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

Forward to Navigation

Bibles for students of literature

Posted: Oct 14, 2010 13:10;
Last Modified: Sep 20, 2012 11:09

Tags: , , , , ,

---

Many contemporary students do not know the bible particularly well. This can be because they come from non-religious families, or families whose religious background is not Judeo-Christian. But even many students from quite religious, Christian or Jewish backgrounds find their knowledge of the bible to be less good than they might wish for literary study.

A student once gave me a great tip for those who feel you don’t know the bible well enough to recognise allusions to the major stories from the Old and New Testaments: buy a children’s bible.

Children’s bibles tend to focus on the most important and widely known stories, and some even come with notes explaining how (for example) Old Testament stories are understood by Christians as presaging events in the New Testament.

If you are an English major and don’t know your bible reasonably well, you should consider—in addition to reading a children’s bible—reading a good translation of the bible yourself as well. It is less long than you might think (especially the new Testament).

If you don’t know what to read, here are some options:

The above bibles are all Protestant. The Protest and Catholic Bibles vary to a certain extent—particularly with regard to the order and composition of the Old Testament (see http://www.twopaths.com/faq_bibles.htm). Here are some Catholic options:

All of these bibles are new translations from the original languages.This means they don’t reflect the version people read in the Middle Ages (which was Latin). But for general purposes they are good enough.

Medieval readers knew the bible primarily from the Vulgate, a Latin version translated by Jerome by the beginning of the fifth century; there were also translations into Old and Middle English from this. And there was some knowledge, especially in the case of the Psalms, of older, pre-Vulgate Latin translations.

If you want to get closer to this experience, the Douay-Rheims is a 16th Century Catholic translation of the Vulgate. Copies are available on line, including here (a Latin/English verse-by-verse translation) and here.

----  

Grammar Essentials 2: Parts of Speech (Word Classes) Exercise Answers

Posted: Dec 20, 2008 09:12;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 18:05

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

---

Here are possible answers to the exercises in Grammar Essentials 2: Parts of speech. In some cases more than one right answer might be possible.

1. Place each word in the following sentence in its Word Class using the above tests. Which Word Class(es) is or are missing?:

Over the mountain lived a former mechanic. Suzy forgets his name.

Form Word Class Sample Test(s)
Over Preposition Followed by Noun Phrase the mountain
the Determiner First word in a Noun Phrase, the mountain; would precede any adjectives: the [big] mountain, not *[big] the mountain
mountain Noun You can make the word plural (mountains) or possessive (mountain’s); it is already preceded by a determiner in the sentence (the mountains)
lived Verb You can change its tense (lived :lives) and number (a former mechanic lived : I lived).
a Determiner First word in a Noun Phrase, a mechanic; would precede any adjectives: a [funny] mechanic, not *[funny] a mechanic
mechanic Noun You can make the work plural (mechanics) or possessive (mechanic’s); it is already preceded by a determiner (a mechanic)
Suzy Noun (Proper) Can be made possessive (Suzy’s) (proper nouns normally are not preceded by Determiners and are not usually plural)
forgets Verb You can change its tense (Suzy forgets : Suzy forgot); you can change its person (Suzy forgets : I forget)
his Pronoun It is not a noun (can’t take an article or be replaced by a pronoun), and it is in the possessive); different forms of his can serve as a subject or prepositional object: he is here ; give it to him
name Noun Can be made plural (names); can be made possessive (name’s); can be preceded by a determiner (the name)

2. When Hamlet says that bad acting “out-herods Herod” (Hamlet, III.ii), meaning to rage and rant, he is using a proper name for a verb. What tests can we use to show that out-herods is a verb?

We can show that it is possible to change the

These are all tests for verbs.

3. Although it is impossible for individuals to create new Closed or Structure Class words, the English language has acquired new pronouns over the course of its history: the entire plural pronoun system they, them, their comes from Old Norse (the original English version was hie, hira and him); she is of unknown origin (the original was heo).

Can you suggest some reasons why it is possible for languages to add or change such words but not for individuals?

One possible explanation is that structure words primarily express relationships (look up the definitions of and or but in a dictionary for example), unlike Open Class words, which are signifiers for some external idea, event, concept, or the like. So a new pronoun for “feminine singular subject” can be introduced into the language only when a group of people understand that the new form expresses this relationship.

----  

The Old English Alphabet

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

---

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.

----  

Basic Old English Grammar

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

---

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.

———————————-

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.

----  

The Pronunciation of Old English

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

---

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.

