Course Instructor Days Times Room


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Learn Old English so you can read Beowulf in the original and replace Seamus Heaney's rather loose but inspiring translation with a more accurate one of your own.  

Learn Old English so you can have direct access to and "deep" knowledge of the history of the English vocabulary and sharpen your skills with English diction: as a creative writer, journalist, or literary critic, your ability to select from Modern English words that originate in Old English & Germanic as opposed to Romance-language, Latin & Greek, or other world languages will be vastly expanded.  Your poetry will sound more like T.S. Eliot's than ever before!

Learn Old English so you can figure out where J.R.R. Tolkien got lots of his stuff -- characters, situations, plot developments, motifs; linguistic resources for names of objects, people, and places in Middle-earth (not to mention the term "middle-earth" itself); plus a whole lot more!   Why is a "mathom" (O.E. maððum) a "useless gift" in the Shire?  Why is the capital hall of King Theoden of Rohan called "Meduseld"?  This course will tell you why.

Learn Old English so you can have direct access to other gems of early English literature instead of depending on stuffy, old-fashioned translations from earlier scholars for such poems as "The Battle of Maldon," "The Dream of the Rood," "Riddles of the Exeter Book," and "The Wanderer" & "The Seafarer."  Regarding the latter, you can check Ezra Pound to see where he took liberties and altered the poem to suit his own idiosyncrasies.  Regarding the former, you can see the origins of the heroic tradition in English, upon which John Milton and others later on drew in creating their own literary versions of heroic hubris and heroic sacrifice.

Whatever your reasons for joining this year's happy throng of Old English students, you will have the opportunity to learn to read the written records of our earliest linguistic ancestors and to pronounce early English approximately the way members of King Alfred's court and the populace of Wessex did in the late 9th century.  From now on, you'll be able to amaze your friends and attract potential lovers by reciting Old English poetry at bus-stops, tail-gates, and cocktail parties.  

But enroll now before the class is full.  It is sometimes full; occasionally in the past I have yielded to emotional -- sometimes tearful -- pleas to allow overloads, but there are no guarantees . . .

And now for the more sober description . . .


This is a course in the Old English language; in some respects it is like courses in modern foreign languages like Spanish, French, and German or classical languages like Greek and Latin, with vocabulary quizzes, grammar tests, and translation exercises for in-class recitation and written homework. Students will learn to pronounce, read, and translate Old English prose and -- at the end of the semester -- some Old English poetry. This course is a prerequisite for Spring Semester courses including (in even years) ENGL 4210/6210 Old English Literature or (in odd years) ENGL 4220/6220 Beowulf.  


The course activities & assignments primarily involve (1) memorization of the basic paradigms of Old English nouns & verbs plus other more minor parts of speech, (2) practice translating original sentences written in Old English from The Peterborough Chronicle, which is the latest and most complete manuscript of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  Most of the graded work of the course will be the frequent short quizzes on such minutiae as noun declensions & verb conjugations.  During the first half of the course, these will occur approximately every other class-day.  Later on these diminish as the attention turns more and more towards translation practice.  There may be a few take-home written translation exercises, but most of the oral work in class sessions will involve students' reading their translations of the Peterborough Chronicle annals they've translated outside of class.  Most of these are relatively short and objective descriptions of the careers of kings and bishops from Anglo-Saxon England, petty wars between rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and major battles between the invading Vikings and the defending Anglo-Saxons under King Alfred and his predecessors in the 8th and 9th centuries.  Some of these are of great interest, including an annal that claims dragons were seen flying over Lindisfarne, Northumbria in A.D. 793, one that describes the Vikings' vicious murder of a bishop by splitting his head with an axe, and one that describes the pelting to death of an unpopular rival with the severed heads of cattle.  Students interested in history will read the earliest documentary evidence for the Anglo-Saxon Conquest of 449 and the Norman Conquest of 1066.  We'll also spend some time looking at fascinating word histories illustrated in Old English vocabulary. At the end of the course we'll get practice translating some poetry in preparation for the follow-up courses in Old English Literature (Spring 2018) and Beowulf (Spring 2019).

So, to summarize: the first few class days will include a general introduction to the study of language, with emphasis on historical developments, phonology, and the phonetics of OE pronunciation; the next eight to twelve weeks will focus on grammatical inflections -- i.e., noun declension, verb conjugation, etc. -- vocabulary, and the syntax of OE sentences. The main activity during class time throughout the semester will include presentation and discussion of grammatical forms, short quizzes, and students' recitation of their Old English translations. As the course draws to its conclusion, recitation of translations and discussion of the prose and poetry will occupy most of the time spent in class.


As noted above, brief quizzes will be given at least once a week -- and often more like every day or two -- , particularly during the first 5 or 6 weeks of the course; the daily work of the class involves students' individual recitation/reading of their translation of a short passage in the longer assignment of the day. Several people will translate each day; most people in the class will have the opportunity, or be required, to translate at least once a week. From time to time I will announce in advance my intention to collect translation exercises as written homework for a grade. Depending upon my perception of the need for it, I may give a test or two over the classes of verbs and nouns at key transition points during the course. It is unlikely that I will give a mid-term exam, but there will be a Final Exam which will include a translation passage with questions covering the grammar of the passage; it will count as 1/3 of the final course grade.


The final course grade will be determined in this way: the total number of points earned on quizzes, homework exercises, and tests will be divided by the total number of possible points, giving a mathematical percentage counting 2/3 of the final course grade. The Final Exam will be graded on a 100-point scale, giving a mathematical score counting 1/3 of the final course grade. 


Attendance plays no role in the final grade, though missing many days will mean missing some quizzes, which may be made up only by permission of the instructor.  Permission can be granted for reasonable explanations having to do with illness, family troubles, work conflicts, etc.  In general, though, absences may be excused per University of Georgia policies. Quizzes, homework, or exams missed for unexcused absences normally may not be made up, excepting exceptional circumstances as determined by the instructor.


Required Text: Evans, Jonathan. An Introduction to Old English 2017, pre-publication copy available through  Students will be contacted about placing a bulk order in the weeks prior to class.  Suggested Text: Hall, John R. Clark. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Supplementary Non-required Texts: Moore, Samuel, Thomas A. Knott, and James R. Hulbert, The Elements of Old English. ISBN 155635780X. Quirk, Randolph and C.L. Wrenn, An Old English Grammar. ISBN 0875805604.  I have written the main text for the course: An Introduction to Old English, which is currently under contract and undergoing copy-editing for publication by the MLA, but I will produce a pre-publication copy in book form privately-printed through one of's subsidiary publication firms.  The book may be ordered directly from Amazon after I've finished editing and revising the 2017 edition. It will be advantageous price-wise to place a bulk order during the week prior to the first week of the class in order to get the author's discount and a bulk mailing rate -- usually totaling less than $30.00.  More information will be sent via e-mail as the beginning of Fall Semester approaches in August.

Makeup Policy

Quizzes may be made up by arrangement with the instructor.