Module Catalogue 2021/22

SEL3341 : Old English: Texts and Translations

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Adam Mearns
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Code Title
SEL1027Introduction to the Structure of Language 1: Syntax and Phonology
Pre Requisite Comment

Students whose programmes did not involve the pre-requisite SEL1027 at Stage 1 may be able to take the module if they have taken the optional module SEL2219 (Old English Poetry) at Stage 2. Please consult the module leader.

For incoming exchange students: basic introductory courses in grammar and phonetics/phonology are required; some experience in the history of the English language would also be useful.

Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module gives you the chance to develop skills in reading and translating Old English (OE), based on the foundation of an understanding of its grammar and vocabulary. Lecture materials introduce the main linguistic features of OE, while small group sessions and discussions focus on issues involved in the translation of texts, using knowledge of the linguistic features. We also make use of some online materials, including hypertext editions of OE texts, dictionaries, and the Thesaurus of Old English. The reading covers an interesting range of texts, providing insights into aspects of Anglo-Saxon life and culture, as well as the Old English language. Most of the texts are prose, but there are also extracts from the poetry, including Beowulf, where we compare the original text with a variety of different published translations.

Outline Of Syllabus

In support of the process of translating selected extracts of OE texts throughout the semester, the topics covered include: the origins and historical context of Old English (OE), and the sources of evidence available to us; OE orthography and phonology; OE morphology (inflections and case); OE syntax (clause elements and word order); spelling variation and sound changes in OE; nouns, adjectives and verbs in OE; OE vocabulary (semantics, word formation and loans); OE poetic style and diction; translation studies in general and approaches to translating OE in particular.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

• Knowledge of the core vocabulary of Old English (OE), and of its basic patterns of syntax, morphology and word formation.
• Knowledge of the key phonological features of OE and of relevant sound changes, which – as indicators of the relationships between word forms – are essential to developing skill in reading OE texts in the original language.
• Knowledge of a range of representative texts from the OE period and of the context in which they were produced.
• Knowledge of the main linguistic and stylistic features of OE poetry.
• An understanding of the issues involved in translating texts from OE to Present-Day English, of the various possible approaches to translation, and of the linguistic implications of these approaches.

Intended Skill Outcomes

• Translation skills, such that students will be able to translate passages of Old English (OE) with the help of a suitable glossary or dictionary, while adopting a suitably critical approach to the information provided by such sources. This involves skills in deduction, extrapolation from paradigm to example, and in forming and checking hypotheses.
• Skills in the grammatical and lexical analysis of OE texts.
• The ability to evaluate different translations of the same text, and to identify and explain links between the approach the translator has taken and the linguistic choices they have made.
• Experience in using hypertext versions of OE texts, together with other relevant online resources such as dictionaries and the Thesaurus of Old English.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00Introducing key concepts: the historical context; OE grammar and lexis; issues in translation
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion160:0060:00Preparation and completion of mid-module and end-of-semester assignments
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading133:0033:00Independent study using reading lists and other online resources identified in module materials
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Small-group discussion of module materials, set text translations, and assessment
Guided Independent StudySkills practice133:0033:00Translation of extracts from set texts
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study141:0041:00General reading and revision
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lecture materials introduce key concepts, themes, issues and resources related to: (a) the historical background of Old English (OE); (b) features of OE grammar; (c) the analysis and interpretation of OE lexis; and (d) approaches to translation, in relation to OE specifically, as well as in general.

The small group sessions will focus on discussion of: (a) issues and questions arising from lecture materials; (b) the translation and grammatical analysis of extracts from set texts; and (c) other issues related to the knowledge and skills that will be assessed in the module assignments.

In combination, the lecture materials and small group discussions will therefore focus at different points in the semester on the module’s four main topics, which link to the intended learning outcomes and are represented across the two assignments: (1) OE grammar; (2) OE lexis; (3) approaches to translation; and, informed by these three, (4) the critical evaluation of the process and practice of translating OE, in terms of both reflecting on our own translations and analysing previously published translations by others.

The guided independent study will involve: (a) following up on reading and other resources identified in the lecture materials; (b) translating extracts from the set texts (using online materials); and (c) other general reading and revision that will aid in preparation for the mid-module and end-of-semester assignments.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M20translation and grammatical analysis (equivalent to around 700-800 words)
Written exercise1A803200 words (details below)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Written Exercise 1 (mid-module, 20%) involves the translation and grammatical analysis of a short passage of Old English (OE). The analysis requires identification of morphological features and syntactic structures, together with brief comments on selected phonological features. This promotes and assesses learning of essential aspects of Old English grammar. In doing so, it also serves as useful preparation for the end-of-semester assignment.

Written Exercise 2 (end-of-semester, 80%, 3200 words in total) consists of:
(1) A reflective commentary on one of the set-text translations produced during the semester (c.1000 words). The commentary will discuss in detail the approach that has been taken in dealing with some of the specific linguistic features of the original text, both grammatical and lexical. This consolidates and assesses knowledge and understanding of the linguistic features of OE and of the issues involved in translating those features into Present-Day English.
(2) An analysis (c.2200 words) that focuses on EITHER: (a) a detailed comparison of two different published translations of a passage from an OE poem, exploring the different approaches and choices made by the translators in relation to the linguistic features of the original text; OR (b) a lexical study of a semantic field that examines the range of related words/concepts available to OE writers, exploring issues such as how the words have been defined in dictionaries of OE and how they have been handled by translators of OE poetry. In either case, the task calls for a careful understanding of the OE texts and their translations, taking into account issues of literary style and the impact of different approaches to translation, as well as requiring a strong grasp of linguistic detail.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2021/22 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2022/23 entry will be published here in early-April 2022. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.