----  

An Anglo-Saxon Timeline

Posted: Jul 20, 2008 11:07;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

---

The following link is to an experiment in constructing a timeline of the Anglo-Saxon period: http://people.uleth.ca/~daniel.odonnell/Anglo-Saxon_Kings.xml It is very much a work in progress at the moment. The ultimate goal will be to have a synoptic oversight and index that will allow students to click on major events, persons, or cultural artefacts and then see how they fit in with other milestones.

At the moment, the chart only includes Kings. And even then still in fairly rough fashion.

----  

Transcription Guidelines

Posted: Nov 19, 2007 12:11;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

---

The following is a list of typographical conventions to use when transcribing medieval manuscripts in my classes.



deletion

Strikethrough indicates the physical deletion of text in a witness. Deletion may be by any method (underlining, punctum delens, erasure, overwriting, etc). You should indicate the precise method of deletion by a note at the end of your transcription. The deleted text is recorded whenever possible. If deleted text cannot be recovered, it is replaced by colons.

You indicate strikethrough in HTML as follows <strike>Text struck through</strike>


\addition/

Upward sloping brackets indicate that the enclosed text has been added above the manuscript line. If a caret was used, this is indicated with a preceding comma or caret symbol (⁁): ⁁\addition above the line/.

|addition|

Vertical brackets indicate that the enclosed text has been inserted between existing characters within the manuscript line. Insertion is distinguished from overwriting (i.e. the conversion of one character to another or the addition of a new character in the space left by a previously deleted form).

{addition}

Brackets indicate that the enclosed text has been added over some pre-existing form. This addition may involve the conversion of one letter to another (for example, the conversion of to by the addition of an ascender), or the addition of new text in the place of a previous erasure. The overwritten text is treated as a deletion.

/addition\

Downward sloping brackets indicate that the enclosed text has been added below the manuscript line.

addition| or |addition

A single vertical bar indicates that the text has been added at the beginning or end of a manuscript line. Text preceded by a single vertical bar has been added at the end of a manuscript line. Text followed by a single vertical bar has been added at the beginning of a manuscript line. Text between two vertical bars has been added “within the line” (i.e. between pre-existing letters or words).

damage

Underlining indicates that text has been damaged. When damaged text is unclear or illegible, additional symbols are used.

In HTML, you indicate text is underlined as follows: <u>Underlined text</u>.


〈unclear〉

Angle brackets indicate that the enclosed text is unclear for some physical reason (e.g. rubbing, flaking, staining, poorly executed script).

In HTML, there is a distinction between angled brackets ( and ) and the greater than and less than signs (> and <). If you use the greater and less than signs, your text will not appear as the browser will think your text is an HTML code.


[supplied] or [emended]

Square brackets indicate that the enclosed text is being supplied or emended. “Supplied text” refers to the hypothetical restoration of original readings from a specific witness that have become lost or illegible due to some physical reason. “Emended text” refers to the replacement of legible text from extant witnesses by a modern editor or transcriber.
::

Colons represent text that is completely effaced or illegible. The number of colons used corresponds roughly to the number of letters the transcriber believes are missing. Note that colons are used for text that was in the manuscript but is not physically missing due to erasure or other damage. They are not used to indicate text that has not been copied into the manuscript but appears in other versions.

----  

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

---

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!

----  

Insular Script

Posted: Mar 08, 2007 12:03;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

---

Here is a basic listing of letters in an insular script. The letters are from a manuscript of the early eleventh century.

Insular character
Modern equivalent a b c d e f g h i l m
Insular character
Modern equivalent n o p r s t ð þ u ƿ y
----  

Grimm's Law and Verner's Law Notes

Posted: Mar 05, 2007 14:03;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

---

Grimm’s Law

Grimm’s law concerns an unconditioned sound change that affects all
Indo-European stops. In this change (examples mostly from Brinton and Arnovick),

Voiceless stops became voiceless fricatives

PIE PGmc Examples
Voiceless stops Voiceless fricatives
*p *f PIE *peisk- vs. OE fisc ‘fish’
*t PIE *tenu ‘to stretch’ vs. PDE thin
*k *x or *h (word-initial) PIE *krewə ‘raw meat/blood’ vs. OE hrēaw ‘raw’
*kw *xw or *hw (word-initial) PIE *kwod ‘what’ vs. OE hwæt ‘what’

Voiced stops became voiceless stops

PIE PGmc Examples
Voiced stops Voiceless stops
*b *p PIE *kan(n)abi- ‘cannabis’ vs. PDE hemp
*d *t PIE *dekm vs. PDE ten
*g *k PIE *grənom vs. PDE corn
*gw *kw PIE *gwei- vs. OE cwicu ‘alive’

Voiced aspirated stops became voiced fricatives and then voiced stops.

