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Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages 1st Edition

32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0804722216
ISBN-10: 0804722218
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Editorial Reviews


"The task of writing a book like Robinson's is very difficult. His contains much to be admired and is a worthy handbook ... Good students can learn much from the wealth of information in the present work, and it is to be recommended to them."—Journal of English and Germanic Philology

"This generally engaging work is well-thought out and well-organized. . . . Robinson has written [a book] that deserves attention."—Colloquia Germanica

"[Old English and its closest relatives] is well designed and well written. It is thorough, yet not too encumbered by linguistic facts and linguistic jargon. . . . [Robinson's] goal, to introduce the reader to the earliest Germanic languages and their interdialectal relations, has been masterfully accomplished."—The German Quarterly

"There is much to be valued in this book, the strength of which lies in bringing together representative texts and concise but generally informative discussions of historical background, grammar, versification, and the like, and unified by chapters on the Germanic language family and its grammatical system."—Germanic Notes and Reviews

"This book certainly fills a gap. Without it, one would have to assemble a set of handbooks of the old dialects. These would have the disadvantage of various degrees of outdatedness and divergent arrangement of materials. Robinson brings the grammatical material into alignment in a manageable number of features, selected for their significance as means of comparison. . . . The readings give some impression of the variety of language and genre, while the tribal histories add a touch of life to a possibly dry topic. . . . The focus of the work is linguistic, and in this respect there is much to admire in the selection and parallel organization of the material."—Seminar
"The execution of Old English and its closest relatives is workmanlike and conscientious. It is appropriate as a textbook for students who have had no prior exposure to [the Germanic] discipline and who require only a general introduction; it will certainly appeal to the curious lay reader. The book's serviceability in the classroom is assured in a sense for the simple reason that there is no other single work that covers the material summarily."—Language
"General textbooks introducing the Germanic languages are scarce. This work claims to provide a resource available to monolingual English speakers with a minimal background in linguistics. The task seems hardly possible, but Robinson accomplishes it and he does so with flying colors. . . . In general, Robinson's text is pedagogically sound and definitely recommended either on the undergraduate level or in an introductory class for graduate students filling in a linguistics requirement."—Scandanavian Studies
"Orin W. Robinson's Old English and its closest relatives makes an extremely valuable contribution to the group of texts that specialists in one or more of the historical Germanic dialects can safely rely upon for introducing students to comparative Germanic historical linguistics."—American Journal of Germanic Linguistics
"Robinson has produced a highly useful book. Designed for an "Introduction to Germanic Languages" course, it will also be a welcome supplement for courses in the history of English, German, and the other Germanic languages. . . . [A] book that instructors would be wise to bring to the attention of students, since it will contribute clarity as well as understanding of important matters in philology and linguistics, in addition to the opportunity for ready introduction to the early Germanic languages. Instructors as well as students will be grateful to Robinson. . . ."—Michigan Germanic Studies
“This well-structured, terse account of the early Germanic languages fills an obvious gap in reference books on historical linguistics. Striking an excellent balance between readability for the nonspecialist and sufficient detail for classroom usage, the volume begins with a straightforward chapter on the background of English and German in the Germanic family of languages and the Indo-European system at large. . . . Extremely useful for linguistics and medieval literature courses at all levels; belongs in all college and university libraries.”—Humanities

From the Inside Flap

At first glance, there may seem little reason to think of English and German as variant forms of a single language. There are enormous differences between the two in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, and a monolingual speaker of one cannot understand the other at all. Yet modern English and German have many points in common, and if we go back to the earliest texts available in the two languages, the similarities are even more notable.
How do we account for these similarities? The generally accepted explanation is that English and German are divergent continuations of a common ancestor, a Germanic language now lost. This book surveys the linguistic and cultural backgrounds of the earliest kown Germanic languages, members of what has traditionally been known as the English family tree: Gothic, Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old English, Old Frisian, Old Low Franconian, and Old High German.
For each language, the author provides a brief history of the people who spoke it, an overview of the important texts in the language, sample passages with full glossary and word-by-word translations, a section on orthography and grammar, and discussion of linguistic or philological topics relevant to all the early Germanic languaes but best exemplified by the particular language under consideration. These topics inclued the pronunciation of older languages; the runic inscriptions; Germanic alliterative pietry; historical syntax, borrowing, analogy, and drift; textual transmission; and dialect variation.

