Old English Lessons

1st page of Beowulf Manuscript

Wilt ðū leornian eald englisc? Well then you’ve come to the right place!

Old English, also known by the moniker “Anglo-Saxon”, is the name given to the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxon people from around the years 450 A.D. to 1100 A.D. approximately. The Anglo-Saxons originate from three distinct Germanic tribes: the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. These tribes spoke mutually intelligible dialects of the greater West Germanic language in existence in the mid-5th century.  When the Roman legions withdrew from Britain in 410 A.D., members of the aforementioned tribes started emigrating en masse to England. Within a short time, they came to be the predominant power in the general area of modern-day England.

Of course, just like contemporary English, Old English was never a single, monolithic language so to speak – in other words, it too had dialects. There were four main dialects spoken: Kentish, Mercian, Northumbrian, and West Saxon. Northumbrian was the dialect in which a large bulk of Old English literature was originally written. However, nearly all of that literature has been lost in its Northumbrian form for various reasons. Luckily for us, however, King Alfred the Great set about having much of the surviving Northumbrian literature written into his own dialect, that of West Saxon. Indeed, from the time of Alfred and on, nearly all Old English texts are written in the West Saxon dialect.

While I consider myself a weak reader of Old English, I will still venture nonetheless to slowly create some lessons to teach the basics of Old English (specifically the early West Saxon dialect).

Lesson 0: Alphabet and Pronunciation
Lesson 1: Nouns – Masculine A Stems; Verbs – Present Indicative (Forthcoming) 

N.B. Those with a stronger grounding in Old English are welcomed and encouraged to correct any errors they may see during the course of the lessons, as well as to provide any help or knowledge that could be of benefit.

14 Responses to Old English Lessons

  1. Paul says:

    Hi, I’ve been working through the pronunciation guidelines provided by Peter Baker in his book ‘An Electronic Introduction to Old English’ and, in many cases I can’t connect the guidelines to the correct pronunciation on his Workroom. I have put the results on a Word table against his guidelines as I understand them. Would you be able to take a look and give me some guidance…?

  2. I’m doing Baker too. Can you or Paul share Paul’s work? I have several months of seeking pronunciation guides I could understand and use. Thanks!

  3. Sapiosexual says:

    Hi there, the Lesson 0 is quite helpful, and I was just wondering if the subsequent lessons had been posted elsewhere or published as printed books? Also, I’d like to reblog the Lesson 0 as part of my own OE learning journal, cos it is the best introduction to OE alphabet and pronunciation I could find online.

    • amerikanaki says:

      Hi sapiosexual,

      I first started the blog and lessons while living in Morocco, as it gave me something to do after work. I stopped the blog after a few months because I got burnt out reading news concerning Anglo-Saxons et al. several hours a day (I had gone a bit overboard with the blog). As for the lessons, I had started working on the rest, but never finished them up. I had some specific things I wanted to do with them, but I didn’t quite have the resources at hand. I may get around to finally finishing them someday. I read on your blog that you have Baker and Mitchell & Robinson, so I think you’ve got a good start there. You’ll want to get reading texts as soon as possible, so make sure to have an OE dictionary – I’d recommend Bosworth-Toller, of which you can find a free online version at http://www.bosworthtoller.com/ .

      • Sapiosexual says:

        Hi amerikanaki,
        I understand, and thanks a lot for the recommendation. I’ll continue sharing my experience of OE learning on my blog. I’m following your blog too, and do hope that someday I could see more of your thoughts here on this beautiful language 🙂

  4. Pingback: Old English: An Unexpected Journey (Part I) | Sapiosexual

  5. Asþont says:

    Hi, I’m from Italy and I find very difficult learning Old English as in my country there is no material for studying this language… actually, there aren’t many websites in English too… I found very interesting your article on the OE alphabet and I wonder if and when you’re adding new articles on this blog


  6. Modwyn says:

    I’m so happy to discover this blog! Ever since I took a medieval literature course in my undergrad, I’ve been in love with Old English. I completed an introductory Old English course as part of my M.A, learning the basic grammar and doing some clunky translations. I desperately need the review, and I’m excited to explore these resources.

  7. Pingback: Old English: An Unexpected Journey (Part I) | shortbread

  8. WolfofWhisky says:

    I have no idea if this is the right place to post, but I am trying to find out why there are two different ways of classifying strong verbs in Old English.

    The Sweet grammar has it by bind/shake etc , with the seven separate types, but in modern grammars these separate types are in a different order and actually less intricate.

    Any ideas?

  9. DesertDoc says:

    Why do none of the Old English dictionaries have a pronunciation key? Given all the exceptions to the rules regarding c, g, and sc, a pronunciation entry for each word would seem to be a most valuable feature.

    • amerikanaki says:

      I agree, and not just for Old English. Really for any language (no matter how dead), it’s nice to know the pronunciation, even if it’s just a hypothetical reconstruction of what the pronunciation likely/possibly was.

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