PIE PGmc Examples
Voiced aspirated stops Voiced fricatives Voiceless Fricatives
*bh *b PIE *bhrāter vs. OE broþer
*dh *d PIE * əndhero- vs. OE under
*gh *g or *h (word-initial) PIE *wegh vs. OE weg ‘road, way’
*gwh w *g or *w PIE *gwher ‘to heat’ vs. OE warm

Verner’s law

The first group mentioned above (voiceless stops) underwent an additional change in certain contexts due to the change from variable accent in Indo-European to fixed initial accent in Germanic. When these sounds appeared in a voiced environment (i.e. not initially or finally or next to other voiceless consonants) and were not immediately proceeded by the Indo-European stress, they went on to become a voiced stop. Under the same conditions, Indo-European */s/ became Germanic */r/.

PIE PGmc Examples
Voiceless stops Voiced fricatives Voiced stops
*p *b PIE *septm vs. Gothic síbun ‘seven’
*t *d PIE *pətēr vs. OE fæder ‘father’ (medial sound: d rather than t)
*k *g PIE *dukā vs. OE togian ‘tow’
*s *z *r PIE *ghaiso ‘stick’ vs. OE gār ‘spear’

A mnemonic

A useful way of remembering these sound changes (taught to me by Philip Rusche of UNLV) is to diagram each row of the above tables as a triangle:

To find the result of Grimm’s law, go one step clockwise around the triangle. Thus using the first triangle, we can see that PIE *bh became Gmc *b, PIE *b became Gmc *p, and PIE *p became Gmc *f. Verner’s law only affects the consonants at the top of the triangle. To see what they became after the effect of Verner’s law, go two steps clockwise around the triangle: so PIE *p became Gmc *b when it was subject to Verner’s law.

----  

Grammar Essentials 2: Parts of Speech (Word Classes)

Posted: Jan 04, 2007 12:01;
Last Modified: Jan 25, 2014 14:01

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

---

Words are different from each other in meaning—car and unwelcome mean different things, after all.

But they can also differ from each other in more than meaning: they can also differ in the way they are used in sentences.

Thus sentences can be about a word like car more easily than they can be about a word like unwelcome:

With a word like car, we also can talk about one or more examples: a car is here, cars are here. We can describe its qualities using other words like red, fast, or good: “red cars are here”, “fast cars are here”, “good cars are here”. And a word like car can be said to possess things: the car’s tires, cars’ steering wheels

None of this is true of a word like unwelcome. But unwelcome can be used in ways a word like car cannot: it can be used to describe qualities of other words (The unwelcome news, This news was unwelcome, vs. *The car news or [*This news was car); it can be made more intense using words like very or really (it was very unwelcome, vs. *It was very car).

The real test, of course, is that the two words can’t be switched in a sentence. We couldn’t replace car with unwelcome in the example above, and it is impossible2 to replace unwelcome with car in this following sentence:

It is possible, on the other hand, to replace car and unwelcome with other words, even if the meaning of the new words is nothing like that of the words they replace:

So why can car be replaced by bartender and not unwelcome or good? And why can unwelcome be replaced by good but not bartender or car?

The answer is that car and bartender, on the one hand, and unwelcome and good, on the other, are different types of words. As we will learn, car and bartender show in normal use most of the properties we associate with nouns while unwelcome and good show in normal use most of the properties we associate with adjectives. The fact that you can replace car with bartender and unwelcome with good shows that you can replace nouns with nouns and adjectives with adjectives more easily than you can replace words of one type with words of a different type.

This tutorial explores this property in greater depth. Traditionally, word classes have been distinguished on semantic grounds (e.g. “Nouns are the names of person places or things”; “verbs are action words”). As this tutorial will demosntrate, these traditional definitions, while not usually wrong, are often quite ambiguous. This is because the class a word belongs to is largely a question of syntax rather than meaning, especially given the ease with which English can move words from one class to another without any change in morphological form.

By the end of this tutorial you should be able to distinguish among word classes confidently.

Previous: Inflections (inflectional morphology) | Next: Grammatical relations

Words and Phrases

If we continue testing like this, we will also soon discover not only that some words are more easily exchanged with one other than with others, but also that individual words can be used to replace entire groups of closely connected words (and vice versa). For example, the word bartenders can replace more than cars in the following sentences; it also can replace entire groups of closely connected words involving cars—groups like the cars, the blue cars, and even the blue cars that sold so well last year:

On the other hand, we still can’t use unwelcome to replace cars:

If we experiment, we will see that we can’t replace just any group of words using bartender: the words need to be somehow more closely related to each other than any other part of the sentence and involve a word like car. In the following sentence, for example, we can use bartenders to replace the blue cars, but not blue cars are on:

Clearly there is something about the words the blue cars that makes us think of them as being more closely connected to each other than to anything else in the sentence. And just as the fact that we can replace car with bartender but not unwelcome in the sentences above suggests that there must be something similar about car and bartender, so to the fact that we can use bartenders to replace cars and groups of closely related words like the cars or the blue cars suggests that there must be something similar about the single word cars and these particular combinations of words.

