Starting Old English

Hi, everyone! Welcome to my blog for my independent study on Old English and Translation Theory. I have just finished my first official week of the study, so I wanted to write a blog post summarizing what I’ve done so far. Right now (and for the next couple months), I am just focusing on the basics of Old English, working through my introductory textbook to learn the foundational grammar and vocabulary and practicing translation through the texts in that book. I have gone through the sections on pronunciation, pronouns, and nouns. I also started working on adjectives, which I will finish this week as I also learn about verbs. I am really loving Old English. Perhaps unsurprisingly, its grammar feels halfway between Latin or Greek, which I have studied before, and Modern English, of course with some Germanic-specific elements added in.

For example, Old English employs a similar case system to Greek and Latin, but it has many fewer verb forms than those languages and even uses similar compound-verb constructions to those in Modern English, such as “have done/will do.” For a uniquely Germanic feature, Old English differentiates between “strong” and “weak” nouns, adjectives, and verbs. For nouns and verbs, this simply groups words based on inflectional patterns (similar to Latin’s four conjugations), meaning that a noun can either be strong or weak, and this classification describes how its ending will change based on case and number. However, one adjective can use both strong and weak endings, dependent on the grammatical context, something I will likely talk more about in my next post. In addition to learning grammar this week, I did my first Old English translation, a short passage from The Life of St. Benedict. This was a really fun experience. I certainly had to rely heavily on a dictionary, but it was not too difficult to work through, and it was really interesting to translate a text even before I have finished learning the basic grammar of the language. In our meeting today, Dr. Shores also taught me about the genre of hagiography (which this text falls into) and monastic culture and history in medieval England, which was fascinating but probably beyond the scope of this blog post. Overall, I have absolutely loved this independent study so far, and I can’t wait to continue learning Old English.

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