a companion website

Through a generous grant from Boston College’s Academic Technology Advisory Board, I have received funding to use the MediaKron digital toolkit to build a companion website for my undergraduate course, Middle English Alliterative Poetry. An in-progress version of the site is publicly available here. The site currently features a short guide to Middle English pronunciation, with sound clips; a short guide to Middle English alliterative meter, with bibliography; a short guide to medieval English codicology and paleography, with annotated manuscript images and bibliography; and a timeline of poems and significant historical events, with short descriptions and bibliographies. Through collaboration with my students, the site will eventually feature an introduction to each course text, with annotated manuscript images and bibliographies. Here’s the course description, which also appears on the landing page of the website:

In the fourteenth century, there were two ways of writing poetry in English. Chaucer’s rhyming, syllable-counting iambic pentameter exemplifies one tradition. This course makes a survey of the other tradition, known today as alliterative poetry. Among the poems we will read are tales of King Arthur’s court, the story of a resurrected corpse discovered in London, and a wild allegorical dream-vision starring such characters as Bribery and Truth. We ask how this poetry is formally organized, where this form of writing comes from, and why medieval English writers chose to use it. No prior knowledge of Middle English required.

a plea for pronunciation

My note, “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:

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 note 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.