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  #41  
Old September 15th, 2011, 1:45 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

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Originally Posted by Fools_Gold View Post
I just find it interesting that a lot of English people are either woefully ignorant of old and middle English or, like me, find it dull and boring.
I think you're quite right on both counts. I couldn't tell you the number of times I've had to explain to people that Shakespeare did not write in Old English. (Well to be fair he might have, but all of the work I've read has been decidedly Modern English.)

It is too bad you find it so dull, because I think learning these earlier forms of our language unlocks some (more) of the truly great literature ever written in it.


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  #42  
Old September 15th, 2011, 2:31 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

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I studied English Language at A Level and got my grade just this year. I managed a B overall but an A on the exam, which I was proud about.

My point anyway is that the second year of the course, half the exam is on old and middle English language. It really is very dull work but I persevered and was shocked but also obviously pleased to find I got an A on the exam.

I just find it interesting that a lot of English people are either woefully ignorant of old and middle English or, like me, find it dull and boring.
On my degree course, we had to do a compulsory Old English course in the first year. I loved it and opted to study it in the 2nd and 3rd years, when it wasn't compulsory, as well, but a lot of the other students did find it "dull and boring" and started a campaign to have the compulsory unit abolished. I thought this was a bit unreasonable, as our college made it very clear in its recruitment literature what the course involved and if they didn't want to study it they could have applied to any number of other universities instead.

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couldn't tell you the number of times I've had to explain to people that Shakespeare did not write in Old English. (Well to be fair he might have, but all of the work I've read has been decidedly Modern English.)
Oh, don't get me started on this one...


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  #43  
Old September 17th, 2011, 8:04 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

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Originally Posted by canismajoris View Post
I couldn't tell you the number of times I've had to explain to people that Shakespeare did not write in Old English.
I had to explain that to my stepfather once, and he refused to believe me until I showed him an untranslated passage from Beowulf.


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  #44  
Old September 18th, 2011, 9:48 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

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I always understood that the case system had started to break down before the Norman Conquest and was more likely to have been the result of Norse invasions - in areas where two similar, just about mutually inteligible, Germanic languages were used side by side, people began to talk a mish-mash of the two and got round the problem of having two different case systems by just dropping the inflections all together. But I think that was a theory back when I was at college and I haven't followed developments in the field since then, so that may not be right.

What I find more interesting (and inexplicable) is how few words entered OE from Celtic. There's barely a trace, which is very odd, given that the Celts didn't all flee to Cornwall, Brittany, Wales and Scotland - I think I've heard that the average white British person from anywhere in the country has far more Celtic DNA than Germanic (and, given that Germanic DNA covers both Anglo-Saxon and Norman, that suggests that there were enormous numbers of Celts still hanging around).

I only know of three words remaining in modern English that entered the language from Celtic in the OE period and of those two are dialect and/or archaic ("bannock" - a type of flatbread and "brock", a poetic name for a badger). The only really everyday word is "bin". There may be a few more obscure words, but the paucity of Celtic loanwords in OE is quite bizarre.
John McWhorter (a linguist who specializes in creoles and language contact) has something to say on this subject. He is of the view that while English didn't pick up much in the way of vocabulary from the Celtic languages, it did actually pick up some odd and unusual grammatical features from them -- things like using a noun-verb progressive construction with -ing as a sort of default present tense, and what he calls the "meaningless do", such that we say "Did you see what he's doing?" instead of "Saw you what he does?".

(I was just reading through one of his books when I was reminded of your post & this discussion in here.)


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  #45  
Old October 8th, 2011, 7:10 am
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Re: Old and Middle English

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Originally Posted by Pox Voldius View Post
John McWhorter (a linguist who specializes in creoles and language contact) has something to say on this subject. He is of the view that while English didn't pick up much in the way of vocabulary from the Celtic languages, it did actually pick up some odd and unusual grammatical features from them -- things like using a noun-verb progressive construction with -ing as a sort of default present tense, and what he calls the "meaningless do", such that we say "Did you see what he's doing?" instead of "Saw you what he does?".

(I was just reading through one of his books when I was reminded of your post & this discussion in here.)
Can you point me in the direction of this book? I've been studying Anglo-Saxon grammar in some detail lately, so I'm curious about the details.


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  #46  
Old October 12th, 2011, 2:16 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

I had an exam in Anglo-Saxon yesterday, and I'm somewhat disappointed. The professor did tell us it would be translating passages we'd seen before, but still, I felt like I was just repeating information I'd memorized (since studying passages we'd seen before involved retranslating them). An original passage would have suited me much better as a test.

There was one instance where I think there was a grammatical error in the original text, because "t folc" (which is the nominative/accusative singular--it's a long-stemmed strong neuter noun) later was supposed to agree with "wundrodon" which is a preterite [indicative] plural form. It actually was something like "t folc ws him anbidiende and wundrodon t..." So, I don't get it... pro-drop?



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  #47  
Old October 12th, 2011, 3:26 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

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I had an exam in Anglo-Saxon yesterday, and I'm somewhat disappointed. The professor did tell us it would be translating passages we'd seen before, but still, I felt like I was just repeating information I'd memorized (since studying passages we'd seen before involved retranslating them). An original passage would have suited me much better as a test.
Don't know anything about the course you're studying, but I seem to remember that when I was at university most of the translations I had to do in exams were of prepared passages (it's so long ago, I can't remember if we had to do Anglo-Saxon translations, at all - I think we did, again of texts we'd already studied, as well as essays on the texts. I think I might have had to do one unseen in my final Norse exam, but most of it was translations of texts we'd previously studied). This was because I was studying an English Literature course and it was mostly knowledge of literary texts being examined, not linguistic competence. In the UK, at least, Anglo-Saxon and Norse courses have tended to be linked to English Literature departments, not Linguistics or Languages departments.

