Archive for June 2010

Excitement in Slavistics

30.6.10 § 2 commentarii

While of course one assumes that you all subscribe to Palaeographica Slavonica, I don't know if any of you have been following the particularly rancourous debate currently being conducted in the journal's Notae Brevissimae section. The debate, of course, concerns the linguistic provenance of the so-called "Sirmiensis Marginalium". This fragment of an unknown language occurs at the end of the Gospel according to Mark in the Codex Sirmiensis, and has been the subject of dispute ever since the Archimandrite Arsenie Sokolović discovered the manuscript in 1879.

It goes without saying that the Codex Sirmiensis has an interesting history all of its own, and is at the root of not a little controversy itself. A fragmentary aprakos running to some twenty-nine folios, and probably written in the late 13th century, this codex poses a number of linguistic and palaeographic problems. Although discovered in a monastery at Sremska Mitrovica in the 19th century, the language used through most of the text appears to be a Kievan recension of Old Church Slavonic: pace Danilović's assertion that the language used is typical of the Serbian recension, the hesitation between jat and malyj jus clearly demonstrates Kievan provenance.

Piffling details such as the above aside, the main difficulty of the manuscript has always been the fragment of unknown language. A facsimile of the passage in question is shown below:

While I have no doubt that you, dear readers, will read that with ease, it remains that this is a public blog and knowledge of the older forms of Cyrillic is not, alas, what it once was. As such, below is a normalised transliteration, with punctuation added for the reader's convenience:

Ovĭ, dŭ pezyj vlana nesa, dedroče jepy. Jěnŭ toje stręgetŭ trumą korą, jěnŭ beretŭje marą boštę, etĭ jěnŭ beretŭje aky donję. Ovĭ sape dŭ jepobĭ: oštĭ jestĭ menĭ križdij, ję draky donję, ožetĭ-je jepy. Jepi sapątrŭ: kleve, ovĭ! Oštĭ jestĭ ąsą križdebĭ ję drakomezĭ sozę: donje, judŭ, svě ovi vlani vrežetĭ liną vorętą, etĭ nestĭ dŭ ovi vlana. Sodezi kluti, ovĭ tape ę laną.

Now, as will be immediately apparent, the language of this passage is not a form of Old Church Slavonic. While one would think that this is obvious, some have suggested that we are seeing here an obscure dialect of OCS, basing this assertion on characteristic consonant clusters such as žd and št and the lack of palatalised dental stops. However, the complete lack of intelligibility with any Slavonic language renders this suggestion somewhat fatuous.

Still others have assumed that the passage is written in some kind of code: most frequently a simple substitution cipher has been suggested. A considerable amount of work by cryptologists, however, has failed to result in any kind of meaningful text.

It was Georgiy Shevelov who first suggested that the language of the Sirmiensis Marginalium is actually a hitherto unattested Indo-European language. Certainly, there are features of the text which look highly diagnostic for IE, such as дєдрочє dedroče, which looks suspiciously like a reflex of PIE *dedorḱe, the 3sg perfect of *derḱ- "to see". Shevelov's theory of an unattested "Sirmian" language has since remained the majority position, until it was recently challenged by a young chap from Bangor.

This Dr Gethin Evans has suggested that in fact the language of the Sirmiensis Marginalium is a descendant of Gaulish. He offers a number of points to back his theory up, most based on lexical grounds. For example, донѥ donje appears to be cognate to OI duine and Welsh dyn, from CC *donyos, while криждєбь križdebĭ appears to be the reflex of a dative plural *kridyobi. This last in particular is telling, as the Celtic reflex of PIE *ḱerd- is highly distinctive in its reformation into an io-stem *kridyo-.

Of course, objections to this new theory were both instant and vociferous. Evans is not a Slavonicist, nor a palaeographer, but rather a specialist in modern Armenian dialectology. Furthermore, how on earth would a Kievan scribe have known a variety of Gaulish, some nine centuries after the language's demise in its heartlands some two thousand kilometres away?

In the most recent volume of Palaeographica Slavonica, Evans addresses some of these concerns. He points out first of all that distance is not necessarily an obstacle: we know for certain that the Gauls were a widely-travelled people, with Gaulish-speaking settlements in Asia Minor and Central Europe. While we have no records of Celtic-speaking peoples in the vicinity of Kiev, Evans points out that the Marginalium is written in a hand which is clearly distinct from the rest of the manuscript, and suggests that it could have been added by a copyist in Sirmium. Sirmium, of course, was the chief settlement of the Celtic Scordisci. Furthermore, he also points out that Gaulish is attested extremely late in Endlicher's Glossary (a 9th century manuscript from Austria).

While the debate is far from over, I personally believe that Evans is on to something very significant and exciting. In conclusion, then, I shall leave you with his tentative translation of the text:

A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: my heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses. The horses said: listen, sheep! Our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool. Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.


18.6.10 § 2 commentarii

I graduated. With a first, as it happens.

