An Introduction to Old English

An Introduction to Old English

Language: English

Pages: 176

ISBN: 0195219481

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This accessible overview covers all the basic linguistic elements of Old English, including nouns, adjectives, verbs, syntax, word order, and vocabulary. Offering a unique study of Old English in context, it combines a wide variety of short texts with an up-to-date assessment of the forms of language that remain as the foundation of English today. Comparisons are drawn between Old and present-day English and also with other related languages such as Dutch, German, and French. Old English poetry and dialect variation are also discussed.

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go to Heinz Giegerich, not merely for inviting me to write this work, but also for his helpful comments on the work as it progressed. Olga Fischer read the whole manuscript and suggested many improvements with her usual tact and intelligence. Some years ago I tested a small part of this work out on my students, and I am grateful to them for their responses at that time, as well as to my colleague Chris McCully for his valuable remarks on that first attempt. My thanks also go to my fellow authors

be confusing, since it can lead to the belief that the noun belongs not to the general feminines but to the N declension. 02 pages 001-166 29/1/03 16:09 Page 29 MORE NOUNS AND ADJECTIVES 29 3.2 Minor declensions I made a distinction earlier on between irregular declensions and minor declensions. Essentially that difference is between, on the one hand, unexpected variations within one of the standard paradigms, and, on the other hand, paradigms which, although they are internally regular and

10,000 years ago, and for which we have no direct evidence. The way we overcome this is by searching for what are called cognate forms. These are words which share meanings over different languages and which appear to have similar shapes. Thus, if we search for cognates in Sanskrit (an ancient language of India), Greek, Latin and English, we find the following words for ‘father’: 02 pages 001-166 29/1/03 16:09 Page 3 ORIGINS AND SOURCES 3 Sanskrit Greek Latin English pita¯ pate¯r pater

I shall return to such Old English genitives later, but there is good reason for supposing that in the present-day language the ’s is no longer an inflection, but a clitic which is attached to an immediately-preceding noun phrase. If, therefore, I have to distinguish between the Old English construction and the present-day one, I shall do so by referring not to the Old English genitive but to the present-day possessive. The present-day possessive is, unlike the Old English genitive, not a case

plus an adjective, as in de¯op† ancol ‘deeply thinking’ = ‘contemplative’, a type which does not occur today. Another interesting group has a present participle as the head, for example ealodrincende ‘beer-drinking’, a formation which is very active in the present day as well. One recurrent problem in the treatment of Old English compounding and affixation is that it is not always easy to determine whether a particular item is part of a compound or rather an affix. For example, consider the

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