Old English, a term which is often used interchangeably with "Anglo-Saxon," is obviously no longer a spoken language. Because there are no living speakers of Old English with whom we can practice our speech, the techniques for teaching and learning Old English are somewhat different than those used for a living language. Although the goal of comprehending the target language remains the same, many of the approaches of conversational language instruction do not seem to work for Old English.
Rather than conversation, the main goal of any beginning Old English class needs to be acquiring the ability to translate and read the language. When you can translate Old English you will be able to read some of the very best poetry and most interesting prose that world literature has to offer. This grammar book and translation program are designed with the goal of giving a student the ability to translate as quickly as possible.
Translation ability has always been at the heart of Old English study, but the means by which this goal is reached are beginning to change. Old English has traditionally been taught the same ways as Latin and Greek, but few students seem to be content with a purely analytical approach of memorizing paradigms and approaching the language as a logic puzzle. This resistance is unfortunate, because although Old English does not always unlock the treasures of its "word hoard" easily, the treasures therein are precious, and the struggle to attain them is in itself a valuable effort.
But as Cnut, the great eleventh-century king, is supposed to have demonstrated, the tide does not stop coming in just because someone wants it to stop. The classical studies approach is clearly not working for all students of Old English.
Enter King Alfred's Grammar.
This electronic textbook is a companion to the translation program, King Alfred, and the sentences in King Alfred are integrated with the chapters of the book. After working through the explanations and the exercises in each chapter, you will be able to log on to the King Alfred program to practice your translation skills and receive individually customized feedback. It is the hope of the King Alfred project team that by helping the student to focus on problem areas and to spend more time learning things that aren't already known (instead of repeating already mastered material) that the process of learning Old English will be stripped of much of its drudgery. This grammar is structured to present material at the most basic, direct level possible. We have kept explanations as brief and straightforward as we can, and all key terms that are linked to definitions in the Glossary of Grammar Terms. There is also a supplementary Appendix on Phonology and an Appendix on Manuscripts. There is also an Old English Glossary (although this is not a good replacement for An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by J. R. Clark-Hall), and also blank paradigm charts that be downloaded, printed, and used by students to learn more effectively declensions and conjugations. We hope all of these elements make King Alfred's Grammar useful to beginning Old English students of all backgrounds, not only to native English speakers, but also to students for whom Modern English is a second or third language.
It is our hope and, over the past few years, our experience, that students who make a strong effort to master Old English grammar right from the beginning can read Old English (with the help of a dictionary) by the end of the semester. By simplifying the language as much as possible, we hope we have enabled students to be free to pay attention to the beauty and power of this oldest form of the language we speak today and (to steal King Alfred's words) that are most necessary for people to know.