As we shall discover, combinations of closely connected words that behave in much the same way as individual words are known as Phrases. As we define the different types of words below, we will see that each type of word has an associated type of phrase to which many of the same rules apply. This principle will become very important when we come to talk about how sentences are made.

Open and Closed Word Classes

Another difference that separates words is the question of how easy or difficult it is to make up new examples. If I want to replace car or cars in the above sentences with a new word that I will make up myself—say slipshlup—I can do so very easily:

Likewise, it is not hard to make up a word like unwelcome. How about griopy?

But if it easy to make up new words parallel to cars and unwelcome, it is much harder—impossible, in fact—to make up replacements for words like the, and, but or he, she, and it. For example, try repeating the following sentence with the following made-up words: hin for the, roop for and, and fries for she.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

The Parts of Speech/Word Classes

If we compare English words in the way discussed above3, we will discover that it is possible to divide words and closely associated groups of words like them into eight main types, known as the parts of speech or word classes (a minor ninth category contains interjections. like “oh dear!” and “damn!” and is not discussed further in this tutorial). We will also discover that these Word Classes themselves fall into two larger groups based on whether or not we can easily add new examples: the Open Class contains word classes that we easily can add to—nouns, adjectives, most types of verbs, and adverbs; the Closed or Structure Class contains words, like prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, most determiners, and some adverbs, to which we can not add easily:

Class Word Class Examples
Open Class Nouns car, bartender, experience
Adjectives unwelcome, good, big, blue
Verbs run, glide, listen, jog
Adverbs quickly, well, sometimes, badly
Closed Class Determiners the, this, mine, Susan’s
Prepositions up, underneath, on, with
Pronouns I, they, mine, each, these
Conjunctions and, but, if, because

Open Classes

Nouns and Noun Phrases

Nouns are naming words. Traditionally they are defined as the names of persons, places, and things, but their actual range is much broader: they can name ideas, moods, and feelings (e.g. neoconservatism, anger, and affection); actions (the hiking), or pretty much anything else known or unknown (e.g. Slipshlup, above).

Fortunately, given how hard it can be to define them by what they describe, nouns and noun phrases can be defined relatively easily by their form and the contexts in which they appear. In particular they show one or more of the following unique features:

  1. Nouns are the only words that use “apostrophe s” (i.e. ‘s or s’) to show possession. In the following sentence, we know that Dave, Neoconservatism, and anger are all nouns because they indicate possession by adding -‘s: Dave’s book, Neoconservatism’s origins, anger’s solution.
  2. Nouns are the only words that can be modified by adjectives: blue cars, unwelcome news, clever Sally.
  3. Nouns are the only words that can be made plural by adding -s: DVD : DVDs, cup : cups, theology : theologies.
  4. Nouns are the only words that can be pointed to by determiners. Determiners, as we will see below, are words such as the and a, that and this, and possessives such as his or Brigette’s that point out specific instances of a noun, e.g. the boat, a slipshlup, that hiking, Brigette’s DVD, his anger.
  5. Nouns and Noun Phrases are the only words that can be replaced by a pronoun: The deer grazed quietly at the side of the road : It grazed quietly at the side of the road

Other tests are not entirely exclusive, for example:

  1. Nouns and pronouns are the only words that can function as the subject of a sentence: The car ran through the red light : It ran through the red light.

It is important to realise in applying these tests that not all words will fit all categories. Some nouns do not form their plural with -s, for example: e.g. child : children; sheep : sheep. What is important is that one or more of these tests be true.

Verbs

Verbs are traditionally defined as “action words.” Even more than with nouns, however, this definition fails to cover more than a narrow range of possible examples or rule out obvious counter-examples. While some verbs do express action (e.g. she hit the wall with a hammer), others do not (e.g. I am the king, he knows his baseball). Moreover, actions can also be named by nouns: This hiking is very hard; I don’t like all this hitting).

