Old English for Beginners
TOEBI Newsletter XVII, Autumn 2003
Englisc: Old English for Beginners
Edgeways Books, Brynmill Press 2003 162pp. paperback 0907839738 £6.00
Parrys aim in this book is to provide an elementary course in Old English for students coming to the subject with little prior knowledge of either Old English literature or modern English grammar. He aims to have students, by the end of this short book, able to read extracts from prose and poetry in the original and to be enthusiastic to continue their study. He prints some 185 lines of prose and 330 lines of poetry from texts such as Phoenix, Maldon, Husbands Message and Genesis B. It certainly seems likely that those who work conscientiously through the book will be able by the end to read the extracts given.
This book has some excellent qualities. Above all. Parrys enthusiasm for Old English literature, coupled with his clear belief that it is easy to learn, is always evident. Throughout, the book proceeds from the known to the unknown. For example, some of the early exercises use modem English to lead the student into Old English grammar. In §24 students are asked to give various inflexional endings of cyning, but only after stating what the case and number would be of modern English words had these sentences been in Old English. (Example: Janes cat was asleep on the top of the wardrobe. The officers mess is located underneath the canteen.) Some of the later revision exercises are useful and the final chapter (entitled Can These Bones Live?) poses some thought-provoking questions.
The style of the book could be described as chatty. That is, the reader is addressed directly, in a colloquial style, with extensive use of dashes and italics. For example: Ugh, now hes going on about grammar. I dont know any grammar.Is that you speaking? Well, the answer is Yes he is and yes you do. Lets see if I can convince you ... True, I shall be using some grammatical terms in later chapters of this bookfor in the long run, they are useful. (pp. 1213). Such a style may well appeal to many students; but might others consider it a shade patronising?
The present reviewer has a few more important caveats. It seems less than helpful to students to hide essential pieces of grammar and phonology (for example present tense contracted verb endings and i-muta.tion vowel changes) in a chapter on sound changes, a chapter that readers are told they might want to read only out of curiosity (p. l07). Again, why spend a lot of chapter 1 on pronunciation, including the letter æ, and yet only replace the letters th by þ and ð in chapter 13?
Nevertheless the good qualities of this book easily outweigh the less good. Above all, Parrys book radiates enthusiasm. Having worked through it, most students should have a basic knowledge of Old English and more than a few may well be inspired to continue their study further. After all, of what other elementary Old English book could the same be said?
If you have a PC (running Windows), click the buttons below to download the readings that accompany David Parrys book. The titles match sections of the book. We believe that, in some versions of Windows, Media Player won't work with these files. When that is the case, download another player that will. We suggest, perhaps, a free version of RealPlayer, obtainable at http://uk.real.com/?mode=rp. If you have a Mac using OSX, download the files and then drag them to your DropStuff icon. If you have any difficulty, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
These sound files are compressed but you do not need WinZip or any other compression program