TITLE: An Outline of Anglo-Saxon Grammar AUTHOR: Bright, James W. SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Gramatica 148 PUBLISHER: LINCOM YEAR: 2012
Penelope J. Thompson, Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh
''An Outline of Anglo-Saxon Grammar'' is a reprint of the grammar that was found in an appendix to the third edition of An Anglo-Saxon Reader (1906, first edition printed in 1895). It is a short book of 79 pages, numbered in Roman numerals. The volume is divided into un-numbered chapters, and is further divided into numbered sections (which will be referred to as §1, §5 etc. in this review). The volume begins with an introductory remark, which explains the focus of the text. Specifically, that focus is the West Saxon dialect, and in particular, the Early West Saxon of Alfred. An overview of Old English phonology is then provided, beginning with the sounds of Old English vowels and consonants. The pronunciation of the phonemes is described with reference to Present Day English and Modern German words. The phonology chapter moves onto descriptions of the major changes, including Breaking, i-umlaut, palatalisation, West Germanic gemination, contraction etc. The next section, ‘inflection: declension’ focusses on inflectional morphology and provides the declensions for the nouns, adjectives, adverbs, numerals and pronouns. This is followed by a section: ‘inflection: conjugation’ focussing on the verb paradigms. The ablaut of the seven classes of strong verbs is first described, followed by the three weak classes and finally the anomalous verbs, termed the ‘special verbs’, which include bēon ‘to be’, willan ‘to will’, dōn ‘to do’, gān ‘to go’. This ends the grammar.
As is usual for grammars of Old English, this volume is centred on the West Saxon dialect. It is a short volume that provides a useful reference for students of Old English, though it must be noted that this grammar does not deal with Old English syntax. The descriptions of Old English paradigms are logically laid out, and are accompanied by glossed lists of examples in bold. The paradigms themselves are clearly laid out, and bracketed numbers next to forms of interest are used to direct the reader to relevant descriptions found elsewhere within the volume. Little prior knowledge of Old English would be required to make use of the volume. Phonological descriptions of Old English sounds are made without reference to the International Phonetic Alphabet, instead using comparisons to Present Day English (PDE), where possible, or to Modern German. Phonological terminology describing sounds (e.g. diphthong, spirant etc.), and sound changes (e.g. palatalisation) is employed, though deep phonological detail is not included. The volume should therefore be of interest to students interested in the grammar and phonology of Old English, as well as those seeking to read and translate Old English. Is must be noted, as suggested by the title, that this is only an outline, and that the length and depth of the volume precludes any detailed treatments of morphophonological processes.
This grammar is one of the earlier publications in English dealing with Old English morphology and phonology, preceding Wright & Wright (1925), Campbell (1969), and Mitchell (1985), Hogg (1992), etc. The volume therefore has some terminology that may be unfamiliar to some students of Old English. For example, the change most commonly referred to as West Germanic gemination is describes simply as ‘gemination before j.’ Also, some of the assumptions regarding morphophonological phenomena are distinct from some of the later grammars. Some of these will be described briefly in this review.
Within the noun declensions, the inflected forms are disturbed by unstressed vowel deletion. This has been examined in many analyses (see, for example, Campbell 1959, Hogg 2000, Bermúdez-Otero 2005 etc.). In contrast to the treatment found in many of the later grammars (e.g. Campbell 1959), Bright assumes nouns like ''wæter'' (‘water’) to be disyllabic stems. A cross-reference to another section (§23.2) reveals that ''certain of the themes in -el, -ol, -er, -or almost regularly do not retain the middle vowel after a short radical syllable.'' Hence, forms such as ''wætrum'' are common, as opposed to ''wæterum.'' Since this cannot be the result of high vowel deletion, which only affects unstressed vowels following a heavy root syllable, the ''wæter'' type nouns have often been assumed to be monosyllabic stems (Campbell 1959, Bermudez-Otero 2005 etc.). In Old English, there was also a process of non-high vowel deletion, which removed historically non-high medial vowels following either light or stressed root syllables, though it is not made clear whether Bright assumes this to be the cause of the deletion in ''wætrum.'' Non-high vowel deletion is not mentioned in the section on adjectival inflection in the past participles (§61). High vowel deletion, which has been much debated in more recent years (see above), removes light unstressed vowels that were historically high, when following a heavy root syllable or two light root syllables. The process is not introduced in Bright’s section on phonology, but is instead briefly described in the section on noun declensions §25 and §27, and is said to generally affect vowels following a long radical syllable. The description for medial high vowel deletion merely terms it ‘syncope’ and no reference to the height condition is made. Bright goes on to mention that ''usage is not uniform in the treatment of either the middle vowel [high vowel syncope] or the case ending -u [high vowel apocope]'' (§26, my brackets). Bright also mentions some of the exceptions to syncope, such as ''nieten'' (‘beast’). This description successfully prepares those intending to read Old English texts for the unstressed vowel-related alternations that they will be faced with. It does not, however, provide enough information for those interested in the process itself, as the exceptions are not explained. This of course follows from the intended purpose of the grammar as an appendix to a reader and its brevity.
The section on the strong verbs is easy to follow, with four principle parts given for the six classes, plus the ‘Reduplicating verbs,’ which in many grammars, including Campbell (1959: §745), and Mitchell & Robinson (2002: 153), are termed ‘Class VII.’ Lists of example verbs are provided for each class, and the conjugation of the strong verbs is provided at the end of the section, and is followed by information about the morphology and phonology.
On an editorial note, the review copy appeared to lack one leaf (containing pages lxiv–lxv), and I am unable to comment on whether this is an anomaly or whether more copies have been affected.
In sum, this is a well laid out and easy to use Anglo-Saxon grammar, which will provide a quick-reference tool for students of Old English phonology and morphology, and also for students intending to translate and read Old English texts. Scholars interested in the history of Old English Philology are also likely to be interested in the volume, as some of the treatments contradict some of the later grammars. Due to the size of the volume, and its original function as an appendix to an Anglo-Saxon Reader, it is not a comprehensive grammar, and of course makes no such claim.
Bermúdez-Otero, Ricardo (2005). The life cycle of constraint rankings: studies in Early English morphophonology. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2012 from http://www.bermudez-otero.com/lifecycle.htm
Campbell, Alistair (1959). Old English Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hogg, Richard M. (1992). A Grammar of Old English. Vol. 1: Phonology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Hogg, Richard M. (2000). On the (non-)existence of high vowel deletion. In Aditi Lahiri (ed.) Analogy, Levelling, Markedness: Principles of Change in Phonology and Morphology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 353-376.
Mitchell, Bruce & Fred C. Robinson (2002, first printed in 1964). A Guide to Old English. Oxford: Blackwell.
Wright, Joseph & Elizabeth Mary Wright (1925). Old English Grammar. Students' series of Historical and Comparative Grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Penelope J. Thompson has recently completed her PhD at the University of
Edinburgh. Her doctoral research, sponsored by the Arts & Humanities
Research Council, focussed on the morphophonology of Old English, in
particular in West Saxon and in the Lindisfarne Gospels. Her research
interests include Old English morphophonology, Old English dialectology,
the interaction between phonology and morphology, and phonological theory,
in particular Stratal Optimality Theory.