ENGL 409 B1: Studies in Literary Periods and Cultural Movements: The Old English Language

J. Considine

Our language started to be written down rather more than a thousand years ago. Its oldest form is called Old English. Old English is different from modern English, so that we have to learn to read it. But it is not radically different, so that we can start reading it quite easily. This course invites you to start reading Old English. Doing so will deepen your understanding of our own language, and it will give you the beginnings of access to a very rich literature. Moreover, the Old English language is a strange and beautiful thing in its own right, which has fired many imaginations, most notably (as we shall see) that of Tolkien, who taught it as his day job. If you take this course, before the first week is over, you will have started to learn a few words, and before we are half-way through, you will be able to read some short passages without much difficulty. You will not come out of the course as an expert Anglo-Saxonist, but you will come out of it with a feel for Old English: you will have read some original texts, you will understand some of the ways in which Old English shapes the modern language, and you will have had a chance to see something of what is special about it. This course does not require any background in languages or history: if you can read modern English, you can learn to read some Old English. Students interested in Anglo-Saxon literature and culture may also wish to consider taking Engl 325 (A1) "Old English Literature in Translation" in Fall 2019 - but although Engl 325 (A1) and Engl 409 (B1) fit together well, they are separate courses, and you are very welcome to take one without the other.


Carol Hough and John Corbett, Beginning Old English, ed. 2 (Palgrave, 2013).

J. R. Clark-Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Wilder, 2011).