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Old English: A Linguistic Introduction (Cambridge Introductions to the English Language) [Paperback]

Jeremy J. Smith
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: £19.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

2 April 2009 0521685699 978-0521685696 1
Old English, first published in 2009, provides a clear linguistic introduction to English between the 5th century and the Norman invasion in 1066. Tailored to suit the needs of individual course modules, it assumes no prior knowledge of the subject, and presents the basic facts in a straightforward manner, making it the ideal beginners' text. Students are guided step-by-step through the main characteristics and developments of English during that period, aided by concise chapter summaries, suggestions for further reading, and a comprehensive glossary. Each chapter is accompanied by an engaging set of exercises and discussion questions based on authentic Anglo-Saxon texts, encouraging students to consolidate their learning, and providing essential self-study material. The book is accompanied by a companion website, featuring solutions to the exercises and useful additional resources. Providing essential knowledge and skills for those embarking on the study of Old English, it is set to become the leading introduction to the subject.

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Old English: A Linguistic Introduction (Cambridge Introductions to the English Language) + An Introduction to Middle English (Edinburgh Textbooks on the English Language)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521685699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521685696
  • Product Dimensions: 25 x 17 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 122,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'A much-needed tool for students, which contextualises Old English language and literature and introduces students to linguistic terminology in a friendly and informative way.' Bernard J. Muir, University of Melbourne

Book Description

This book, first published in 2009, introduces the linguistic study of English between the 5th century and the Norman invasion in 1066, tailored to suit the needs of individual, one-term course modules. Contains exercises based on authentic Anglo-Saxon texts, a comprehensive glossary, and companion website. Set to become the leading introduction to the subject.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking forward to the next edition 31 May 2009
The strength of this guide to Old English is Smith's ability to summarize the basic concepts for total beginners. He assumes no previous knowledge of German, Latin, philology or phonetics, and proceeds to lead readers by the hand through all the elementary points needed to describe language and its evolution. Chapters 1-3 are particularly pedagogical, covering basic ideas which will be dealt with in more detail in chapters 4-7.

That's where the going gets rough, however. There's a gulf between the ignorance assumed in the opening chapters and the abilities required to follow the later ones. Reading the brisk discussion of "sound-change" in "e>i", for example, neophytes will wonder what is changing to what in "helpan" (what was the Indo-European? the Germanic? the West Germanic?). Presumably, teachers are supposed to fill in the blanks.

The inclusion of literary excerpts with an extensive glossary help make this book a course in its own right, and Smith has an impressively artful way of acknowledging controversy over certain points while leading students to the essential information they need.

There are a few misprints, but Cambridge offers a website with additional resources, so we can assume they will be progressively corrected.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book 11 May 2013
By Lucie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A great book by Prof. Smith. Always well explained and easy to follow. A great companion for the students of English Language and the History of English!
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Amazon.com: 2.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
2.0 out of 5 stars Tries to speak to both linguists and readers with no prior training but will satisfy neither 12 Feb 2014
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Most publications from Cambridge University Press titled "X: a Linguistic Introduction" (see e.g. Maori, Romani or German) allow a reader with an extensive background in linguistics to quickly get up to speed with the grammar and sociolinguistics of the given language. Jeremy J. Smith's OLD ENGLISH: A Linguistic Introduction is very different.

Smith's overview has been conceived mainly for an undergraduate readership and takes the form of a textbook, complete with "questions for discussion". The first three chapters or so consist of a presentation of the very basics of linguistics in general, nevermind Old English. Only well into the book does Smith start describing the complex phonology and morphology of Old English, and just as soon as he gets started it's all over: the meat of the book is barely over a hundred pages. An appendix on some sample texts (often just a description of where and when it was written, not the actual text itself), an Old English-Present Day English vocabulary and a Glossary of Key Terms take up nearly 40% of the book!

I really cannot recommend this for any readers with training in linguistics. Roger Lass's Old English: A Historical Linguistic Companion is what you should go to instead. But even for readers inexperienced in the formal study of language, Smith's book is a failure. There is a drastic leap between the exceedingly friendly and patient early chapters and the dry presentation and specialist jargon of the later part of the book, and I believe most laymen would feel they've gone in well over their heads.
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