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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Resource as both a Primer and a Reference Book, 9 Sept. 2005
This review is from: An Introduction to Old English (Paperback)
As a learning tool, Peter S. Baker's Introduction to Old English succeeds marvellously in that it is concise and clear without erring on the side of oversimplification. The ordering of chapters is intuitive and the key concepts are easily accreted along the way; in comparatively little time readers will acquire a wealth of knowledge, and in its practicality the book is sure not to intimidate the uninitiated.
The basic review of English grammar is both thorough and efficient without being overly pedantic. Unfortunately, more and more students of English are finding themselves ill-equipped and poorly acquainted with the basics of grammar. Baker's review will familiarize them with the grammatical essentials while simultaneously providing a useful review to those more accustomed to them. There is sufficient treatment of the main topics in the text without any superfluous explication that might confuse the introductory reader. Baker's plain English explanations are unambiguous and, where possible, he offers Modern English correlates and analogues that effectively frame the linguistic topic being discussed.
The chapters on the style and grammar of poetry are essential resources. Poetry makes up such a significant part of the extant Anglo-Saxon literature that it would be a failure on the part of the author to leave the student stranded in the intricacies of the form. Taking the chapter on reading manuscripts into consideration, as well as the appendices, Baker helps the student build a truly solid foundation upon which to base further study. The glossary, for example, allows students who are as yet unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon word forms to easily find what they are looking for, and will furnish them with the skills they need to approach more ambitious dictionaries.
The companion web site provides a variety of resources for the student. The Old English "Magic Sheet" is a tool that students will find invaluable in their initial approach to Anglo-Saxon Literature. As the student refers to it repeatedly in his or her reading, he or she will quickly become more familiar with the forms and may soon be weaned off of it. In each chapter there are references to relevant "Old English Aerobics" exercises online, which can assist students in need of some basic practice with the material. The ability to look up a word, part of speech, or clause with the click of a button is a testament to the work that was put into developing the resource. While I must applaud the author's forward thinking and effective use of the technology, getting a sufficient amount of online time may yet provide challenges at times for certain students, and the exercises themselves can prove somewhat short and elementary. A simple solution to these minor problems might be to include self tutorial exercises in a new edition, or to publish a companion workbook at some point in the future. To my knowledge, no such resource exists in Old English, and it must be said that there is simply no substitute for routine practice when learning a new language.
These minor concerns are truly subordinate to the effectiveness of the work as a whole. Though the book itself may not be a substitute for practice, passages appropriate for initiates to tackle and translate are included in the anthology, and students will find themselves far better equipped to approach Old English after having covered the main topics. It was with great pleasure that I found my own abilities dramatically improved after simply having covered the sixteen initial chapters. Introduction to Old English proves to be not only an exceedingly effective primer with regard to Anglo-Saxon literature, but an invaluable reference to accompany further readings and studies within the context of the language. Every student of Old English should sleep with a copy of this book under their pillow.
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Location: Dublin, Ireland

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