Like nouns, verbs can be defined more accurately on grammatical criteria. Particularly useful ones include:

  1. Verbs are the only words that show tense (i.e. past or present): he loves cheesecake : he loved cheesecake; I drive fast : I drove fast.
  2. Verbs are the only words that indicate third person singular, present by adding -s at the end: I drive, he drives
  3. Verbs are the only words that can be made into participles (i.e. adjective forms) using the endings -ed, -en, or -ing: I love : loving : loved; They drive : driving : driven

Verb Phrases include the verb plus all objects and modifiers. These can get quite large. One test for some verb phrases is replacement by do in questions designed to be answered with “yes” or “no”.

  1. Bobbi loves getting presents in the morning, does she?

In asking the question “does she”, the speaker is summing up the whole idea “loves getting presents in the morning” by a single form of do. This shows that “loves getting presents in the morning” is a Verb Phrase.

Adjectives

Adjectives describe qualities to nouns. One easy test, though it is also true of adverbs, is placing very or really in front:

  1. Adjectives and adverbs are the only words that can be made more intense by adding very or really in front: the really fast car was very red

Here are some tests that are only true of adjectives:

  1. Adjectives are the only words that can have endings to indicate that something is more or most in relation to some quality: the fast car was red : the faster car was green : the fastest car was blue. Of course some adjectives don’t use -er and/or -est: more unwelcome not *unwelcomer; best nor goodest.
  2. Adjectives and adjective phrases are the only words that can appear between determiners (like the, a, or possessives) and nouns: the fast car, Dave’s really nice cake, a very sad clown.

Adverbs

Adverbs are traditionally described as words that modify verbs. In fact there are three different kinds of adverbs, each of which can be distinguished by context.

Intensifying adverbs

Intensifying adverbs are words like very that are used to qualify adjectives and other adverbs. They do not qualify verbs directly: his very angry cousin vs. *he very jumps. Some intensifying adverbs can be used with slightly different meaning to modify verbs: he skates really fast, he really skates.

Sentence adverbs

Sentence adverbs qualify sentences and clauses: Unfortunately, the boat sank; I don’t want to, however; then he knew for sure.

Verbal adverbs

Verbal adverbs qualify verbs: He jumped quickly, he wrote well. Like adjectives, they can be intensified by words like very: she drove very quickly, Beatrice cooks really well.

Closed class words

Determiners

Determiners are words that are used to point out specific instances of a noun. They include the articles (a, the), demonstratives (this/these, that/those), and all possessive nouns and pronouns (this means that a form like Dave’s in Dave’s book is both a noun and a determiner).

The test for determiners is very straightforward:

Prepositions

Prepositions serve to connect nouns or noun phrases (e.g. cars or the car) to a clause or sentence. Examples include up a mountain, down the street, with friends, beside him, without a wooden paddle.

In English, there are a relatively small number of simple prepositions, such as up, down, with. There are also a number of phrasal or compound prepositions, especially in spoken English: outside of the English, apart from Dave’s cat, round and round the mountain.

Many of the prepositions can be memorised. Otherwise, prepositions can be recognised by their syntactic context:

Pronouns

Pronouns are words that can substitute for nouns or noun phrases. Examples include personal pronouns like she/her, I/me/my, they/them/their; demonstratives like this/these, that/those; and other forms, such as each, none, and one:

  1. My sister is here. She wants to talk to you.
  2. The green carrots are probably rotten. I wouldn’t eat them.
  3. My books are here. These over here are yours.
  4. The members of the committee were awstruck. None had expected this.

Because pronouns replace nouns, they can be identified using some of the same tests. In particular,

Conjunctions

Conjunctions are used to join grammatical units. Unlike prepositions, which join nouns or noun phrases to sentences, conjunctions always join elements of a similar kind: nouns and noun phrases to other nouns and noun phrases, verbs to verbs, adjectives to adjectives: it is raining cats and dogs (noun to noun); I neither pushed nor pulled (verb to verb); I went out because he didn’t come in (clause to clause).

Exercises

(Click here for Answers)

The following exercises test you on your ability to apply the above material. The real test of your knowledge of grammar is not whether you are able to memorise terms and definitions, but whether you can supply examples and describe real-life sentences.

1. Place each word in the following sentence in its Word Class using the above tests. Which Word Class(es) is or are missing?:

Over the mountain lived a former mechanic. Suzy forgets his name.

2. When Hamlet says that bad acting “out-herods Herod” (Hamlet, III.ii), meaning to rage and rant, he is using a proper name for a verb. What tests can we use to show that out-herods is a verb?

3. Although it is impossible for individuals to create new Closed or Structure Class words, the English language has acquired new pronouns over the course of its history: the entire plural pronoun system they, them, their comes from Old Norse (the original English version was hie, hira and him); she is of unknown origin (the original was heo).

