Skip to main content

Unit information: Introduction to Old English in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Introduction to Old English
Unit code AFACM1012
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Cathy Hume
Open unit status Not open




School/department Arts Faculty Office
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Old English (sometimes also known as Anglo-Saxon) is the form of English that was spoken and written in Britain before about 1100. Unlike later forms of English, which are heavily influenced by French, it is an entirely Germanic language, and it is strikingly different from modern English in terms of both its grammatical structure and its vocabulary. Accordingly, the language is taught from scratch in this unit. Students will be given instruction in the basic elements of Old English grammar, vocabulary and verse form so as to enable you to read a selection of works from the period in the original. These include some of the major examples of 'heroic' verse, such as excerpts from the epic Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon, as well as riddles, elegies, and 'Christian-heroic' verse such as The Dream of the Rood.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course students should:

(i) understand some of the major currents of Anglo Saxon written culture in relation to what can be known of the social, religious and aesthetic contexts of its production

(ii) be able to translate examples of Old English poetry into idiomatic modern English with the aid of notes and glossary

(iii) be able to comment on typical and distinctive features of specific passage of Old English poetry

(iv) demonstrate engagement with the nature and diversity of the reception of Anglo Saxon literature in present day society and criticism.

Teaching Information

1 x 1 hour lecture per week and

1 x 90 minute tutorial per week

Assessment Information

For MA students:- The single assessment for the course is a 5000 word essay on some aspect of Anglo Saxon literature and/or culture, devised in consultation with the tutor. The essay should demonstrate mastery of the original language. MA students may take the language test, and should indicate in advance if they wish to do so, but it is not part of the formal assessment of the unit.

Reading and References

Students are advised to read the relevant chapters in David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language (Cambridge, 1995) as a basic introduction to the Old English language.

Peter S. Baker, Introduction to Old English 2nd edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007); also on-line at, accompanied by a self-help site for practising the Old English language, Old English Aerobics,

Bruce Mitchell and Fred Robinson, eds., Beowulf (Oxford 1988)

You will also find the following useful:

M. Atherton, Teach Yourself Old English (London, 2006). Includes Audio CD.

Murray McGillivray’s Old English Course: on-line learning at

Bruce Mitchell, An Invitation to Old English and Anglo Saxon England (Oxford, 1995)

B. Mitchell and F. C. Robinson, A Guide to Old English, 6th edn (Oxford, 2001)

Sweet’s Anglo Saxon Reader, revised by Dorothy Whitelock (Oxford, 1967)

J. R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, 4th edn (Toronto, 1960)