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Old English (or “Englisc”) is the English language as recorded from around the year 700 to 1100. Spoken by King Alfred the Great and Lady Godiva, the Venerable Bede and Edward the Confessor, it is the language of such classics as Beowulf, The Dream of the Rood, and The Seafarer. After 1100 the language went through a period of change so rapid that, by the time two centuries had passed, few could read these old texts.
And yet “Englisc” really is English—much closer to the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Pope, and Dickens, and much easier for English speakers to learn, than such modern languages as French, Spanish, and German. For those interested in learning the oldest variety of English, this translation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland may provide a pleasurable study aid: just set the modern text and this one side by side and compare the two. But be careful! In this book, Lewis Carroll’s classic tale has been transported into the distant past, before the English had ever heard of tea, imagined a device as sophisticated as a watch, or even seen a rabbit (a later invasive species). Instead, they drank beer, mead, or (when they could get it) wine; an exceptionally learned scholar might have known how to tell time with an astrolabe; and the most familiar long-eared animal was the hare.
These and many other differences between the England of Lewis Carroll and that of King Alfred are represented in this book’s text and illustrations both. In addition, the magnificent poems of Alice (“How Doth the Little Crocodile,” “You Are Old, Father William,” and more) have been rendered into the meter and idiom of Beowulf, thus becoming satires of Old English heroic poetry as well as of the moralistic verse that Carroll lampooned with such devastating effect.
An introduction to Old English and a course on Beowulf are offered annually at U.Va.; these are open to both graduates and undergraduates. At the graduate level, ENMD 981, Studies in Old English (various topics) and ENMD 905, Studies in Early English Philology, are offered occasionally. The links below are to sample syllabi and a bibliography for students.
Old English Aerobics is an anthology of Old English texts and a collection of on-line exercises, all keyed to Peter S. Baker, Introduction to Old English (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003). This site is under construction: usable, but please excuse the dust.
Introduction to Old English is a textbook (soon to be in its third edition) published by Wiley–Blackwell. The book is aimed at students whose interests are primarily literary or historical rather than linguistic; it assumes no expertise in traditional grammar or other languages, but it provides everything the student needs to read Old English well. The book includes an anthology of prose and poetry. The entire grammar is available on-line, and the anthology is also available as part of the Old English Aerobics web application.
Junicode is a family of fonts that selects from the Unicode standard those characters likely to be of use to medievalists. Though still under construction, it already includes all Old English vowel+macron combinations, IPA characters, runes, and more. You will probably need Junicode if you want to use the Old English Aerobics Reader.
Old (non-)standards, these fonts have been around for about ten years. You may need them if someone has given you a document that uses them. But if you are looking for a font that handles Old English well, read the first link.
More Resources; and don't forget the valuable
available in the library.