Product Details

  • Series: Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (October 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804722218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804722216
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

139 of 145 people found the following review helpful By absent_minded_prof on September 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
This fantastic little tome makes me completely reevaluate my ideas about how languages should be taught. Employing only the most minimal amount of linguistics terminology, Robinson walks the reader through seven texts in related Germanic languages. At the period they were written, these were not even distinct languages, but merely dialects of what experts in diachronic linguistics call "Proto-Germanic." The reader begins to see the connections between languages almost immediately. This is what I mean by saying that this is how languages should be taught. Bringing in a substantial etymological component to language teaching somehow provides context for each word, which somehow makes it more interesting and gripping.
For example -- here is a phrase in Old Frisian, which is a Germanic language that only grad students have ever heard of. The phrase is this, ""Thu skalt erja thinne feder and thine moder, thet tu theste langor libbe." Look familiar? If your life has ever brought you into contact with the Ten Commandments, it might remind you of the phrase "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that you might longer live." That's good if you make that connection, because that's what it means. That isn't even in English! Isn't that cool?!?! The whole book is full of things like that.
In terms of layout, Robinson begins with two introductory chapters in which he walks us through some of the more salient ideas in historical linguistics. The second chapter is very important to understand the bulk of the book. Please dwell on it, and try to read it through at least twice before moving on. Seriously, do this, it will only help.
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49 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Lars Fremmelev on May 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
- It was amazing. In almost no time I found myself reading a text in Gothic, a language I never thought I'd ever master.
The book summarizes the main common characteristics of the ancient Germanic languages, then moves on to describe 7 different languages individually. For each language the author describes significant features of its history, phonetics, and grammar. Moreover, for each language, a few short texts are presented to the reader. They are accompanied by a glossary with examples of words from modern English and German to ease the understanding of the words in the text. After the text a thorough vocabulary follows, where all the words are translated into English. Finally, at the end of the book there is complete translation of each text.
The book is clearly based on strict linguistic principles and methods, it's well-structured, and the author is able to keep the balance and avoid too many details - after all, the aim is to give a comparative survey of the language family. But most important, the author isn't just a scholar - he also knows how to teach.
I won't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone interested in comparative linguistics and the history of the Indo-European languages. However, knowledge of modern German is clearly an advantage when reading the text samples.
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you are seeking a nice, concise yet not superficial discussion on Gothic, Old Norse, Old English, Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Low Franconian and Old Frisian then you will find this book very interesting. It explains the main differences between these early Germanic languages, and per language it contains and discusses texts that have come down to us. And it reads like a novel.
I particularly appreciate the discussion of Old Low Franconian (= Old Dutch, Old Netherlandic), the predecessor of modern Dutch that is the mother tongue of more than 20 million speakers in the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium).
Although there are very few extant texts in OLF this language has undergone few sound changes (compared to e.g. OE or OHG) and therefore is very well suited for the comparative linguistic discipline.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By M. Karapcik on February 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
Interesting reading. What I particularly liked was that each section was not just a dry listing of comparative morphosyntax between the different Germanic languages. Robinson starts each section with at least a few pages of history. This way, you can see what the people did, where they were, where they went, and with whom they interacted. He also treats each language as a dynamic construct in a dynamic environment, rather than something that just popped into existence in a vacuum. He makes a point at the end to discuss language features that occurred late due to social contact, or in some cases conquest.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Raymond Uppelschoten on August 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book has been a great help on my home studies in old germanic languages. Well structured and well written, it offers a lot of information. I found the grammar summaries especially helpfull. Small detail: it is definitely a beginners study book and I can imagine that skilled scholars think it's too limited. For them the grammar summaries will be handy information only. For freshmen and newcomers it is highly recommended though. For extensive studies the book will have to be supported by an extensive reader with old germanic texts.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Erik Wieland on November 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
I took Orrin Robinson's class "Introduction to the Germanic Languages" at Stanford and this was the primary text. The book is a marvelous sampler, with brief sections discussing each language's relation to the others and its historical and cultural significance. Each language is presented through excerpts from major or important works, with translations and "clues" in the margins for those attempting to read the original. It definitely helps to have a basic understanding of historical linguistics and some exposure to either modern German or comparative linguistics, but even beginners will find something of interest.
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