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A Guide to Old English, Sixth Edition [Illustrated] [Paperback]

Bruce Mitchell , Fred C. Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 8 2001 0631226362 978-0631226369 6
The sixth edition of this popular introduction to Old English language and literature retains the general structure and style of previous editions, but has been updated and includes two new texts: Wulf and Eadwacer and Judith.

  • A new edition of the most widely used introduction to Old English language and literature.
  • Includes two new texts, widely requested by teachers and students: Wulf and Eadwacer and Judith.
  • Includes a range of helpful pedagogical tools - a map of Anglo-Saxon England, notes, a glossary, indexes to Part I, and a general introduction to Anglo-Saxon studies. Can be used in the classroom or for self-study; there is a special section "How to Use this Guide".

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Review

"This is still the most comprehensive introduction to Old English available, providing detailed analysis of the language, literature, history, and culture of the Anglo-Saxons. This new edition expands on the changes in languages, and provides additional material on Beowulf."
Stuart Lee, Oxford University

"Mitchell and Robinson's A Guide to Old English, now available in its eighth edition, is an invaluable resource for teaching and delighting students of Old English. It is unsurpassed in its combination of a meticulously scholarly approach with a wide-ranging selection of Old English texts. The authors' enthusiasm for the subject is evident on every page and carries the reader with it."
Susan Irvine, University College London --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

