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Philology 2: Introduction to Old English Language and Literature


Admission requirements



This course focuses on the first centuries of the English language and culture, the period of Old English and Anglo-Saxon England (c.450–c.1100), from which a surprisingly rich literature has come down to us. You will be given a thorough introduction to the Old English language (phonology, morphology, syntax), and you will develop skills in translating short texts in both prose and poetry. In addition, we shall study a variegated selection from Anglo-Saxon literature, partly in Old English and partly in translation, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a saint’s life by Ælfric, Riddles, and Beowulf. Placing these texts in their cultural historical context also allows us to deal with such topics as the Vikings, the Sutton Hoo ship burial, manuscripts and daily life.

As Old English is the ancestor of Modern English, understanding Old English phonology, morphology and syntax will help you make sense of some of the peculiarities of Modern English, such as the ‘irregular’ plurals of foot (feet) and goose (geese). Hence, this course ties in with some of the Linguistics courses offered by the Bachelor programme English Language and Culture, including Linguistics 1 (phonetics), Linguistics 2 (syntax) and Linguistics 4 (phonology). In addition, this course has some common ground with various Literature courses. Not only because this course will teach you to look critically and precisely at literary texts, but also because modern authors, including W.H. Auden and J.R.R. Tolkien, or J.K. Rowling for that matter, were inspired and influenced by the Old English language and literature.

Course objectives

  • An insight into and understanding of Old English grammar

  • Skills in translation of Old English text

  • Insight into Anglo-Saxon literature, culture and history.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website

Mode of instruction

Two-hour seminar per week.

Assessment method

  • A final exam, consisting of two parts:
    o An unseen translation and grammatical questions (30%)
    o Questions on literature, culture and history (40%)

  • Two grammatical quizzes during the semester (10% each)

  • One short literature essay (10%)

N.B. The grades for the two grammatical quizzes and the literature essay will only count towards your final mark if the average score of these three elements can be used to raise your final grade. Should this not be the case, the final exam alone will determine your final grade; both parts will then count for 50%.


Yes. Blackboard will be used to provide the students with the weekly syllabus, extra information and a sample test. It will also include a discussion board. See Blackboard

Reading list

  • Peter S. Baker. Introduction to Old English. 3rd edn. Malden MA [etc.]: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. (or: 2nd edn., 2007)

  • Elaine Treharne. Old and Middle English c.890–c.1400: An Anthology. 3rd edn. Malden MA [etc.]: Blackwell, 2009.


Students should register through uSis. Exchange students cannot register through uSis, but must see the director of studies and register with her. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Departmental Office English Language and Culture, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144; mail:
Co-ordinator of Studies: Ms T.D. Obbens, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103C.