Introduction to Old English
ENMD 501 (fall 2000)

Peter Baker
B028 Cabell Hall, MWF 1:00-1:50
Phone: 924-6651
E-mail: peterbaker@virginia.edu

Most of your time in this course will be spent learning Old English, the Germanic language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons in Britain from about the middle of the fifth century until around the end of the eleventh century A.D. For this part of the course, our textbook is A Guide to Old English, by Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson. You will also make use of Old English Aerobics, a set of on-line exercises for this course.

We will spend as much time as we can discussing Old English literature and Anglo-Saxon culture, but the pressures on our time will be such that you will have to learn much of this material outside the classroom. For the literary/cultural part of the course, our textbooks are Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Anglo-Saxon World (an anthology of competent translations from Old English and Latin sources) and Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. In your study of the culture, you should also make use of the Tour of Anglo-Saxon Culture on this Web site. You can access the Tour with a password, which you will find on your printed syllabus, and which you may obtain while logged in to any on-grounds computer (click here to get the password).

Getting Started

Your first assignment is to read the first two chapters, pp. 11-16, of A Guide to Old English. Chapter 1 (pp. 11-12) tells you what Old English is. Chapter 2 (pp. 13-16) teaches you how to pronounce it. Practice making the sounds mentioned in this part. Your roommate/spouse/whatever may give you funny looks, but this is the term in which you will get over your embarrassment about making odd noises in public, and you may as well begin now.

Your second assignment is to turn to pp. 171-72 of the Guide and read aloud the practice sentences under A and B. If possible, use the Pronunciation Practice exercises in this Web site (I intend to redo these in a better format, but for the time being some computers may not run them properly). Don't just imagine that you are reading these passages aloud, and don't mumble. Read slowly in a loud, clear voice. In Part A especially, remember that although the words look like Modern English, they will sound different. Keep your finger at Chapter 2 so you can refer back to the section on pronunciation. Read the sentences aloud repeatedly until you think you have got them right.

Your third assignment is to read Patrick Wormald's "Anglo-Saxon Society and Its Literature" in The Cambridge Companion, pp. 1-22. I will distribute a schedule of further readings in a few days.

Once you have done these three assignments, you will be ready for the Friday class, in which you will read the practice sentences aloud.

The Rest of the Work

The work for the course includes a little quiz every other Friday and a brief final exam. Undergraduates will write a short paper at the end of the term; graduate students will write a somewhat longer one.

The biweekly quizzes will take a half hour each, and then we will have class for the remaining twenty minutes. The quizzes are designed to measure how well you have learned to read Old English. They are very straightforward and their format is always the same.

The final exam is exactly like the quizzes, only bigger, and it covers more material.

Old English Home Page