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].

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I'm pulling in the homestretch now on this week (in which every day feels like it runs into extra innings), but I can spare about a half-hour to get a few things into the Miscellany:
This may be the last Miscellany before the weekend. If you're at Dragon*Con, come see me at the Tolkien/Lewis Breakfast Roundtable at 10AM Saturday in the Fairlie Room. Since the content will depend on what the fans spring on us, this could go in any direction!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Learn Old English with the Wordhoard: MnE Grammar

If you've studied foreign and dead languages before (beyond learning phrases, or how to say, "I'd like to order a hard-boiled egg" in high school French), this study of Modern English grammar was probably boring review for you. If not, you probably found it a little confusing and frightening. Don't panic!

First off, all you really need to know as a beginner is the basic parts of speech (nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, etc.). Why Baker throws in all that scary stuff about hypotaxis and parataxis is a mystery to me, since beginners who are still learning basic paradigms are light years away from having to learn all that nonsense. Heck, I'm a specialist, and not even I care about that debate!

Once we get into the stuff about the cases of nouns, we're into important things you can't really glide over. You must know the difference between a subject, direct object, and indirect object in Modern English. You'll never be able to progress until you know that. Fortunately, Peter Baker has provided some exercises for those of us who've grown rusty since middle school sentence diagraming days. Go here to the exercise "What Case Should It Be?" and work on that a while. Also, Drout has some nice exercises as well, and I'd do those too if I were you.

Now, once you're feeling you've got this subject, direct object, indirect object thing down pat, you need to know that we don't talk about them in that way. We use the terms nominative, genitive, accusative, and dative. Baker and Drout both explain in detail what these mean, and you're going to want to understand these in a more nuanced way, for the moment, here's how to understand them:
nominative = subject
genitive = possessive
accusative = direct object
dative = indirect object

Yes, that's a gross simplification. Right now, there are historical linguists spewing gingersnap tea all over their monitors, sputtering, "What about the instrumental?! And dative can be used to show possessive, too! And what about...?" To these people I say, "screw you and the Hengst and Horsa you rode in on." For now, as a beginner, you only need to understand the simple version. Later, when you become more advanced, you'll want to re-visit these chapters and soothe the souls of our straw-man gingersnap linguists.

By the way, we still use these cases in some places in MnE, particularly in personal pronouns. Here is the way it works for the word I:
nominative singular: I
genitive singular: my
accusative singular: me
dative singular: me
nominative plural: we
genitive plural: our
accusative plural: us
dative plural: us

Let's see it working in context. Notice how the form of I changes as it changes case in these various sentences:
I gave the monkey a knife.
My robot shot the monkey.
The robot missed and hit me.
The monkey gave me a wedgie.

I, my, and me are all the same idea, but change forms depending on case. In Old English, every noun does this, so to handle nouns, you're going to have to really understand all this nom, gen, acc, dat stuff.

On to verbs. The only thing that confused a few students was the infinitive. The simple way to understand this (and it will become clearer when we get to the chapter on verbs) is that the infinitive is the basic form of the verb before we conjugate it. The confusing part is that in most languages (at least, all those I know) the infinitive is expressed in one word, but in MnE, it's expressed in a phrase by putting the word to first, as in to do, to go, to have, to poop, to skydive, to arm monkeys and robots, etc. Go to any dictionary and look up a verb, and the first word of the definition will be to. Go ahead, try it out.

For the moment, what you really have to understand about infinitives is that they are the basic forms of verbs, are the forms you'll learn your verb vocabulary in, and are translated as "to [something]", so gan is "to go," fremman is "to do," helpan is "to help," and so on. Once we get to study verbs, you'll see how these are combined with words meaning "to want to" or "to be able to," etc.