Can you suggest some reasons why it is possible for languages to add or change such words but not for individuals?


Notes

1 An asterisk (i.e. *) in front of a word or group of words means “This word or group of words is not something people would say”. An explanation mark (i.e. !) in front of a word or a group of words means “It is doubtful that this is something people would say” or “People might say this, but only in special circumstances”

2 “Impossible” may seem too definite at first. In fact it is almost always possible to think of a situation in which a grammatical rule might be shown to be wrong: for example, let’s say we were talking about a band called “The Unwelcome“—then they probably could replace car in our example sentences.

As a rule, however, you should always be suspicious of counter-examples that require you to create a “back-story” to explain the conditions under which an exception might work. The fact that you need a story to explain the context is evidence that the counter-example is very unusual in normal speech.

3 You could say “The bartenders’ road” or “The bartender’s road”, but that would not really count, since cars in the original sentence did not have an “apostrophe s.” In the starting sentence, cars was plural, not possessive or plural possessive.

4 Traditionally, students learned to categorise the parts of speech on the basis of meaning. For example, nouns were said to be “the name of a person, place, or thing,” while verbs were described as “action words.” While there is some truth to these definitions in many cases, the distinctions break down very easily in others. The fighting is a noun, even though it describes an action; is, on the other hand, is a verb, even though it describes a state.

Since words are a feature of grammar, the method used here attempts to identify them on the basis of their grammatical properties: the roles they can play in the sentence, the inflections they can take, how they can be converted from one part of speech to another.

5 “Always”, except in poetry, where they can sometimes follow the words they connect to the sentence.

6 This rule—pronouns never end in apostrophe -s—might be useful in helping you avoid the common stylistic/prescriptive grammar error of using it’s (actually the abbreviation for it is) in your writing instead of the possessive form, its. In speaking, of course, you can’t hear any difference.

Previous: Inflections (inflectional morphology)

----  

Grammar Essentials 1: Inflections (Inflectional Morphology)

Posted: Jan 04, 2007 11:01;
Last Modified: Jan 25, 2014 14:01

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

---

For the most part, English uses word order to indicate the relationship among words in sentences. When I say “The boy bit the dog”, people listening to me know that it was the boy who did the biting because The boy comes first in the sentence. Likewise, they know that it was the dog that was bitten because the dog comes after bit.

If I reverse the positions of boy and dog the sentence changes meaning as well: now the dog is doing the biting:

But not all relationships among words in sentences are indicated by word order. Sometimes we use special forms of a word or add sounds or syllables (known as inflections) as to the end to indicate particular relationships among words1.

For example, if I say “She broke the girl’s hockey stick”, we know that the hockey stick was owned by the girl because the word girl comes before the hockey stick and has an -’s on it2.

Likewise, we know that she—whoever she might be—broke the girl’s stick both because the word comes first in the sentence and, more importantly, because the word is she and not some other form like her; in fact, if I replace she with her, but make no other changes, the sentence will not make sense to most speakers of English3:

Endings such as -s and changes in form such as between she and her are known broadly as inflections. English now uses very few and relies mostly on word order to express such relationships (other languages and earlier stages of the English language rely much more heavily on inflections than does Modern English).

This tutorial looks at English inflectional morphology. That is to say the grammatical endings used in English.

Previous: Introduction | Next: Parts of Speech (Word classes)

The most common inflection by far in Modern English is -s. This is used with or without an apostrophe to indicate any one of a number of relationships, depending on the type of words involved and the context in which they are found.

On nouns (words like boy and music “the boy” and “good music”), for example, -s is commonly used to indicate

On verbs (words like run in “he runs quickly”), s is used to indicate that the sentence is taking place in the present and is third person singular (i.e. about something that be described using he, she, or it, rather than I or you).

Another inflection used with verbs includes -ed, which is used with some verbs to indicate that the sentence is happening in the past (e.g., “I loved him” compared to “I love him”). Some verbs use changes in form to indicate the same thing (e.g. “They sang well” compared to “They sing well”). Inflections or changes in form can also be used to indicate whether a statement reflects a real or non-real situation (e.g. “She is a police officer; she is nice”, where the situation described is assumed to be real, compared to “Were she a police officer, she would be nice”, where the situation described is not real—i.e. she isn’t a police officer and isn’t nice).

Many adjectives (words like tall in “the tall girl”) use the inflections -er and -est to indicate comparison: “the taller girl” is more tall than “the tall girl” and “the tallest girl” is the most tall of all.