For more than thirty years, A Guide to Old English has been the standard introduction to Old English language and literature. This updated seventh edition retains the structure and style of the popular previous editions, and includes two new, much-requested texts - the Cotton Gnomes and Wulfstan's Sermo Lupi ad Anglos - and two new appendices: A List of Linguistic Terms Used in This Book and The Moods of Old English.The book is composed of two parts. Part One presents an introduction to the Old English language, including orthography and pronunciation, inflexions, word formation, and an authoritative section on syntax. This is followed by an introduction to Anglo-Saxon studies, which discusses language, literature, history, archaeology, and ways of life. Sound-changes are treated as they become relevant in understanding apparent irregularities in inflexion. Part Two contains prose and verse texts, most of them complete, which fully reveal the range that Old English offers in subject matter, style, and emotional intensity. Full explanatory notes accompany all the texts, and a detailed glossary is provided.The new edition of this highly-acclaimed Guide is an essential reference for anyone wanting to gain a greater understanding and enjoyment of the language and literature of the Anglo-Saxons. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
Alistair Campbell defines Old English as 'the vernacular Germanic language of Great Britain as it is recorded in manuscripts and inscriptions dating from before about 1100'. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fulfils its stated goals admirably. Dec 6 2002
Format:Paperback
Mitchell and Robinson's 'A Guide to Old English' is exactly what it claims to be: it smooths the path before the would-be reader of Old English and points out both the obstacles and the areas of interest along the way. It guides the reader through the highways and byways of Old English, and allows him to rapidly gain a reading knowledge of Old English, and some understanding of the workings of the language. Its goal is acquaintance with the tools necessary to decode actual Old English texts, rather than mastery of the language, insofar as composition is a topic omitted altogether. No attempt is made to train the reader to produce Old English.
This guide is not a language textbook in the usual sense of the word. It does not progressively present points of grammar and lists of vocabulary, followed by relevant exercises and translations. Instead, it comprises two parts. The first gives a fairly detailed overview of the grammar and historical context of Old English, whilst the second contains prose and verse texts, accompanied by copious notes, for the reader to attempt. The focus of the first part is not so much the acquisition of paradigms and rules as familiarisation with the general structure of Old English. The section on syntax, very important in Old English, is remarkably comprehensive. The collection of texts in the second part is, in my opinion, well chosen, and representative of the breath of texts in Old English, without dismissing the most famous texts. One particularly useful feature of the guide is its glossary, which contains every word found in the readings, and, for every occurrence of a word in the texts, its part is indicated in the glossary. This simplifies the task of deciphering a text enormously, and obviates the necessity for a separate dictionary.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This is a damn good book. Not as egghead as most books about Old Saxon, however, you still need to know English on a college level. Most books on Old English are written for people with English majors and minors in French, German, and Latin.
This book is better than most, but it is no Old English For Dummies. It is one of the better books though.
Buy it! Wyatt Kaldenberg
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
_A_Guide_to_Old_English_ deserves its popularity in schools and is probably the best self-contained course in the subject for the general student of English. If you're an independent learner who's gotten it into your head to learn OE, this is also a good choice; in fact, the authors have opened their hearts to autodidacts and help you navigate your way through the book. I would hope, however, that you have already studied at least one inflected language (German is ideal). This book really should be subtitled _A_Reader's_Guide_, since the authors aim is to prepare beginners to decipher actual texts, not just memorize paradigms. To this end they acknowledge up front that many of the declensions are confused in the MSS; they note words likely to cause trouble and warn of places where singular and plural (or different cases, etc.) are likely to be mistaken for each other. The section on syntax is much fuller than is typical of first grammars--evidence of wise heads, as I see it, since syntax is much more important in OE than most students and perhaps some teachers realize. Also included is a long list of conjunctive phrases, a hallmark of OE and as important to know as all the subordinating constructions are in Latin. The reading selections are judiciously chosen, edited, and ordered. Delightful, and uncommon in works of this nature, are the occasional glimpses of the authors' personality that break through now and then: moments of humane warmth, or impatience with bumptious scholars (no names).
What this book lacks, however, is much historical or comparative linguistic detail. You would never know there was such a thing as i-stems, for example. The u-declension of nouns is identified by name, but no such honor is awarded the r-declension.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing and Vague Sept. 23 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Well...MOST of the information is there but you have to hunt to find it as it it very poorly organized. They use some vary strange comparisons to illustrate pronunciation, so if you can't speak German of French you'll just have to guess. Many of the passages are worded so strangely that they need to be reread 3 or 4 times.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for English majors, not so great for linguists Feb. 14 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
_A_Guide_to_Old_English_ deserves its popularity in schools and is probably the best self-contained course in the subject for the general student of English. If you're an independent learner who's gotten it into your head to learn OE, this is also a good choice; in fact, the authors have opened their hearts to autodidacts and help you navigate your way through the book. I would hope, however, that you have already studied at least one inflected language (German is ideal). This book really should be subtitled _A_Reader's_Guide_, since the authors aim is to prepare beginners to decipher actual texts, not just memorize paradigms. To this end they acknowledge up front that many of the declensions are confused in the MSS; they note words likely to cause trouble and warn of places where singular and plural (or different cases, etc.) are likely to be mistaken for each other. The section on syntax is much fuller than is typical of first grammars--evidence of wise heads, as I see it, since syntax is much more important in OE than most students and perhaps some teachers realize. Also included is a long list of conjunctive phrases, a hallmark of OE and as important to know as all the subordinating constructions are in Latin. The reading selections are judiciously chosen, edited, and ordered. Delightful, and uncommon in works of this nature, are the occasional glimpses of the authors' personality that break through now and then: moments of humane warmth, or impatience with bumptious scholars (no names).
What this book lacks, however, is much historical or comparative linguistic detail. You would never know there was such a thing as i-stems, for example. The u-declension of nouns is identified by name, but no such honor is awarded the r-declension. If memory serves, the section on syntax, lengthy and helpful as it is, rarely draws the parallels with German that the reader might be interested to know. Thus students interested in Germanics--the ol' time philology--will need to supplement Mitchell and Robinson very early on in their studies. (If such things are of no interest to you, you may upgrade this review to 5 stars...but shame on you!!)
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fulfils its stated goals admirably. Dec 6 2002
By "radagasty" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mitchell and Robinson's 'A Guide to Old English' is exactly what it claims to be: it smooths the path before the would-be reader of Old English and points out both the obstacles and the areas of interest along the way. It guides the reader through the highways and byways of Old English, and allows him to rapidly gain a reading knowledge of Old English, and some understanding of the workings of the language. Its goal is acquaintance with the tools necessary to decode actual Old English texts, rather than mastery of the language, insofar as composition is a topic omitted altogether. No attempt is made to train the reader to produce Old English.
This guide is not a language textbook in the usual sense of the word. It does not progressively present points of grammar and lists of vocabulary, followed by relevant exercises and translations. Instead, it comprises two parts. The first gives a fairly detailed overview of the grammar and historical context of Old English, whilst the second contains prose and verse texts, accompanied by copious notes, for the reader to attempt. The focus of the first part is not so much the acquisition of paradigms and rules as familiarisation with the general structure of Old English. The section on syntax, very important in Old English, is remarkably comprehensive. The collection of texts in the second part is, in my opinion, well chosen, and representative of the breath of texts in Old English, without dismissing the most famous texts. One particularly useful feature of the guide is its glossary, which contains every word found in the readings, and, for every occurrence of a word in the texts, its part is indicated in the glossary. This simplifies the task of deciphering a text enormously, and obviates the necessity for a separate dictionary.
This sixth edition is not greatly different to the previous editions: minor errors have been corrected, a few small additions on minor points of grammar have been made. The most important change is perhaps the addition of a few texts, e.g., the well-known 'Wulf and Eadwacer', but, all in all, the previous editions were already excellent, and there is no cogent reason to purchase this edition if a previous one is already on hand.
In short, then, Mitchell and Robinson have produced a remarkably usable guide to Old English that is at once instructive and interesting. One could do much worse than to acquire this work if rapid acquisition of reading ability in Old English is desired. As noted by a previous review, the book is not really suited to philologists seeking to understand the history and evolution of English and its place within the Germanic languages. As far as I can tell, this is its single greatest shortcoming, but it doesn't detract much from its purpose. I would heartily recommend this book as an introduction to Old English.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars comprehensive but often lacks organization Dec 18 2006
By a writing teacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you only buy one book to learn Old English, this should be it. It's been the main text in both of the Old English classes I've taken. It's the most comprehensive offering available (as far as I know): it includes chapters on syntax and poetics and information on A-S culture. The introductions to the texts are often excellent, and--as someone else commented--the texts are organized by difficulty. The glossary is also everything a student could want: not only does it give the meaning of the term, but it lists all the places in all of the texts where the poem is used, and for each usage, it tells you number, gender, and case. Impressive.