As for vocabulary, wasn't it easy this time? Here's a test with your new words and some review words. As always, highlight the selection to see the answers:

stan ... stone
scip ... ship
þing ... thing
giefu ... gift
sorg ... sorrow
nama ... name
eage ... eye
tunge ... tongue
mann ... man
hnutu ... nut
boc ... book
Ic ... I
þu ... you
hit ... it
heo ... she
hie ... they
se ... the, that
hwa ... who, anyone
hwelc ... any, anyone
hwæþer ... either, both

For next time, we're sticking with Baker chapters 3 &4, and Drout chapters 4, 5 and 6. Do those exercises I linked to above, and for vocabulary learn Nouns II:

engel ... angel
heafod ... head
sawol ... soul
dæg ... day
æsc ... ash tree
geat ... gate
here ... hostile army
searu ... skill
beadu ... battle
hand ... hand

If you're already a master of cases from studying other languages, spend your time practicing reading out loud for pronunciation. In my class, we've been reading Alfred the Great's translation of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, starting on line 65 with the speech Wisdom gives. Even though you don't actually understand what it means yet, why not pick out the few words you do already know? Like that Ic in line 67, or the words suð, east, and west in line 69? Just looking at all the Old English words you can sort-of intuit or already know will remind you that you can do this!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I'm doing Dragon*Con this weekend, and am part of the Tolkien/Lewis Breakfast Roundtable on Saturday morning. Between now and then, I've got to get my tenure & promotion package in. I hope you enjoy this Miscellany, because if this week is anywhere near as busy as it looks, there might not be another coming until after Labor Day! So, until then:
  • Cinerati discusses the D&D: Tiny Adventures app for Facebook, which I haven't been able to install right.
  • Jonathan Jarrett discusses Muslim Spain.
  • Michelle of Heavenfield discusses why King Ecgfrith was buried in Iona.
  • The Heroic Age has had about a dozen or more new CfPs since last I linked there. Also, the K'zoo deadlines are coming up (Sept 15th?).
  • In addition to its usual fare of medieval stories in the news, News for Medievalists also has some CfPs and other tidbits this time 'round, including a list of medieval history PhD dissertations completed so far this year.
  • Old Norse News tells us of the Myth and Memory Conference coming up in Aarhus this November.
  • Eileen Joy discusses the impact (and sometimes lack thereof) of theorists like Frantzen, Overing, and Hermann on Anglo-Saxon studies.
  • This isn't strictly medieval, but Steve Muhlberger reacts to a couple of Michael Drout's posts on models of scholarship. In one of them, I'm compared to Steven Jay Gould, Tom Shippey, and Michelle Brown. Among those luminaries, I kinda feel like Dan Ackroyd in "We Are the World" -- glad to be in that company, but wondering how I got there.
  • The Naked Philologist has a post on medieval propaganda, including this line telling me we're on the same wavelength: "O blogosphere, you have no idea how happy this makes me. Just look at the Wulfstanian tenor of that passage!"
  • The Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry project is making progress on Elene and Guthlac A.
  • Senchus has a post on Scottish origins, and the relationship with the Irish.
  • Furnace of Doubt has been replaced by Debilitas Mentis. Time to update blogrolls and subscriptions accordingly.
  • Lingwe has a fuller report on MythCon.
  • The Medieval History Term of the Week is joist. No, that's not the New England version of "joust."
  • Jeff Sypeck has a post on Icelanders, lava, and swimming four miles.
  • Also, and thanks to Jeff Sypeck for pointing this out, Kid Beowulf and the Blood-bound Oath has been out for a month now. Lex, you toot your own horn a bit louder and let the medieval blogosphere know about such things! By complete coincidence, I ran across this absolutely brilliant review of KBatBBO by a young wordsmith who no doubt will set the lit-crit world on fire with her taste, insight, and good gene stock. Long after Kid Beowulf has faded from memory, future scholars will point to this young reviewer as the 21st Century's Alexander Pope.
Um, I know I'm going to regret this link, but Jennifer Lynn Jordan tried to figure out what people are looking for when they google "middleageporn," and the answer is in the video below. Don't worry, it's safe for work.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Medieval Pinball on Sesame Street

Since I'm currently in grading prison (which will be followed by Cub Scouts, a little more grading prison, then Tenure & Promotion package prison), I offer this little bit of medievalist ephemera in the place of the delayed Morning Medieval Miscellany. When I was a kid, I loved the Pinball Count song, and to this day if I have to count to twelve, it runs through my head.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Pronunciation Fun

Yes, I know -- you're embarrassed by your pronunciation. Look, even with his poor pronunciation, Eddy Izzard managed to get into the dairy business:

So you can make yourself understood, even if you don't sound like Benjamin Bagby:

Shoot for Bagby eventually, but be satisfied with Izzard for now.

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!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I have never had as much attention paid to my birthday in my adult life as I got this year. Are people just happy to see me getting closer to the grave?

