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SEL3341 : Old English: Texts and Translations

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • 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


This module gives you the chance to gain a basic competence in reading and translating Old English, and an understanding of its grammar. Lectures introduce the main features of Old English, while seminars are based on careful reading of texts; we also use some online materials. The reading is from an interesting range of texts, providing insights about aspects of Anglo-Saxon life and culture, as well as about 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

The topics of the lectures 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; approaches to translating OE.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture241:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudySkills practice134:0034:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching121:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study180:0080:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures introduce major features of Old English language and its context, i.e impart essential knowledge, while seminars apply this to particular texts in smaller groups. Seminars are thus an opportunity for guided reading of texts and for the examination of the processes and skills involved in understanding them. The texts are graded, moving from purpose-made phrases and sentences, to prose passages chosen for their intrinsic interest and suitability for beginning students, and finally to short samples of poetry, including extracts from Beowulf. Hypertext materials are used to facilitate independent study. Non-assessed written work in the course of the module takes the form of translation from Old English and grammatical analysis.

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1201A80N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M20translation and grammatical analysis
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The mid-term written exercise involves the translation and grammatical analysis of a short passage of Old English. The analysis requires identification of morphological features and syntactic structures, together with brief comments on selected phonological features. This promotes and tests learning of essential aspects of Old English grammar. In doing so, it also serves as useful preparation for the examination.

The examination consists of:
(1) A compulsory unseen translation which tests basic linguistic knowledge and translation skills. Words which students cannot be expected to know or guess are glossed.
(2) Translation of a passage from one of the texts studied in the module, with brief comments on the approach that has been taken in dealing with some of the linguistic features of the original text. This – and especially the revision that is necessary for it – consolidates and tests knowledge of the language in action in particular kinds of writing.
(3) Critique of alternative translations of an Old English passage. This encourages a more nuanced approach to texts and translations, taking account of literary considerations as well as accuracy.

Reading Lists