However, much of this valuable information is presented as a hodgepodge of information. There is little rhyme or reason to the organization of the verb tables, for instance: the order of tenses often varies from table to table for no apparent reason. There are no section headings (unlike in Bright's grammar, where declensions are clearly labeled). In the chapter on Nouns, for instance, no explicit attempt is made to group the 18+ different paradigms into categories, although it would be easy enough to group these paradigms into declensions. The authors have also decided to include phonology and sound change information within their discussion of the grammar, but--again--they fail to include headings or signposts that could help the beginning student *understand* the connection between the phonology and the grammar. I found the organization of Bright's to be much more helpful. If you are using this text, you should plan on taking a lot of notes: much of the information in this book must be categorized and rearranged into more logical sequences in order to be used most fruitfully.

The best thing--in my experience--is to use this book alongside another grammar such as Bright's Old English Grammar or _An Old English Grammar_ by Quirk and Wrenn. These grammars will both help you understand the "big picture" of English grammar, which you can then use to reconstruct Michell and Robinson.

As of yet, there seems to be no strong, authoritative, highly accessible introductory textbook for Old English, comparable to Wheelock's in Latin. This book is the best of an uneven lot.

**Since I wrote the original review above, I found another textbook which I would recommend highly: Peter Baker's excellent Introduction to Old English. The material in Baker's text is presented in an extremely clear and sensible way. I strongly recommend it as a self-study book or as a supplement to anyone using Mitchell and Robinson in class. (Klinck's book of Old English Elegies plus Baker's Intro to OE would make a potent combination for an elementary course.)
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No good structure for learning Jan. 3 2007
By Jay Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Having read several other language texts, I was expecting an organization wherein each chapter consists of an explanation of a set of concepts, in increasing order of difficulty, followed by several examples (initially completely contrived, later becoming more authentic) that illustrate those concepts for practice purposes. This book, however, attempts to teach Old English by first simply listing all the rules of the language (often, as other reviewers have noted, in no particular order) and then presenting a stack of texts to decipher. The quality of the glossary notwithstanding, this is not a good way to learn a language, and only the similarities between Old and Modern English make it possible at all. By contrast, I learned Ancient Greek from the appropriately titled Teach Yourself Ancient Greek much better and more easily despite that language's innate difficulty owing to a far superior tutorial structure. If this is, as others suggest, the best available Old English primer, then I must regrettably conclude that it is not at present possible to learn Old English on one's own purely for fun; if you use this book, you will either fail to learn the language or fail to have fun, or quite possibly both.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Single-Volume Introduction to Old English March 25 2006
By Pathawi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is not the best reader, the best grammar, or the best primer, but if you're looking to use just *one* introductory book before tackling longer readings with a dictionary, Mitchell and Robinson have created a fantastic resource. Work through and memorise the basic inflections as outlined in the introduction, then read up on the basic syntax, and then jump into the eighteen readings while slowly working through the rest of the grammar. Some initiative is required: Lessons and vocab lists aren't prepared for you. However, combined with a modicum of diligence and industry, this is a great way to learn Old English.
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