While we all await the embrace of death, why don't we fill our days with wine, women, and a world of medievalism?
Heavenfield points us to Senchus, a newish blog on early medieval Scotland. Update RSS feeds and blogrolls accordingly!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Learn Old English with the Wordhoard

Wow! This Old English class has taken on a life of its own! It's hard to get an accurate head-count, but from the various e-mails I've been getting, I think we may have more people self-studying Old English online than in the brick & mortar classroom.

I've been so overwhelmed by the unexpected excitement that I've called in some heavy-hitters to help build some static webpages -- namely Lisa Spangenberg, aka The Digital Medievalist, and Michael Drout of Wormtalk and Slugspeak and Anglo-Saxon Aloud. Ða sindon gode lareowas!*

Drout reminded me that he has a text available online, King Alfred's Grammar. Though this class is based around Baker's Introduction to Old English (since that's the one we're using in the brick & mortar class), I'll also try to sync up the lessons from King Alfred's Grammar so students will have plenty of resources available.

For today, students should have read about the history of the English language, available at Baker and Drout. Also, you were supposed to memorize Pronouns I vocabulary. In order to help you self-test, I've got the list below. The answers will be visible only if you highlight them (I hope). If you miss a few the first time, keep testing yourself until you've got it.

OE ... MnE
Ic ... I
þu ... you
he ... he
hit ... it
heo ... she
hie ... they
se ... the, that, (those)
þæt ... the, that, (those)
seo ... the, that, (those)
þa ... the, that, those
þes ... this, (these)
þis ... this, (these)
þeos ... this, (these)
þas ... this, these

You might have noticed that some of these words have these or those in parethesis. In fact, they can't really be plural if they are in parenthesis, but they're part of the same paradigm, so I left these and those in there. If you don't understand what this explanation means, you don't have to worry about it ... we'll cover it later. If you really, desperately need to know more now, look at tables 5.1 - 5.5 here, or the paradigms here, and you should be able to figure it out.

OK, so for next time, we'll be working on pronunciation and orthography (writing). Read Baker Chapter 2, and for those of you who want more, Drout on orthography and pronunciation. Drout's pronunciation section has sound files connected to it if you're still uncertain about a sound.

As for vocabulary, memorize Pronouns II, below.

wit ... we two
git ... you two
hwa ... who (also indefinite pronoun – see below)
hwæt ... what
hwa ... anyone
gehwa ... each, everyone
hwelc ... any, anyone
gehwelc ... each
hwæþer ... either, both
gehwæþer ... both

One more thing to note: several people have e-mailed me directly to ask questions or advice, and have expressed a reluctance to "clutter up" the Wordhoard with comments and questions. Feel free to comment here, and raise any questions to the entire community. If you're wondering it, someone else probably is as well. That also gives you the opportunity to have your question seen (and answered) by scholars whose command of Old English leaves mine in the dust. Whether you're taking the class brick & mortar, have formed a small group, or are just sitting by yourself at the computer screen, you're invited to bring your questions and comments to the Wordhoard.

*By the way, if I screwed up the grammar of this simple sentence, it just shows the perils of trying to translate Modern English to Old English. All our training is the other way. Even if I didn't screw it up, the fact that I had to offer a caveat should suggest how hard it is!

Monday, August 18, 2008


Someone wrote to me today to tell me that she had written a letter with the word Anglo-Saxonists in it, but the spell check flagged Saxonists. She reported that it offered the following alternatives: Zionists, Agonists, Soloists, and Sexiness (my own MS Word 2003 also offers Canonists).

From now on, when someone asks me what kind of medievalist I am, I'm going to reply, "Anglo-Sexiness."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

It's Monday morning! While I'm dying a slow death of the soul teaching three sections of freshman comp, you can enjoy this:
Also, Ann Lambton, RIP.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Learn Old English with the Wordhoard -- LfG!

If you're in the San Francisco Bay area, and are interested in learning learning Old English, there's someone looking for study partners willing to meet at a cafe near Piedmont Avenue, Grand, or Lakeshore -- wherever the heck those places are. I'm assuming they are relatively easy-to-find spots in SF.