If I ever had enough knowledge of Anglo-Saxon grammar to respond to your other point, I've long forgotten it.


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  #48  
Old October 12th, 2011, 3:53 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

Actually though this is in the English Department, it is more of a "reading competence" focus than one on particular texts themselves, so I'm fairly in my element. I'm certain all the other students hate the grammar content, or at least many did--we've had about 12 people drop so far.


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  #49  
Old October 12th, 2011, 11:57 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

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In the UK, at least, Anglo-Saxon and Norse courses have tended to be linked to English Literature departments, not Linguistics or Languages departments.
And then, there's Tolkien. But that was Oxford. And that was a long time ago.


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  #50  
Old October 13th, 2011, 12:32 am
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Re: Old and Middle English

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And then, there's Tolkien. But that was Oxford. And that was a long time ago.
One of my Old English lecturers was one of his former students.


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  #51  
Old October 13th, 2011, 2:08 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

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Originally Posted by Melaszka View Post
One of my Old English lecturers was one of his former students.
Very cool.


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  #52  
Old October 14th, 2011, 3:11 am
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Re: Old and Middle English

Funny you should mention Tolkien... my professor loaned me a book about him and his philological motives written by a guy who apparently once occupied Tolkien's old chair at University of Leeds.


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  #53  
Old October 16th, 2011, 3:20 am
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Re: Old and Middle English

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Can you point me in the direction of this book? I've been studying Anglo-Saxon grammar in some detail lately, so I'm curious about the details.
That would be Our Magnificent ******* Tongue: The Untold History of English. (I happened to pick it up at the local Borders during the going-out-of-business sale.)

Hope that link will work through the auto-censor not liking the title.


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  #54  
Old October 16th, 2011, 7:33 pm
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Re: Old and Middle English

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Originally Posted by Pox Voldius View Post
That would be Our Magnificent ******* Tongue: The Untold History of English. (I happened to pick it up at the local Borders during the going-out-of-business sale.)

Hope that link will work through the auto-censor not liking the title.
No worries, I actually have that book... somewhere... McWhorter isn't my favorite for a number of petty reasons (mostly that I think out of concern for his intended audience he oversimplifies things), but I still find his books interesting and I often agree with his opinions about how language and culture interact.

All I can say about the Old English verb system is that it is rather simpler than ours (yes, believe it or not). There are theoretically no compound tenses, depending on who you ask, but it is entirely possible to formulate statements in what we'd call past and present perfect, and also to syntactically indicate the passive voice (Edit: other than to the accusative-infinitive construction whereby a verb like "to break" is read "to be broken"):

Often a form of habban (to have) or wesan-beon (to be) coupled with the past participle of a verb works these ways, e.g.

He hfde ealle his ing ge-gearcod.
He had all his things prepared. (cf. He had prepared all his things)

Hie hbba t yrfe rihtlice ge-dled.
They have the inheritance properly divided. (cf. They have divided the inheritance properly).

In carcern u bist ge-sended.
In prison you will be locked.

a scipu wron ge-baerned.
The ships were burnt.

The only trouble is the traditional grammars surrounding this consider these verbals, not verbs. I did not inflect them for the sake of speed and to avoid misleading mistakes, but those participles should take adjectival suffixes. In the passive-like statements, the adjectives will agree in case, number, and gender with the subjects of the sentences (which is to say, they will always be nominative), and in the ones reminiscent of perfect tenses the participles will be inflected to agree with the object of the verb habban.

I completely forget what my point was, but there you are.



Last edited by canismajoris; October 16th, 2011 at 11:04 pm.
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  #55  
Old October 17th, 2011, 12:43 am
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Re: Old and Middle English

I've just noticed that "carcer" is another pre-Conquest loan word from Latin!


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  #56  
Old October 17th, 2011, 4:30 am
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Re: Old and Middle English

There are many such borrowings from the, I suppose, continental era of the Anglo-Saxon-Jute peoples.

I was just reading a bit the other day in which the word camp is used, which in Old English means "war," not "camp' (cempa, n. means "warrior") cf. kemp, German kampf. Evidently this is based on some form of the Latin campus, in whatever sense of "field of battle."

Where it really gets confusing is that there are other seemingly related words, like "champion," which any good student will tell you came out of French (<Latin campio) despite its apparent similarity to a thoroughly Germanicized word like camp, and the verb campian, one of many OE words meaning "to fight." Evidently at one point we had multiple doublets on this one: "champion", its variant campion, and perhaps kemp, which, it's unclear if it's formed independently from the camp-cempa paradigm (which Bostworth-Toller claims has "champion" as a reflex) or was another borrowing based on campus-campio.

English speakers did not borrow our current word "camp" (so says the OED) until significantly later from continental French sources. In other words it's all a bloody mess (almost literally) and though Germanic and Romance languages are genetically distinct, they've apparently done a lot of intermarrying.



Last edited by canismajoris; October 17th, 2011 at 4:38 am. Reason: harmonized word-as-word
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