Sunday, March 10, 2013

adventures from a class on old english

So I've been going through some old stuff on my external hard drive tonight and stumbled across what appears to be my very casual take-home final from probably my favorite class in college. I only ever actually took one linguistics class (Spanish phonetics--sadly there very few ling. classes and most were online) but did take Old English. As evidence to what a trip our professor was--he made us blame everything on 'the damn French' and 'the damn Yankees'--I present to you:

1. Schwa – When a vowel in a word goes schwa, over time it disappears because it is unstressed. In Old, Middle, and Modern English, emphasis has tended to be on the first syllable of a word so it’s often the second (or whichever is unstressed) syllable that disappears. Since Old English, we have lost parts of whole words because of this. For example, the old word for witch, wicca, lost the a because the a was unstressed and turned into what we now know as witch (spelling courtesy of the damn French).

2. Great Vowel Shift – the great vowel shift happened between the 15th and 17th centuries when all the sounds for vowels moved up in the mouth. For example, e went from /e/ to /i/. The vowels so high they couldn’t go any higher turned into diphthongs. The great vowel shift happened as English spelling was (slowly) being standardized so some spellings that made sense in Old English with the same pronunciation make Present Day English seem spelled funny (besides, again, the weird spellings the damn French put in).

5. Christianity – Christianity affected English greatly. For one, they were the ones writing down the language. English then was very unstable spelling-wise so writing it down helped to stabilize it some, make it more concrete. Also, it meant that readers of English were reading Christian texts, and much of what is still preserved is Christian. Also, Christian beliefs made their way even into the English language. I remember pudenda (as in impudent) being the Latin for genitals, which literally translated as ‘that which you should be ashamed of,’ which astounded me, and I also found really interesting.


10. (eth)inum: dative, plural, masculine/neuter
      ealdormannum: dative, plural, masculine
11. sealde: past tense, singular, 3rd person, weak I verb (long)
12. spearwa is nominative, singular, masculine, and hus is accusative, singular, neuter. The difference is that spearwa is the subject (and therefore nominative) and hus is the direct object. The (eth)aet in front of hus gives it away, as opposed to an in front of spearwa.
13. / h r [ash] l i
รง w /

That last bit is both way more familiar and way more foreign than it was in 2007. And at this point half of what I've written could be altogether wrong and I wouldn't remember, honestly. The really great thing about this class was that he had as read out loud from a book in Old English (so presumably at one point I understood the words in numbers ten through thirteen). We would translate later, or before, but weren't allowed as we went and it taught us to think in the  language, and it was definitely a foreign one. I remember rereading Surprised By Joy later and coming across the part where C. S. Lewis is made to do the same thing in Greek. I'm convinced by it, through and through. Can't imagine ever being able to learn a language if you're constantly having to translate it to yourself, so it's probably harder this way at first, but way more effective.

Anyway, such a fun find.

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