By the way, I have no idea who posted this, so for all I know it could be a serial killer. My apologies if you are the next victim of the dreaded "Old English Assassin." Don't worry, though; he won't get away with it -- that's where Adrian Monk lives.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I'm trying a new method with this Miscellany. Since it's not going to be posted for many hours anyway, I'm just putting it together bit-by-bit in my free time. We'll see if it feels disjointed, or if it works.
  • Will McLean has a report on Pennsic, with lots of links to videos and photos.
  • I've gotten two different e-mails praising Jonathan Jarrett's post on "Love Stories in Charter Evidence," and for good reason. Excellent post!
  • Heavenfield has a post on maternal naming among the Picts, and more generally about the relationship between matrilinear succession and the relative status of women.
  • JJ Cohen has a post about (not) touching in Margery Kempe.
  • Magistra et Mater raises questions about when canon law becomes canon law.
  • The Heroic Age has an update with CfPs and seminars enough to keep us all busy. Someone asked me not too long ago why I generally don't link to specific posts in The Heroic Age, and it's because I figure people going there are looking for announcements, so it's better for them to be able to easily scroll down and see everything recent. There are a couple of blogs I treat that way, such as "News for Medievalists" which is essentially just recent news stories, so I figure people will want to treat it like a newspaper. No, it doesn't reflect some sort of weird blog hierarchy.
  • The Naked Philologist returns (huzzah!) with a meditation on Widsith that also tells us something about bagels I didn't previously know.
  • Heroic Dreams tells us of a new TV show based on Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule, a book I've never read, but I assume is medievalist fantasy.
  • The Weird Medieval Animal is the ape, which apparently needs to work on its mothering skills.
  • Medieval Material Culture Blog points us to her three links pages I didn't previously know about: men's heraldic surcoats, women's surcoats, and heralds' tabards. I eagerly await the creation of a Junior Miss Heraldic Surcoats page so I can shop for my daughter.
  • Matthew Gabriele is putting together a lecture series on the Crusades: Then & Now at Virginia Tech. If anyone gets to one of the sessions this fall, post a report, please!
  • The Medieval History Term of the Week is Michaelmas, and the Medieval Historical Fiction Novel of the Week is Nigel Tranter's The Isleman.
  • Lingwe's going to Mythcon, and promises a later report.
  • The Onion reports on an oddly-familiar archer at the Olympics.
  • Jeremy Axelrod has a review of Michael Alexander's "The First Poems in English" at the New York Sun.
  • Julie K. Rose finds a mention of a merman by an early-13th-century chronicler.
Enjoy your weekend! I'll be re-assembling my tenure & promotion package.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Review of The Last Legion

This isn't really going to be a detailed review, but I finally saw The Last Legion the other day. For those of you who don't know, it's a re-telling of Arthurian legend that takes place as the Roman Empire is crumbling, and the title is a reference to the last Roman legion loyal to the Caesar -- i.e., the good guys. I'd been avoiding it because so many people told me how terrible it was.

I shouldn't have avoided it so assiduously. The movie, while not good, was not that bad. I was expecting the child actor playing the last Caesar to be horrible, but he was OK. He was no Victoire Thivisol, but then, who is? The annoying butt-kicking Grrl Power character who seems to be mandated in every medieval film these days was ridiculous, but not so bad as Keira Knightley's* character in King Arthur.

The big problems with the film were a bad case of LotR-wannabees, a Vortigern who is so flat (and inexplicable) that he could probably slide under locked doors, and an insecurity about the Arthurian themes so severe that the last five minutes just smash you in the face with them. Note to filmmaker: If anyone still did not get that the sword was Excalibur by the end of the film, no amount of spelling out the letters was going to help.

So, basically, mediocre. Don't bother renting it, but if you and your friends are sitting around bored, and one pops in the Last Legion DVD, go ahead and watch it. If, on the other hand, your friend pops in the 2004 King Arthur, he's no friend of yours. Destroy the DVD, kill your friend, and systematically erase all evidence that either he or the DVD ever existed. You'll be doing us all a favor.

*With a name like that, shouldn't she be in ever medieval film?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Learn Old English with the Wordhoard -- New Chart!

Lisa Spangenberg, the Digital Medievalist, has kindly created a Blogger-friendly vocabulary chart for us. Huzzah! In slightly-related news, looking at her webpage I realize she somehow fell off my reader subscriptions -- and I just thought she hadn't posted for a while.