Well, technically, it won't be "official" until the senate calls the convocation and awards the degrees: the ceremony is about a month away. But: OH MY GOD I GOT A FIRST! A bottle of mead is to be poured out in honour of Ogmios and Cernunnos in the near future.

Unfortunately, rather than going out and celebrating, I'm having to work tonight. But I shall, for once, be doing so with a smile on my face.


14.6.10 § 0 commentarii

For the nonce, I'll most likely continue using my old blog as my primary one (and, as such, would ask all interested parties to leave their comments there)- but given that this isn't the first time my site has disappeared for days at a time, I'll be double-posting, both there and in this new blog.


11.6.10 § 0 commentarii

In an ongoing effort to jolly myself along, I have decided to embark on a series of short essays (between two and two and a half thousand words), as mentioned in my last post. I am therefore looking for interesting topics to write about.

Firstly, I've decided to write about religion. These essays I intend on being fairly non-academic in tone, written for a general (yet educated!) readership. So far, the topics I've started thinking about are:

  • A discussion on the theology of sacrifice.
  • An extended investigation into ritual purity in IE traditions. This might get split over several parts.
  • A more reflective piece on the interrelationship between Reconstruction and UPG.
  • An introduction to Dumézilian tripartition as an analytic framework.

In addition, there's the series of posts on the Gods and Comparative Mythology from Brython to be rewritten and referenced as a single document. I also intend on gathering the research for a corresponding piece on the goddesses. I would welcome suggestions for other topics, of course.

The other great love of my life is linguistics (excluding men and food, of course: neither is an easy topic to write an essay about). So I'd like to write a few essays on historical and comparative linguistics. As these will probably be far more academic in nature, I'll primarily be writing for my own amusement. On the other hand, in a growing kind of public service ethos, I could also write a series of more accessible essays written with conlangers in mind: I'm thinking about a basic introduction to Vulgar Latin/Common Romance here, formed of a series of essays examining the more interesting aspects of morphosyntax and phonology. I must also confess that a few months ago I caved to the temptation of writing a grammar handbook of reconstructed Gallo-Brittonic (in spite have declaring quite adamantly that I wouldn't), which has progressed remarkably well: the section on accidence is essentially complete, and it's just the sections on poetics and syntax which need writing.

The first, however, will be writing up the Gods piece, as that represents an obligation. I've got several days off next week, so hopefully I should have finished it by this time next week. Before I start though, I find myself hesitating for the most absurd of reasons: which referencing style to use? I'm most familiar with MLA- in fact, I don't think I've every used anything else. But I'm aware that non-academics can get rather upset by parenthetical citations all over the text (Lipsky 1975: pp. 212-5), so I'm thinking the footnotes might be the way to go[1].


1) However, as regular readers of this blog's predecessor will recall, I have a habit (no doubt derived from reading too much Pratchett as a teenager) of consecrating my footnotes to asides and marginalia. I did consider making a distinction between footnotes and endnotes for this very reason, but then I realised that no matter how much html apes the conventions of the printed page, footnotes and endnotes are pretty much always conflated in an html document.


6.6.10 § 3 commentarii

Wha' happened?

Well. The company hosting my blog and website appears to have tanked: everything is down, and they're not responding to my emails. Finally realising that my website is now probably lost to the mists of time, I've set up this blog as a replacement for my old one. I've gone with Blogger over Wordpress for a couple of reasons, in spite of Wordpress being a much better platform from a technical viewpoint. Google's servers being less likely to suddenly disappear without warning is, of course, the major recommendation, but also most of the blogs which I follow on a regular basis are Blogger-based- so being part of the same network is probably a Good Thing. Additionally, this allows me to give my blog an actual name, rather than the prosaic title "Deiniol's Blog" (which has simplicity and directness to recommend it, but not much else.)

While the loss of the website is certainly inconvenient, it's hardly the end of the world: there was nothing on the site that isn't also safely stored offline on my hard drive. My habit of composing blog posts using html in TextEdit rather than the online editing functionality means that the bulk of my previous blog posts are also safely stored: these might appear in the archives of this new blog shortly. I doubt I'll be replacing the website itself any time soon, however. I've been thinking that it's outgrown its usefulness for a while now, and I'm currently toying with the idea of eventually setting up an entirely new religion-focused website in its place.

This new website will basically be a collection of essays as relating to my personal exploration of a Gallo-Brythonic Reconstructionist spirituality: essays on the gods, ritual practices, theology and so on. Now that I'm out of university for the next year at least, I've decided to keep myself focused and sharp by writing a decent 2500-word essay every other week (or so), and these essays I hope will form the bulk of this new website's content. Currently I'm toying with naming the site Drunemeton, after the Galatian sanctuary.

What was that? Oh, yes. I've finished university. My last exam was this Wednesday just gone, my last piece of coursework handed in on Friday. I get my results for my final degree classification a week on Friday and (frankly) I am shitting bricks with fear. Just thinking about it leaves me short of breath: Come the 19th I'll just be happy that the waiting is over, whatever the actual results are. All being well, my graduation ceremony will be on the 15th of next month.

So, that's me for you.