The words that show the most complete set of inflections, however, are the pronouns (words like he, them, _her, she, and its). Here, different forms of the word are used to indicate a number of different types of relationships whether something is the subject or object of a verb (I in “I hit Dave” against me in “Dave hit me”), singular or plural (he against they), or possessive singular against possessive plural (her against their).

Paradigms

As the above suggests, inflections found on different types of word can mean different things. The -s on runs in “he runs quickly”, for example, means something different than the -s on girls in “The girls went to the game”. Likewise, similar types of words can sometimes use different inflections or changes to indicate the same type of relationship. While car and church both use -(e)s to indicate plural, for example, child uses -ren (children) and sheep uses nothing at all (“one sheep, ten sheep”). Sometimes, different versions of English can use different forms for the same word. North American and British people, for example, differ in whether you should say “I dove into the water” or “I dived into the water.” Often these differences reflect forms from earlier stages of the language or are the result of changes in the history of the language.

The following tables are known as paradigms. These lay out information about inflections for each type of word.

Because this is an introductory tutorial, I have only presented the most common examples of each type of word. An exercise at the end asks you to come up with some more unusual examples.

Pronoun Inflections

Pronouns are words like I and them that can stand for nouns in sentences (for example: “This is my sister. She is the tallest woman I know,” where she in the second sentence stands for sister in the first sentence). Pronouns have the most detailed inflectional system in English: depending on the specific example, they can show distinctions to indicate whether a word is singular or plural, the subject or object of a sentence, or singular or plural possessive.

The most complete set of pronouns is found in the first person (i.e. I and we) and the third person singular masculine (i.e. he) and plural (i.e. they). The other pronouns all have more overlap or unchanging forms.

Number Function in sentence Form
Singular
(i.e. one)
Subject I you he she it
Object me you him her it
Possession my your his her its
Plural
(i.e. more than one)
Subject we you they
Object us you them
Possession our your their

Noun Inflections

Nouns (words like girl, woman, child, and sheep: a more complete definition is given in the next tutorial) have next most complete system. For most nouns (there are some exceptions), we can distinguish singular against plural and between possession and all other functions. Note how in the noun paradigm, the same form of each noun appears for the subject and the object:

Number Function in sentence Form
Singular Subject or Object girl woman child sheep
Possession girl’s woman‘s child’s sheep’s
Plural Subject or Object girls women children sheep
Possession girls’ women’s children’s sheep’s

Adjective Inflections

Adjectives (words like blue, quick, or symbolic that can be used to describe nouns) used to have many of the same inflections found on the nouns and pronouns. In Modern English, however, the only inflections that remain are used to indicate degree of comparison and not all adjectives can show even this: while most short adjective can use -er and -est, longer adjectives use more and most before the word in question:

Degree Form
Positive blue quick symbolic
Comparative bluer or
more blue
quicker more symbolic
Superlative bluest quickest most symbolic

Verb Conjugations

Verbs are words like [he] loves, [I] think. Inflections on verbs indicate tense (past vs. present: he loves vs. he loved), number (singular vs. plural: he loves vs. they love), and person (first vs. second vs. third: I think vs. you think vs. she thinks or the boy thinks).

Inflections can also be used to distinguish forms of the verb that are used in different kinds of contexts: for example, adding -ing to a verb makes a form that can be used as a noun or an adjective (compare “I fight” against “the fighting ended today” or “the fighting schoolteachers were pulled apart by the principal”). This form can also be used with forms of the verb to be to indicate that the verb is describing something on-going (compare “I walk” with “I am walking” and “I walked” with “I was walking”). This difference is known as aspect.

A similar form can be built using either -ed or -en with a change in the form of the verb (e.g. “loved” and “driven”)4. Forms like “loved” or “driven” can be used as adjectives (e.g. “the loved child” and “the driven snow”) or, when combined with forms of to be, to indicate that the subject was the acted upon rather than acting (compare “I drove the team to the game” against “I was driven by the team to the game“—in the first the subject I was in control of the car; in the second, it was in a car controlled by the team). This contrast is known as voice: “I drove the team” is active voice, “I was driven by the team” is passive voice).

driven and loved, driving and loving are known as participles. driven and loved are past participles (because they refer to the past) and living and driving are present participles because they refer to the present,

The participles, both past and present, are known as non-finite forms of the verb. They are called this because they do not have subjects when they are used in sentences5. Non-finite forms can be contrasted, therefore, to finite forms of the verb, such as (I) drive, (we) drove, (Bob and Henry) thought, (Martha) wins. These are finite because they do agree with subjects.

There is one more non-finite form of the verb, the infinitive. This is the “dictionary form” of the verb (i.e. the form you would look under if you wanted to find out what drive means). In English, it appears in two forms, with and without to: “I want to drive” and “I can drive very well, thank you!”.