Old EnglishModern English
Ic I
þu you
he he
hit it
heo she
hie they
se the, that, those
þ¾t the, that, those
seo the, that, those
þa the, that, those
þes his, these
þis this, these
þeos this, these
þas this, these

Learn Old English with the Wordhoard

For those of you following along with the Wordhoard's Old English class this semester, by now you should have laid hands on Peter Baker's Introduction to Old English. If not, get it right away, and read Chapter 1 before Tuesday.

Also, we are going to start memorizing vocabulary. Learn the pronouns below. Right now, it doesn't look like it makes sense ("Why have four different words for this and these?"), but it will make learning the first paradigms easier. Don't worry, it'll make perfect sense soon.

Ic ... I
þu ... you
he ... he
hit ... it
heo ... she
hie ... they
se ... the, that, those
þæt ... the, that, those
seo ... the, that, those
þa ... the, that, those
þes ... this, these
þis ... this, these
þeos ... this, these
þas ... this, these

By the way, that character þ, the one that looks like a p wearing a hat, is pronounced like th in modern English. Later on, we'll see the character ð, which looks like a lower-case d with a line through it, and that's also pronounced like th in modern English; they're pretty much interchangable. Don't worry about pronunciation yet, though -- that's not for another chapter!

If anyone is wondering, the vocabulary is taken from Baker's book. I try to introduce the words not long before you have to use them in paradigms or translation, to cut back on the glossary-flipping.

So, for Tuesday, just read 10 pages and memorize 14 words. Easy! You can do it!

[UPDATE: Blogger couldn't replicate my formatting, so I had to put the elipses between the OE and MnE words. Let me know in the comments below if that format is too hard to follow.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Future of the Morning Miscellanies

I just found out that I'm teaching an overload this fall -- three freshman Comps, one World Lit, and one glorious Old English class -- and that I'm in the classroom by 8:30 at the latest every morning. My morning schedule on most days will look like this:

5:30 Get up and go for my "morning constitutional." I've decided not to call it my "morning run" any more, especially since I hurt my ankle and generally just walk it these days. It's now my morning constitutional, and lasts an hour.
6:30 Return home from morning constitutional.
7:20 Leave to take the kiddies to school.
7:50 Arrive at the University.
8:00 Teach
9:00 Office hours -- er, hour.
10:00 Teach
11:00 Teach

Notice anything about the above? No morning remaining! So, what's going to happen with the Morning Medieval Miscellanies?

I understand Blogger now allows us to delay posts, so what I'm going to try to do is write the MMMs at night, then release them in the morning. This will mean that the content of the Miscellanies will be about eight hours delayed. This also means that my own original posts will come out in the afternoons and evenings, rather than mornings.

Enough blog shop-talk. We now return to the Middle Ages, already (and still) in progress.

Russia, Georgia, and Medieval History

Jeff Sypeck has a link-filled post about the medieval and pre-medieval roots of the current Russian/Georgian conflict, including an Arthurian connection I had no clue existed.

Read it!

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Nokesies

About a week ago, Jennifer Lynn Jordan nominated the Unlocked Wordhoard for the Brillante Weblog award. The rules of the award are as follows:
  1. Put the logo on your blog.
  2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
  3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
  4. Add links to these blogs on your blog.
  5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.
The fourth one was the sticking point. The award had already made the rounds of the medieval blog-o-sphere, and I didn't want it be become a sort of annoying chain letter. Instead of doing that, I came up with a different idea.

I'd like the Wordhoard to give out its own award, but instead of awarding a particular blog, as is generally the custom, I'd like to award particular posts. Since the Wordhoard is all about building bridges between the popular and the scholarly, I'd like to periodically give an award for the best online post or article discussing a difficult medieval topic in an accessible way. The author doesn't have to be a scholar, and any reasonably-intelligent undergrad should understand the post.

First, I've been trying to think up a name for the award, and I'm coming up blank. At first I tried various puns on "Wordhoard," but I didn't care for any of them. Then I tried thinking of medieval figures famous for translating difficult things, but the "King Alfred the Great Award" seemed way too pompous, and the "Saint Jerome Award" sounds like something the Knights of Columbus would give out. For now, I'm just calling them "The Nokesies"* until I can come up with a better name. If anyone out there wants to suggest a particular name for the award in the comments below, I would really appreciate the help.

