Friday, July 25, 2008

Learning Old English with the Wordhoard

I just learned that the room for my Old English class (ENG4400TRAA) this fall will only seat 6 more students, so if you're one of those still sitting on the fence about whether or not to register, you'd better do so NOW! Unless they shuffle the rooms around (which, admittedly, is very possible), you might not get in unless you act soon

In an earlier post, I asked for advice on how it would be possible to offer blogging that would help people follow along my Old English class, so those who can't study in a formal setting might at least get a little something. No one posting on the thread or e-mailing me privately seemed to know how to do it, but so many people wrote to say, "Yes, please, I want to follow along!" that I've decided to move forward. I haven't the faintest idea how to actually make this work, so I'm just going to muddle along, getting everything wrong, and correcting course midstream. While I'm learning how to reach out (or teach out?) to the medieval enthusiasts out there who want to learn OE* in their spare time, hopefully some folks out there will learn a little bit more about OE.

Classes won't begin until the middle of August, but if you're thinking of following along, you'll need to order your books. We'll be using three books for the class, all of which you can easily order from Amazon, ABEbooks (which I recommend) or the publishers:
Baker, Peter S. Introduction to Old English. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.
Hall, J.R. Clark. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Toronto: Toronto UP, 1960
Pope, John C. Eight Old English Poems. New York: WW Norton, 2000.

Baker's Intro to OE is the main book you're going to need, and the first one we'll be reading from. I'm switching to it for the first time this year, so I might be a little clumsy in using it, but it ought to be perfect. Last time I taught the class (2003), I taught the book out of order, in the way I wanted, and many of the students felt it was too disorganized. Then I got my complimentary copy of Baker, and saw he organized his book exactly as I organized my class -- for example, starting with MnE grammar, then doing OE pronouns as the first part of speech**-- so I know I'll like it better. Also, Baker's book has copious online resources, including an electronic version of his book, and a workbook! Woohoo! I'm going to be using his workbook stuff in the class, but I've got to look it over more carefully before deciding how.

JR Clark Hall's A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary is exactly what it sounds like, a dictionary. One of my well-known colleagues has called it "sucktastic," and while it has its problems, it isn't like we can all tote around the Bosworth-Toller humungous volume around, and while B-T is available online, its 1300+ pages of teeny-tiny print is difficult to read on even my nice monitor at home, so Clark Hall it is! I won't be assigning readings from Clark Hall, but you'll need it anyway for obvious reasons.

Pope's Eight Old English Poems is basically 8 poems with a nice glossary and textual notes. I generally don't assign readings from Pope, but students mine it for material for their assignments, such as recitation or translation of the final project. You'll definitely want a copy of it, and it has been in print so long that you'll likely pay more for shipping than a used copy. You'll also find the earlier incarnation of the book around, Seven Old English Poems, and that's just as good. Seven doesn't have "The Wife's Lament," but Baker has it in his own book, so you'll still have everything if you find a cheap copy of the older version. I think all eight poems are available online, but you aren't really buying Pope for the poems -- you're buying him for his textual notes and glossary.

When I get the schedule finalized, I'll post that as well.

*If you're going to be following along at all, you'd better learn this common abbreviation. OE=Old English, ME=Middle English, and MnE=Modern English. Those aren't my own coinages; they're commonly used.
**Right about now, you're thinking "Pronouns first? Not nouns or verbs?" The article in OE (a/an/the in MnE) works sort-of like their pronouns, and is really, really helpful in working with nouns. When students first start out, they feel like they're wasting their time on pronouns, but when they get to the nouns, they smack their collective foreheads and go, "Oh, that's why we did pronouns first!"


  1. Anonymous10:55 AM

    I love that you're willing to share your knowledge/teaching of OE with the rest of us!! Thank you, thank you!

    While I'll admit that I'm no technology guru, I've taught a paperless class recently and would be happy to share whatever technological competence I've gained. I'm also happy to toss around other ideas for teaching or sharing through your blog; you can reach me by email at

  2. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Good lord -- six of us? Huzzah! I love small classes!

    Thanks for putting the book list up early so I have time to buy them.

    Also, if its not too late, have you thought about creating a podcast of the class or something of the sort?

  3. Sorry, Nina, you've got it backwards -- only six slots REMAINING. It's a bigger class.

    Podcast, eh? Hmmmm ... any specific ideas for that?

  4. Anonymous11:24 AM

    Aw, damn. I did read that wrong. No matter -- huzzah! I love large classes!

    My idea would be to Podcast your lectures and have them available for download on your blog. You may want to record your lectures before or after the in-class lecture, since the sounds of students giggling, sniffing, and coughing might drown you out.

    Or, you could write up your lecture notes and have them available as a blog post or on a PDF. You'd probably have to make small recordings available of you pronouncing words or reading passages, since it is damn near impossible to learn a language without hearing it.

    Just a thought, though.