An Introduction to Old English

Richard Hogg

Edinburgh University Press 2002
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
A copy of Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Primer has sat unread on my shelves for twenty years now — at some point my willingness to plough through raw grammar and unglossed texts waned. Hogg's Introduction to Old English takes a completely different approach, emphasizing history and context rather than philology and grammar. It can be read by those curious about the history of English but without any desire to attain proficiency in Old English. (Some linguistic background is assumed — the reader is expected to know what a phoneme is, for example — although concepts of gender, case, and number are explained.)

Hogg does present a basic outline of Old English grammar and syntax, but discursively, with tables of forms kept to a minimum and with translations provided throughout for examples. There are brief exercises at the end of each chapter, but these are mostly passages from actual texts, which can be read quickly for sense and a general feel for the language, or worked through more thoroughly by those who want to learn the grammar. I found An Introduction to Old English a volume I could read rather than study, with only the details of strong verb forms a little overwhelming.

Throughout Hogg emphasizes connections with present day English and with the broader history of Germanic and Indo-European languages. He tries to give some feel for the literary and cultural context of the texts, and for the regional variety of Old English and the problems of taking Late West Saxon as a "standard". And he looks at the future of Old English, in particular at changes already underway at the time of the Norman Conquest, such as the loss of noun declensions and the move to verb-second word order.

July 2003

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Related reviews:
- Orrin W. Robinson - Old English and its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages
- Richard Hogg - A History of the English Language
- books about the English language
- books about linguistics
- more medieval literature
- books published by Edinburgh University Press
%T An Introduction to Old English
%A Hogg, Richard
%I Edinburgh University Press
%D 2002
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0748613285
%P 163pp