As the difference between I love : I loved and I drive : I drove shows, most verbs in English can be placed in one of two main categories: verbs that change into the past by adding -ed (like love) and those that change into the past by changing the form of their stem (like drive). These two types of verbs are known as regular verbs (like love) and irregular verbs (like drive)—though it is not really true to say that drive is irregular, as other verbs follow similar patterns:

Finite vs. Non-finite Tense Number Person Form
Finite Present Singular First and Second
(I / you)
love drive
Third
(he / she / it / the woman)
loves drives
Plural All
(we / you / they / women)
love drive
Past Singular and
Plural
All
(I / you /he / she / it / the woman /
we / you / they / women)
loved drove

 

Finite vs. Non-finite Grammatical Form Tense Form
Non-finite Participle
(i.e. can be used as adjective or noun)
Present loving driving
Past loved driven
Infinitive
(to) love (to) drive

Exercises

The following exercises test you on your ability to apply the above material. The real test of your knowledge of grammar is not whether you are able to memorise terms and definitions, but whether you can supply examples and describe real-life sentences.

1. Give examples of four different inflections in sentences. Make sure you can give show on a verb, one on a noun, one on an adjective, and one on a pronoun.

2. How many different ways can -s (with or without an apostrophe) be used as an inflection in English? Give one example in a sentence for each.

3. Give an example in a sentence of a noun that does not use -s to indicate plural

4. Indicate the third person singular present word or words in the following sentence:

Snow White sees the seven dwarves, but they don’t know that she knows who they are.

5. Give an example of an “irregular” verb like drive.

6. What is the plural of these?


Notes

1 I say sounds and syllables because I am thinking of how we speak. In writing, of course, we add letters and other symbols (like apostrophes) to do this. In speaking it is sounds.

2 Actually, if I say “She broke the girl’s hockey stick” there isn’t really an apostrophe—there is just an -s on the end.

3 Some speakers of particular types of English might be able to say a sentence like her broke the hockey stick in informal use, but you would not expect to see it in writing in an international or educated context.

4 Although it doesn’t look like there has been a change in the form of the verb between drive and driven, there has been: the sound between dr and v is different. In drive it sounds like the i in bite; in driven like the i in bit. Other verbs make the change more obvious: e.g. speak vs. spoken.

5 You might think that driven does have a subject in the sentence Martha was driven on a train; Martha is the person who was driven after all! Martha is the subject, but not of driven: she is the subject of was. You can test this by trying it in the present: “I am driven” vs. “she is driven“—driven doesn’t change to reflect the change in subject, but look at am vs. is.

Previous: Introduction | Next: Parts of Speech (Word classes)

----  

Grammar: A Guide to the Essentials

Posted: Jan 03, 2007 21:01;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

---

This tutorial is intended for high school, college, and University students who need a quick guide the essentials of English grammar. Its goal is to help you understand the core grammatical terminology used in textbooks and lectures in courses on foreign languages, the History of English, Old English, or other medieval and classical languages.

The grammar taught here is descriptive rather than prescriptive—that is to say that its focus is on teaching you the terminology used to describe how language is actually used rather than current attitudes towards what is often called “correct grammar.” In this tutorial, “he done real good” or “she didn’t do nothing wrong” are considered legitimate English sentences, even though neither would be acceptable in most high school, college, or university essays1.

This tutorial is also not a complete course in descriptive grammar. In focussing on the essentials, I will ignore or give a very rapid overview of many important aspects of the subject. This guide will help you understand the most basic terminology. You’ll need to do additional research or take a course on descriptive grammar to find out more. You will also find if you know some linguistics or grammar at any level of detail that I sometimes gloss over controversy. Nothing I say here should be wrong (if you find something, please let me know). But there is almost always much more to be said!

The guide is broken into two parts right now:

In the future I hope to add additional sections.


Notes

1 The study of so-called correct grammar is better described as style. There are numerous style guides available. See for example, the Library of Congress subject heading: “English language—Style—Handbooks, manuals, etc.” at http://catalog.loc.gov/

----  

Old English Metre: A Brief Guide

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

---

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.

----  

Back to content

Search my site

Sections

Current teaching

Recent changes to this site

Tags

anglo-saxon studies, caedmon, citation, citation practice, citations, composition, computers, digital humanities, digital pedagogy, exercises, grammar, history, moodle, old english, pedagogy, research, student employees, students, study tips, teaching, tips, tutorials, unessay, universities, university of lethbridge

See all...

Follow me on Twitter

At the dpod blog