Thursday, August 21, 2008

Learn Old English with the Wordhoard: Pronunciation

I hope you didn't let the pronunciation chapter intimidate you. If you've never studied linguistics, all that talk of "front vowels" and "voiced and unvoiced" letters can seem really scary.

Listen: If you don't understand that stuff, just ignore it. For now, get the closest proximities to pronunciations that you can. Remember, Old English was a language spoken for five centuries over seven kingdoms, so pronunciations could vary over time and space. Add to that the problem that Modern English seems to come from the Mercian dialect, yet most of the literature comes from the West Saxon dialect.

If you're a beginner, then, your pronunciations don't have to be perfect. If cyning sounds more like "cunning" when you say it, don't sweat it. Just do your best. One way to improve your pronunciation is just to become familiar with the sounds of Old English, and one of the best places to do that is Anglo-Saxon Aloud. Bit by bit, Michael Drout is making audio files of the whole Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, so this is a great resource that just gets better and better as he adds to it.

For the individual sounds, though, Drout has a page with sound files.* Go there, and look at the pronunciation guides found in Baker, McGillivray, and of course, Drout's own on the same page. McGillivray also has sound files in case you want something to compare Drout's pronunciation to.

Here's your vocabulary test for this time. It's all the words from Pronouns II, along with some of the words from Pronouns I. As always, just highlight the text to see the answers. If at first you don't succeed, test and test yourself again:

wit ... we two
git ... you two
hwa ... who, anyone
hwæt ... what
gehwa ... each, everyone
hwelc ... any, anyone
gehwelc ... each
hwæþer ... either, both
gehwæþer ... both
Ic ... I
þu ... you
he ... he
hit ... it
heo ... she
hie ... they
se ... the, that
þæt ... the, that
seo ... the, that
þa ... those
þes ... this

Also, if you're working in a group, pick out any Old English poem and take turns reading lines. Of course, you don't know what they mean yet, but right now it's all about becoming comfortable with pronunciation. If you're working alone, try picking one of the poems already recorded in Anglo-Saxon Aloud, and use Drout as your partner.

For next time, we'll be studying Modern English grammar. If you've studied Latin and already know what we mean by "genitive plural" or "accusative singular," you can probably just skim this part and focus on vocabulary. For the rest of you, if the above terms seem unfamiliar, you really do have to learn these -- and the good news is that this section will help you with your Modern English grammar, too! Read Baker chapters 3 &4, or Drout chapters 4, 5 and 6. Obviously, this part will require a lot of self-pacing on your part, depending on your level of understanding of Modern English grammar. We'll still be looking at the very same chapters on Thursday, so if you only get through half of the material, you're still on track.

Your vocabulary list for next time is Nouns I:

stan ... stone
scip ... ship
þing ... thing
giefu ... gift
sorg ... sorrow
nama ... name
eage ... eye
tunge ... tongue
mann ... man
hnutu ... nut
boc ... book

The next vocabulary quiz will not only cover those eleven words, but will also have nine review words, so always remember to review your earlier vocabulary words a little, too. Also, why not test out your new-found pronunciation skills on these new words?

Keep those comments and suggestions coming in the threads and the e-mails. I know it doesn't seem like it, but we're working behind the scenes to create more static pages of support for you. We might not be able to use every suggestion, but we sure appreciate the input!

*I'm pretty sure he updated those in the last couple of days in a quick turn-around of my request -- unless my office computer and home computer were reading them entirely differently. Thanks, Dr. Drout!

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