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A Guide to Old English
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2011
If you have the previous edition and are wondering whether to upgrade, this eighth edition is not a radical overhaul, but does take the book a definite further step towards being comprehensive. There has been a general tidying, including some clarifications to the grammar, but the biggest change is the addition of the opening 25 lines of 'Beowulf' - now giving a pretty well rounded selection from the original for those who want to read most of it in translation. The opening lines are given very full contextual annotation, so that this is also an excellent place to begin a complete reading of the poem. Despite the expansion the book is actually thinner in the new edition, thanks to finer paper - very thoughtful of the publisher!

If you're looking for a book to start learning Old English from, there are now other ones around that use different methods to get over the initial hump (like Pollington, First Steps in Old English: An Easy to Follow Language Course for the Beginner; Atherton, Complete Old English: Teach Yourself; or Baker, Introduction to Old English), but the value of this one is that it will remain highly useful long after this beginning stage.

The arrangement is traditional, with a Grammar and a Reader as separate sections. This can be a little daunting for the beginner, and if you aren't confident (and you are working without a teacher) you may want to start off with Pollington's or Atherton's book. But the arrangement does mean that the grammar can be laid out clearly and accessibly for permanent reference use. And it IS written in a fairly informal style, with quite full explanations; and there IS a detailed study plan giving the best order in which to take the grammar sections. There's also a glossary of linguistic terms, and a lot of handy summary charts. It is primarily a practical grammar to help READERS, although historical linguistic points are introduced where they help clarify things, or explain major features of modern English (with more added to this edition). There's also an abundance of supplementary material, including a guide to further study which ends up being a characterful introduction to the whole field of Anglo-Saxon culture. The long section on syntax is masterly, and is a fundamental reference for even advanced scholars. But only a few basic sections are set for early study and practical reference, and these could easily be marked off with a highlighter pen: the rest of it is there to provide illumination to your reading over the years.

The Reader now has enough depth of coverage to be like a self-contained anthology, taking in many of the best and most representative texts. So the comprehensive glossary now also represents a complete basic working vocabulary - which you can slowly absorb out of the corner of your eye as you continually look up words when reading!

It is 'practically perfect' now, but for a dream version of the book (in hard covers!) I would make four changes, the first three to the Reader:-

(1) A moderate expansion, particularly of the prose (now a little thin compared to the verse), just to round out its completeness as a representative anthology. Some suggestions (or at least good texts to try when you've finished working through this book): a few more passages from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (especially eleventh-century); the poem 'Deor' to represent bardic ('scop') poetry; a homily; extracts from the Old English verse translations of Genesis; something from the Old English Orosius; the poignant Codex Aureus inscription; and a few charters and wills to represent official literature (and dialect).

(2) For each text a super-concise bibliography, giving at most four to six references to the most valuable pieces of criticism and analysis.

(3) A rearrangement of the Exeter Book riddles so that the solutions and additional notes are on a different page (back of the book?), and only notes that help with literal comprehension are given on the same page. Or at the very least I would add one or two riddles for which there is no solution (or none agreed), such as Exeter 39. The riddles are usually read at an early stage of study, but tackling them without knowing the solution makes for a brain-expanding challenge in advanced reading skills!

(4) A little more use of typographical tricks in the Grammar to aid clarity and ease of learning (e.g. the use of bold font for key paradigms).

P.S. The 'Guide' (through several editions) has been my amiable companion in Old English studies for twenty and more years now, so it is sad to read that one of the authors, Bruce Mitchell, died in 2010. This is the first edition to which he has not contributed.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2013
Very good but not enough exercises to ease you in and get you fluent with the vocabulary and forms. Based more on grammar than vocabulary. Probably 'Teach Yourself' would be better if you were new to inflected languages. Excellent selection of texts at the end of this book though. 3 out of 5 for me.
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on 6 June 2015
Great! Does the job right.
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on 10 May 2015
Usefull
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 2014
Probably the best of its kind. An eighth edition denotes staying -power at least
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