A plea for pronunciation

My short essay, “A Plea for Pronunciation,” appears in a special issue of Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART) devoted to Old English pedagogy, edited by Haruko Momma and Heide Estes. This special issue of SMART (22.2, 2015) grew out of a 2012 workshop at New York University. Here’s the opening paragraph of the essay:

The correct pronunciation of Old English is an essential skill. “Correct” here refers to an internally consistent approximation of the sounds of the language as reconstructed by historical linguistics and attested by scribal orthography. The present note confines itself to the West-Saxonized koiné used in most Anglo-Saxon literary manuscripts. Many new students and some professors of Old English seem to be of the opinion that pronunciation is an arcane and at any rate artificial reconstruction, a distraction from the larger literary-historical or aesthetic questions to which Old English literature is usually subjected. However artificial it may be, correct pronunciation equips the inner ear to apprehend Old English literature in something approaching a fluent mode. Without a sense of the language as language, students can only regard the literary monuments as composed of so many sequences of letters to be laboriously matched, one by one, to corresponding sequences in a dictionary. There are at least five good reasons to teach correct pronunciation.

The essay concludes by providing four resources for further study of the pronunciation of Old English, which I reproduce here:

Baker, Peter S. “Pronunciation.” The Electronic Introduction to Old English.

Barney, Stephen A. Word-Hoard: An Introduction to Old English Vocabulary. 2d ed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985.

Hasenfratz, Robert, and Thomas Jambeck. Reading Old English: A Primer and First Reader, 7-25. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2005.

Weiskott, Eric. “Precepts,” recording read aloud in Old English to accompany Jay Parini, “Precepts.” In The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation, ed. Greg Delanty and Michael Matto, 231-37. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010.

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