Second, I want to give away an actual physical prize. The last contest I had I gave away a copy of one of my books, but that's way too me-o-centric for this. Nor do I want to break the bank, but I would like to give away something someone would actually want. I'm still coming up with ideas for prizes -- anything from engraved pens to t-shirts to little trophies. Suggestions there would be helpful too.

Finally, I'd like to give it out periodically -- less than once per month, but more than once per year. I was thinking of dividing the year into three "semesters" -- spring, summer, and fall, roughly corrosponding to academic semesters. Each semester, I would take nominations for posts or articles from the previous semester, and pick a winner.

Here's where I am with the rules:
  • Anyone can nominate up to three posts or articles. Note that whole blogs, websites, or magazines cannot win.
  • Anonymous posts are eligible for nomination, but will be deemed ineligible to win if the writer is unwilling to provide me with a mailing address to send the prize. I've got nothing against anonymous/pseudonymous writers, but I can't very well just hand the prize to the postman and say, "See if you can figure out where this goes."
  • Online blog posts or static articles are eligible.
  • No post on the Wordhoard is eligible, nor are other articles written by me either in part or whole -- duh.
  • Writers can nominate one of their own posts or articles.
  • "Semesters" will run January-April, May-August, September-December.
  • Bribes will not affect the outcome of the contest, but are happily accepted nonetheless.
I need your help in figuring this out! Any good suggestions for names, or prizes, or rules changes/clarifications would be appreciated. Please do not send in nominations -- I'm still trying to figure out if I can get the Nokesies up and running.

* /'nouksiz/ in IPA for those of you needing a pronunciation guide. The o is long and the first e is silent, just like in my name.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Larry Swain has finished writing his dissertation! In related news, pigs have been seen winging overhead and the temperature in Hell has dropped to 32 degrees! Seriously, congratulations to The Swain, a favorite of many in the blog-o-net-o-sphere-o-thingie. In addition to my congratulations to The Swain, I also would like to congratulate all of you who posted all this interesting stuff medievalist stuff:
That's it for now. Check back later in the day -- I'm planning another post.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Peek into my Psyche

WARNING: Non-medieval content below.

Tomorrow my kids start school again. This is exactly how I feel:

And, just for my friend Les, there's this:

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

The kiddies start school in just a couple of days, meaning that I'll be back in the office regularly. It is to be hoped* that the Miscellanies will come along more regularly too. But for now:
Here's a new blog for you: Indirections. Time to update blogrolls!

*Sorry for the ugly "it is to be hoped." I have a friend who loves using that particular passive construction ironically.
**No, I haven't forgotten that JLJ nominated me for the Brillante Weblog award thingie -- it's just that nearly the entire medieval blog-o-web-o-net-0-sphere has already been nominated, so I've got to figure out what to do about my three nominees.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Pragmatic Reasons to Study Old English

Every so often, I'm called upon to justify the study of Old English. Whenever Old English is offered at Troy, the question (from students, not from faculty) is "Why? What use is that?"

Of course, if you're a medieval scholar, the answer to that question is easy -- you've got to be able to read the language to understand the primary documents of your field. If you rely on translations done by others, you're taking a lot of very dangerous leaps of faith; heck, some scholars won't even rely on the transcriptions of manuscripts by others, let alone the translations of other.

Most people, though, aren't professors, so the above doesn't really apply to them. Nor am I a big fan of the "for the love of learning" argument. Yes, for the love of learning you should learn something, but why Old English? Why not Old Franconian? Or the history of Uzbekistan? Or Fortran? Or animal husbandry?

Of course, non-specialists will sometimes decide to study Old English because of reasons peculiar to them. For example, I've known people who studied for these reasons: they loved Tolkien, and wanted to understand more of the references in his books; they were assigned The Dream of the Rood and were so struck by its beauty that they desperately wanted to read it in the original; they were medieval reenactors; they really liked the professor teaching the class; they needed an upper-division class and it was the only one that fit their schedule; etc.

