Old English / Anglo-Saxon

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Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby Kietl » Sun 25 Oct 2009 4:36 am

Hey guys. This would be a topic for discussion of Old English. I thought there was one made a while back, but couldn't find it. Post your thoughts on the subject: methods and resources for learning, or questions if you're wanting to know more about it!

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Recently I came across A Guide to Old English by Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, and, compared to four or five other OE grammars bought previously, I've found that the book does an excellent job of presenting and organizing information--the different declensions and classes and the numerous variants amongst them, as well as OE syntax. Also, it contains an extensive bibliography and a glossary for determining gender, declension, and class in nouns and verbs. And in addition to this, it's really a textbook, so the second half includes a wide selection of prose and verse (translations and commentary too!). Ic lufie hit.

Has anyone else encountered this grammar before?
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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby sil_lark » Wed 16 Dec 2009 8:38 pm

Some years ago I came across The Lord's Prayer in Old English and memorized it. A little after that I came across some recordings of the same prayer in Old English, and some things were pronounced differently. Do Old English linguists have a "set" or understood phonetic system for Old English? Or is it still debatable? And I thought it was interesting how Old English sounds like a mixture of today's languages, like German and French.
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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby Kietl » Wed 16 Dec 2009 10:42 pm

The entirety of Old English did not have a single sound system, no. In fact, there are several different dialectal distinctions made, usually related to regional variation (although the form of Old English also changed throughout time, in addition to regional variants). The four major dialects are West Saxon, Mercian, Kentish, and Northumbrian.

Most of the Old English texts that survive were written in the West Saxon dialect, and any variation that you are hearing when listening could be due to the difference between Early West Saxon and Late West Saxon pronunciation.
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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby sil_lark » Wed 16 Dec 2009 11:51 pm

Interesting that linguists can know how to pronounce in different dialectal forms. How do they know that is how Old English sounded from region to region? I'm guessing that the reason linguists have distinguishable dialectal forms is because the pronunciation of the different dialects retained some specific characteristics as English developed and weren't lost entirely?
一 鸣 惊 人.

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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby dtp883 » Wed 16 Dec 2009 11:57 pm

I don't know for sure because I haven't studied Old English, but I'd assume that they infer it from the writings they find since spelling wasn't universal and they probably wrote phonetically they probably just reconstruct what they believe the letters represented and compare them in the different dialects and modern pronunciation.
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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby Kietl » Thu 17 Dec 2009 12:02 am

Although I'm not familiar with the exact methods for determining how Old English would have been pronounced, I would guess (like dtp883) that it involves comparative phonology (basically comparing the sound systems of the various Germanic languages related to Old English) as well as researching the orthography of OE texts, since those are the only real remnants that we have.

In terms of how sound was represented in OE spelling, I do know that, because of a lack of standardized spelling, scribes actually tended to write much more phonetically than we do now with Modern English. This fact provides linguists with an understanding of how the scribes and writers themselves would have pronounced words (since many of the basic principles of the Latin alphabet have remained the same throughout the centuries), as well as giving us a picture of the dialectal differences from one scribe to another.
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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby Stosis » Thu 17 Dec 2009 6:55 am

Also keep in mind that many times the pronunciation of dead languages is often just a modified version of the phonology of the speaker's native language. Unless your recording specifically stated that they were reconstructions.

There's also dialectal differences. You might be interested in listening to the same poem spoken by two different people; or find recordings of dialectically diverse reading read by the same person to get a better feel for how it works.
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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby Talib » Thu 17 Dec 2009 7:44 am

Stosis wrote:Also keep in mind that many times the pronunciation of dead languages is often just a modified version of the phonology of the speaker's native language. Unless your recording specifically stated that they were reconstructions.
Our reconstructions of Old English are not much like Modern English at all, especially in the pronunciation of the vowels. It's not like the case of Ancient Greek which is pronounced the same as Modern Greek in their country (also for Jews and Biblical Hebrew).
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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby Kietl » Thu 17 Dec 2009 7:58 am

Talib wrote:Our reconstructions of Old English are not much like Modern English at all, especially in the pronunciation of the vowels. It's not like the case of Ancient Greek which is pronounced the same as Modern Greek in their country (also for Jews and Biblical Hebrew).

Exactly. In fact, the laws governing sound change in English are some of the most well-documented of any other language. We have massive amounts of information on how English pronunciation has changed throughout all of its various stages going back in history. This is pretty much illustrated by the fact that we actually have attested examples of each major form of English (Modern English < Early Modern English < Middle English < Old English), a situation that is not at all common (except perhaps with the classical languages).
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Re: Old English / Anglo-Saxon

Postby sil_lark » Thu 17 Dec 2009 4:53 pm

Ah...that was another thing I was wondering about. Given that Old English deviates quite a bit phonetically speaking from modern English, would ancient or Biblical Greek be the same way? I guess not. But when I talk to students or instructors of Biblical Greek, they say it doesn't really matter how you pronounce the words anymore, so I'm not sure what the correct way to say a Greek word really is if everyone has a different way to say it.

I know like Old English, Biblical Greek is also "extinct".
一 鸣 惊 人.

Native Language: American English

Second language: 4 years Mandarin Chinese

I've tried: Old English, Hebrew, Biblical Greek, Gothic

I want to learn: Tagolog, Arabic, Biblical Greek, Russian, Vietnamese
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