alliterate with stressed syllables beginning in æ, a, e, i, o, u, y, ea, eo, or ie). No distinction is made between short and long vowels or between vowels and dipthongs, and in practice better poets tended to avoid alliterating like vowels with like. It is for this reason perhaps better to understand ‘vocalic’ alliteration as reflecting the absence of consonantal alliteration than alliteration in its own right. Cædmon’s Hymn has three examples of vocalic alliteration:

ece drihten    or onstealde4

he ærest sceop    eorðan bearnum

ece drıhten    æfter teode

Accentual Patterns

Most half-lines in the Old English corpus belong to one or another of a limited number of accentual patterns. These patterns, which are traditionally called metrical types, are distinguished by the way in which the stressed, unstressed, and semi-stressed syllables are arranged.

Sievers types

Traditionally, there are said to be five major metrical types, organised according to a system first developed by Eduard Sievers, the late nineteenth-century German linguist who first identified them. The patterns (known as Sievers types) are named by letter, in descending order of frequency:

Type A: /×/×
Type B: ×/×/
Type C: ×//×
Type D: //\×
Type E: /\×/

(In this system of scansion, / is used to mark metrically stressed syllables, × is used to mark metrically ‘unstressed’ syllables, and \ to mark metrically ‘half-stressed’ syllables.)

Each of these types has a number of subtypes. These generally involve variation in the number of unstressed syllables or the replacement of an unstressed with a half-stressed syllable. Additional variants involve the placement of unstressed syllables before the first stress of Type A, D, and perhaps E lines (a technique known as anacrusis). A separate type of very long line—known as hypermetric and found particularly in the Dream of the Rood—is built along comparable principles. A useful beginning-level discussion of the various subtypes can be found in Pope and Fulk 2001, 129-158).

The following Modern English ‘poem’, adapted from Mitchell and Robinson 2001, p. 165, can be used to help you remember the different types:

Type A (/×/×) Anna angry
Type B (×/×/) And Bryhtnoth bold
Type C (×//×) In keen conflict
Type D (//\×) Drive Don backwards
Type E (/\×/) Each one with edge

Whether or not a syllable is metrically stressed depends on its length, word-stress and clause-stress.

Syllable Length

Syllables can be long in three different ways:

Long by nature

Syllables are long by nature when they contain a long vowel (marked with a macron in many textbooks and dictionaries). Stressed syllables that are long by nature (marked in bold) include:

Long by position

Syllables are long by position when they are followed by two or more consonants in the middle of a word or one or more consonants at the word boundary. Examples, marked in bold, include:

Resolution

Resolution is a purely metrical phenomenon where by short stressed syllables are counted as long if they are followed by an unaccented syllable that is not necessary for the metre; resolution is marked using a tie symbol: to connect the stressed and unstressed syllables. The following examples (bold) are all long because they can be “resolved” using the following (unstressed) syllable (italics):

Resolution depends on the metrical context: some sub-types allow the present of short stressed or unstressed syllables. The following example, for example, does not show resolution:

Word-stress
Primary stress

In Germanic (the ancestor of Old English and other languages like German and Dutch), primary stress fell on the first syllable of all words. In Old English, this rule is largely preserved, meaning that primary stress falls on the first syllable of all simple words and most compounds5:

unnytt, ‘useless’; giefu, ‘gift’; standan, ‘to stand’

The main exceptions (stressed syllables in bold) to this rule include

  1. The prefix ge-, which is never stressed, on any part of speech, e.g. gehwǣs, ‘of each’; gesittan, ‘to sit’; gesceaft, ‘creation’.
  2. Most ‘prefixes’ on verbs and adverbs, e.g. wiþsacan, ‘to refuse’; ætdere, ‘together’.
  3. for- and be- can be either stressed or unstressed on nouns: _forbod, ‘prohibition’ vs. forwyrd, ‘ruin’ (see Cambell 1959/1991, § 74).
Secondary stress

Secondary stress (italics) falls

Clause-Stress

Although every word in Old English has at least one stressed syllable, not all stressed syllables are equally prominent within the clause or sentence. As in Modern English, stressed syllables in nouns and adjectives tend to be more prominent than stressed syllables in pronouns or conjunctions:

Would an apple be as sweet?

On the other hand, words that usually take low sentence stress receive much heavier stress when they are out of position (compare the stress on I in the following):

I went up the mountain
Up the mountain went I

Stress and Word classes

In general terms, it is possible to classify Old English words in to three main metrical classes:

This metrical distinction reflects an underlying linguistic difference: words that are always stressed in Old English all belong to the open word-classes. Words that are rarely stressed all belong to the closed word-classes. The middle category, sometimes stressed involve categories that include words belonging to open and closed word classes.

Scansion of Cædmon’s Hymn

The following is a scansion of Cædmon’s Hymn using a modified form of the Sievers system. Letter names followed by a number (e.g. A-3 refer to common subtypes of the main five verse patterns. See Pope and Fulk 2001 for a detailed listing.

(A-3: ×××/×)Nū scylun hergan      hefaenricaes uard(E: /‿×\×/)
(A-1: /‿××/×)metudaes maecti      end his mōdgidanc(B: ××/×/)
(D-2: //(×)\×)uerc uuldụrfadur      suē hē uundra gihuaes(B-2: ××/××/)
(A-1: /×/×)ēci dryctin      ōr āstelidæ(A-1: /×/‿××)
(B-1: ×/×/)Hē āerist scōp      eordu barnum(A-1: /×/×)
(A-1: /‿××/×)heben til hrōfe      hāleg sceppend(A-1: /×/×)
(B-1: ×/×\)thā middungeard      moncynnæs uard(E: /\×/)
(A-1: /×/×)ēci dryctin      æfter tīadæ(A-1: /×/×)
(A-1: /×/×)fīrum foldu      frēa allmectig(D-1: //\×)

Other scansion systems

The Sievers system is generally considered to be descriptively adequate but theoretically deficient by contemporary metricists. As a result, considerable effort has been devoted over the last half-century or so to developing alternative accounts of the metre. The most widely accepted alternative system currently is the stress foot system, developed and described most thoroughly by Russom. Its details are beyond the scope of this short introduction.

Further reading

Excellent introductions to Old English scansion can be found in Mitchell and Robinson 2001, Appendix C, and Pope and Fulk 2001, 129-158. The original work by Sievers can be found in Sievers 1885-1887 and 1893. Most Anglo-Saxonists use a version of Sievers system developed by Bliss (1962/1993). The Stress-Foot system is developed in Russom 1987 and 1998; see also Bredehoft 2005 for some useful revisions.

Works Cited

Notes

1 For the conventions used in this transcription, see O’Donnell 2005, § ii.6.

2 Many introductory textbooks distinguish between these letters, using 〈ċ〉 to spell /ʧ/, 〈ġ〉 to spell /y/, and 〈c〉 and 〈g〉 to represent the sounds /k/ and /g/ respectively. These letters are not found in the original manuscripts, however; they are a modern development.

3 If forgielden shared in the alliteration, the line would be unmetrical, since, as we’ve seen above, the second stressed syllable in the off-verse must not share in the alliteration. While the metre of the Battle of Maldon is unusual in many respects, the poet does seem to observe this constraint.

4 onstealde does not share in the alliteration because the accent falls on steal not on.

5 A thorough and accessible discussion of Old English word stress (from which this account largely is derived) can be found in Campbell 1959/1991, Chapter II.

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