I've found three general and very pragmatic reasons, though, that a non-professor might decide to study Old English -- reasons that most people haven't considered:
  • You are or plan to be a high school English teacher. The two reasons I hear from high school English teachers for not studying medieval texts are: 1.) the school's anthology doesn't include them, and 2.) the teacher doesn't feel confident in pronunciation of the original language, a short recitation of which is generally part of a good curriculum. The first reason is, I think, a result of the second -- no supply because of no demand. Those teachers who took Old English wowed their colleagues and established tons of authority with the students when they confidently read the opening of Beowulf or the lines in which Grendel first emerges from the mere. Most find Middle English (usually reciting the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales in high school) quite easy on an intuitive level once they've studied Old English. For the high school English teacher, a familiarity with Old English, even with just a single undergraduate course, puts them in a league above their colleagues. Ditto, by the way, for teaching high school grammar, as will become clear below.
  • English is your second language. I have a lecture I give to groups of ESL students and ESL instructors about how an understanding of the history of the English language generally and Old English specifically can help in learning English. I've never had a group that wasn't astounded by what they could learn in my 45 minute talk. So many of the difficult things for foreigners to learn about English -- the so-called irregular verbs, the bizarre exceptions to rules -- follow very regular rules in Old English. By knowing that heritage, they can understand why English works the way it does, and master it more easily. It also helps a great deal in learning vocabulary. Nearly all the approaches to studying English as a second language consider vocabulary building in terms of learning the greatest number of words possible for standardized tests, usually through the use of Latinate stems and afixes: for example, nation, national, nationalism, international, transnational gives you five words. If you look at a list of the most 100 commonly used English words in speech and writing, however, you'll find that nearly all those most commonly-used words come from Old English.* The words that you will actually encounter in spoken and written English, then, aren't the new-fangled Norman imports -- they're the ol' fashioned Anglo-Saxon words.
  • You write or edit for a living. This is connected in a way to the ESL reason -- so many of the guides to style, when they suggest avoiding ornate constructions or pretentious diction -- these are just short-hand ways of saying, "Write in modern English using words and constructions out of Old English." These words and constructions that are the roots of our language resonate deeply with modern English speakers. George Orwell got this; you should too. Understanding Old English can help you become a better writer and editor of modern English, if you'll simply apply it.
Folks out there can probably think of other reasons for non-specialists to study Old English, and I'd be glad to read them in the comment section below.

*because is the main exception to the rule, which doesn't come into English until around the early 14th Century.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Is Loosely Old English Rules Grammar Change Based

The Onion broadcast radio to according, Rules Grammar Change "is new structure loosely on obscure 800 year old free medieval Anglo-Saxon syntax based."

Who students my Old English class take at strong advantage job market in will be.

Friday, August 01, 2008

NOAA Revises Itself

Back in January, I posted about how NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) was claiming that "there was no multi-century periods [sic] when global or hemispheric temperatures were the same or warmer than in the 20th century." In short hand, they were Medieval Global Warming Deniers. Since we all know that we can always trust government bureaucracies to be competent and truthful, this viking dock must have been constructed under the ice.*

NOAA seems to have changed its tune, and is now admitting there was a Medieval Warm Period, but it wasn't quite as warm as the 20th and 21st Centuries. They even go so far as to admit "Norse seafaring and colonization around the North Atlantic at the end of the 9th century indicated that regional North Atlantic climate was warmer during medieval times than during the cooler 'Little Ice Age' of the 15th - 19th centuries," a big change from back when they were disparaging reliance on contemporary accounts and archeology, darkly hinting that the Medieval Warm Period had some kind of political agenda behind it.
Viking Woman: Where are you going?
Viking Man: I'm going to Greenland.
Viking Woman: Why in the Hel would you go there? Everyone knows it's just a barren wasteland of ice, since the Industrial Revolution has not yet come to melt all the ice away and strand polar bears.
Viking Man: I'm going to build some fake settlements under the ice, and maybe plant a vinyard or two.
Viking Woman: What?! Why?!
Viking Man: We're going to use it to embarrass a future politician who will live south of Newfoundland named Al Gore.
Viking Woman: Why would you care about someone who won't be born for centuries?
Viking Man: Because I'm a secret operative working for Karl Rove! All the materials were provided to me by Halliburton! Muhahahaha!

By the way, don't bother looking for the older page I linked to. It has apparently been erased.

*h/t Slouching Toward Extimacy.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I might also have an original content post later in the day, depending on how it goes with updating my composition syllabi. Until then:
Dang, I might have another original-content post before the day is done. Can you tell I'm procrastinating preparing for composition classes?

*"Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap." I suspect, though I haven't looked, that this Sumerian joke is now defunct, since there are probably pornographic websites devoted to exactly this sort of thing.
** Answer: A key.