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Author Topic: Adjectival Apocalypse  (Read 4607 times)

Phyllis

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Adjectival Apocalypse
« on: August 18, 2016, 08:00:49 PM »
My dear gesithas, I am hoping you can help me with a language muddle. This is going to be a bit lengthy but if you have the stamina I would appreciate some clarification if anyone feels up to it.

Let me start from the beginning, it’s a very good place to start.

I did complete the official correspondence course a while ago and have noodled about with translating back and forth, with your help, in the intervening time. But it felt like I needed to lose the trainer wheels and try to be more independent, before I drove you all to despair. So I decided to embark on the “First Steps in Old English” from Steve Pollington.

All well and good until I hit the adjectives – I know, I know, they are a bit tricky!

Now in the correspondence course, adjectives are pretty straightforward, but it turns out they only cover part of the picture: weak and strong declensions. But I can’t find reference to the variations in the Pollington book around the stems. Here there are light and heavy stemmed declensions for weak and strong along with variations for –e and –u endings (such as æþele and gearu) as well as –h endings (such as heah) and changes with æ/a such as in glæd and hwæt.

OK, I understand the principle (I think) but I am not entirely clear which are “light” or “heavy” stems. Steve Pollington uses “cwic” for “light” and “blind” for “heavy” stems, and although I have looked I can’t for the life of me see a definition of the terms. Nor am I clear how these are differentiated. I mean they both have the same “i” don’t they? Or is that not what he is referring to?

Yet all was not lost! I enjoy a good rummage in a charity shop, and have picked up a few Anglo Saxon Grammars in the process. I have “Old English Grammar” by Joseph and Elizabeth Wright (1908), “An Old English Grammar” by E E Wardale (1931) and “A Guide to Old English” by Bruce Mitchell and Fred Robinson revised 4th edition (1986). I leapt eagerly to their chapters on adjectives.

Unfortunately they use different terminology and talk about pure a-, ō stems, and ja, jō stems, and wa, wō stems, and the tables don’t seem to be the same as the Pollington ones, not even the ones for the –u stem endings which I thought I could match!

So – is anyone able to help me get to grips with these stems? How do I know which pattern an adjective follows?

Sorry if I’m being thick here :(

Phyllis
Phyllis

David

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Re: Adjectival Apocalypse
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2016, 11:43:54 AM »



Well done Phyllis! You have done the right thing. That is start with our language course and go onto Stephen Pollington’s book “First Steps in Old English”. Now you want to go on. For the structure of the language I think the best book is “A Grammar of Old English Volume 2 Morphology” by Richard M. Hogg and R.D. Fulk. Morphology deals with the structure, that is declensions and conjugations etc. Volume 1 deals with Phonolgy, the sounds. However this is very expensive. Almost as good, but much cheaper, is “Old English Grammar” by A. Campbell.
 
Yes there are quite a few declensions. However most of these extra ones only have a few members and there is a tendency for them to start taking the endings of the main declensions. There is only one declension, the –n declension, for the weak adjectives.
 
I do not have the latest edition of Pollington’s book but in my version he explains the difference between light and heavy syllables on page 68 section 9.4. “cwic” is light as it has a short vowel and ends in a single consonant. “blind” is heavy as it ends in two consonants. The stem can also be heavy if it has a long vowel or more than one syllable, otherwise it is light.
 
The idea of stems come from Proto Indo European where a word had a root, a stem and an inflexion. So for good in the masculine singular nominative we have ghedh-o-s where ghedh is the root o the stem and s the inflexion. When declining the adjective only the inflexion changed. In Proto Indo European (PIE) there was only one set of inflexion endings, although it did come in two forms, the different declensions just had different stems. When Proto Indo European changed to Proto Germanic the stem and inflexion merged, giving us a different declension for each different stem. Ghedh-o-s became gōdaz and the declension was named after the Proto Germanic “a”. The other declensions were named after what the other PIE stems became in Proto Germanic. The “j” is the letter given to the Proto Germanic sound equivalent to the Old English “ġ” or Modern English “y”. The Proto Germanic “j” usually finished up becoming an “i” or “ī” in Old English. As these letters often do not appear in the Old English some people give the declensions different names.
 
Weak adjectives are the n declension versions of the strong adjectectives. Nearly all adjectives become weak when the noun is specified by the, that, those, this, these; the possessive adjectives my, your, our, his, her, its or their. So we have
A little red hen            lȳtel rēad hæn
The little red hen         sēo lȳtle rēade hæn
Some adjectives are always strong, eg the possessive adjectives, some, one, second.
Some adjectives are always weak, eg the ordinal numbers bigger than second and the comparative adjectives. So we have
My second red hen     mīn oþer rēade hæn
A third red hen           þridde rēad hæn
A redder hen               rēadre hæn
 
I hope that this helps.
« Last Edit: August 19, 2016, 12:51:15 PM by David »

Phyllis

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Re: Adjectival Apocalypse
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2016, 01:39:36 PM »
David, you are amazing as always! Thank you so much - that really helps :)

My edition of Pollington has Interrogatives at 9.4 but I'll keep looking. I guess he just forgot to explain it the first time round and I will need to read the whole book before I worry too much. It's just I got stuck and didn't want to go on without getting my head round it. The single/multiple consonants makes sense anyway.

I suspect I'm going to find loads of errors in my translations now, but hey ho, it's onwards and upwards

I'll also keep my eyes out for the Grammars you mention, especially in the Oxfam book shop in York, which often has absolute gems on the shelves.

The Proto Indo European material is fascinating. I remember it was quite an eye opener when I learned a bit of Urdu some years back and found how similar the language was to European ones. The teacher explained it had the same root.

Thank you again
Phyllis
Phyllis

David

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Re: Adjectival Apocalypse
« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2016, 02:56:25 PM »
 
One problem with my copy of Stephen Pollington’s book is that it has no index. However at the front it does have a Summary of Section Contents which does list “Syllable weight”.
 
If you are going to review The Little Red Hen apart from seo lytel ræd hæn you probably want to look at
þisne hwætecorn
Seo nom þone
to melu
Then you need to sort out the punctuation.
I also wonder about “Man plantie þisne hwæte” . I am confused throughout by the subjuctive but I still wonder whether some form of scullon should appear here.

Phyllis

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Re: Adjectival Apocalypse
« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2016, 05:31:42 PM »
Thanks David - the Hen needs an overhaul for sure and now it makes more sense to me.

I stand by my subjunctive though - who "should" help is implied for me. She is saying (in my head) "You should help me" but being a bit passive/aggressive about it.Hopefully I'll get to it soon!
Phyllis

David

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Re: Adjectival Apocalypse
« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2016, 12:51:34 PM »



There is one book I picked up on Amazon for about 2p + postage. That is "Reading Old English" by Robert Hasenfratz and Thomas Jambeck. It is for learning Old English but I am not sure that I would recommend it unless you have already done our language course and Steve Pollington's " First Steps in Old English". It can be hard going and is over 500 pages. However it does deal with the smaller declensions.


It is not as good as Fulk. When Fulk gives a declension he also gives the most common hundred words in that declension if there are over 100 such words. This means that nearly all the words you come across are in the index and are declined in the book. It can make you appear quite clever.