Friday, August 29, 2008

Learn Old English with the Wordhoard: Cases

Last night the evil Internet ate my post, but it's just as well, since yesterday we slowed down a bit. Noun cases turned out to be harder than expected, so much so that we spent the entire class dealing with Peter Baker's "What Case Should It Be?" We didn't even have time for our daily vocabulary quiz, so we're sticking with Nouns II for next time.

I'm assuming that those following along at home are just as whelmed -- not overwhelmed, but definitely whelmed. So, let's talk a bit about that worksheet. You'll notice that Baker says in the instructions, "For some sentences the answer may not be straightforward: it is more important to be able to articulate the reasons for your choice than to choose correctly." Take that to heart.

These are not Old English sentences; they are Modern English sentences that we are pretending are in Old English. As such, this is an artificial exercise designed to help you figure out the ins-and-outs of cases. Sometimes there is not going to be one right answer.

Let me explain. If you read back over the cases, you'll find that sometimes the nouns in a prepositional phrase are accusative, and sometimes dative, depending in part on what preposition it is. However, these examples by necessity use MnE prepositions, not OE, so it isn't 100% that if it were in OE, it would be dative -- it might be accusative (or in some particular cases, genitive, such as in the phrase, "the brainpan of the zombie"). You aren't expected to give the right answer, because their isn't a right answer. What you're expected to do with the sentences he offers is to be able to say, "Well, this is the noun of a prepositional phrase. It isn't possessive or partitive, and it doesn't appear to be one of those few descriptive uses, so it can't be genitive. I'm guessing it's probably dative, though it could be accusative under certain circumstances."

You are treating these sentences as if they were Old English, but they're NOT. If all this seems too hippy-dippy "oh, just whatever answer you like, so long as you've got good self-esteem about it," don't get used to the feeling. Once we get to the actual OE sentences, there will be definite right and wrong answers, and while Lady Philology is not necessarily a cruel mistress, she can be rather high-maintainance.

You'll be reading Baker Chapter 5, or Drout Chapter 7, or McGillivray. Now, as for the paradigms you'll have to learn for next week, you'll really want to focus on 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, and 5.5. I would take a look at 5.6, but it doesn't occur as often, so you just want to have a sense of how that one works. You'll have to memorize 5.7 too, but focus on those first five.

Before you start to panic, this is a lot to learn, but is not as much as you might think. For my own classes, I'm going to let them use the cheat sheet on the first quiz or three, just so they start learning how the paradigms work. The answers are in the bottom left-hand corner.

Also, as you learn these, you'll start to notice the patterns. For example, masculine accusative singulars tend to end in -n or -ne, and datives tend to end in -m, etc. Those little clues will help you out in learning these over the long run.

So, take a deep breath and play around with these paradigms. Don't let them intimidate you!

[NOTE: OK, now the internet ate this post twice. This is a hurried third version. If anyone notices errors made in my haste, please don't hesitate to correct them in the comments below].

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