Category Archives: Languages

An exhibition of the Taylor Institution’s collection of Georges de Peyrebrune’s Works

Marie Martine, DPhil in Modern Languages (German and French)

Georges de Peyrebrune, Woman. Writer. Feminist is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution (Voltaire Room) from 12th October until 26th October. It showcases the Taylor’s unique collection of Georges de Peyrebrune’s works.

Georges de Peyrebrune was born Mathilde Marie Georgina Elisabeth de Peyrebrune Judicis on the 18th of April 1841 in the Dordogne as an illegitimate child. She marries at the age of 18 a man ten years older than her, and their marriage is an unhappy one. She starts publishing in regional journals soon after and goes to Paris after the 1870 war, at 30 years old. Despite her literary success, Georges de Peyrebrune will struggle all her life with money and will die in poverty, in 1917. This exhibition is a tribute to her work and feminist engagement.

Because of Peyrebrune having been forgotten and erased from the French literary canon, her works are difficult to access. The Taylor Institution’s collection of her works is therefore unique in the United Kingdom as it holds several first editions of Peyrebrune’s works, as well as a wide range of digitalized ones. In the exhibition, visitors can find first editions of her novels Gatienne (1882), Au Pied du mât (1899), and of the short story ‘Giselle’ (1892). It also shows the new editions of her most successful novel, Victoire la Rouge (1883, republished in 2020), De Fouillis-les-Oies à Paris. Odyssée burlesque (1878) and Jupiter et les bas-bleu (1894). The exhibition also showcases Sarah Bernhardt’s autobiography Ma Double vie (1907) and several texts by the decadent writer Rachilde, both contemporaries of Peyrebrune.

Why rediscover Georges de Peyrebrune today?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Firstly, Georges de Peyrebrune’s trajectory tells us about what it means to be a woman and a writer in nineteenth-century France. Writers like George Sand and Madame de Staël, among others, have certainly paved the way for the next generation of women wanting to make a career out of writing; but men still reproach women to be too fragile and sentimental. Additionally, writing is seen as a distraction from women’s sole duty: motherhood. It is well-known that women of the time used different strategies to access the literary market: writing under a male pseudonym or using their husbands’ or fathers’ names, under initials, or anonymously. Peyrebrune chose the unisex name of ‘Georges’ that is derived from her birth name, Georgina, but which we can see as a tribute to many other women writers who chose the name George as well. These strategies, however, are limited: the Decadent writer, Barbey d’Aurevilly, claims he can ‘smell’ a woman writer from a book, because the feminine smell always betrays itself, even if the author used a male pseudonym. He uses the qualifier ‘bas-bleu’ to negatively designate women with literary ambitions, a name derived directly from the English ‘blue stockings’. For him and numerous of his contemporaries, women are physically incapable to write books comparable to those by men and are to be labelled as ‘hysterical’. This sexist discourse reveals male anxieties in fin-de-siècle France: not only did men worry about women getting out of their dedicated sphere, the household and motherhood, but they also worried about women writers becoming serious competitors on the literary market.

title page of RomanGeorges de Peyrebrune is aware of those discourses and she proudly reappropriates the term ‘bas-bleu’ to designate herself and her peers. She directly responds to those male anxieties in her play Jupiter et les Bas-bleu published in 1894, which has been republished by Jean-Paul Socard and Lydia de Haro Hernandez (displayed in the exhibition). In this comic play, she stages Emile Zola, one of the main literary figures of the time,  under the traits of Jupiter, posing as a judge putting her contemporaries on trial. Well-known women writers defend themselves in front of an ruthless judge who reject women’s ability to write on principle. The text ends with his definitive judgement: ‘elles n’enteront jamais à l’Académie !’. This is unfortunately true: the French Academy will only admit women as their members in 1980. Ironically, Zola himself will never get admitted either! What is interesting with this recently republished text is that Georges de Peyrebrune smartly mocks the anxieties of men writers fearing the competition from women. She debunks their pseudo-scientific arguments to justify women’s exclusion from public life and shows that the women of her generation have proven their ability to write.

It is also worth noting that Georges de Peyrebrune herself was awarded the prize of the Académie Française twice in her life, once in 1896 for Vers l’amour and another time in 1899 for Au pied du mât (displayed in the exhibition). This institutional recognition shows that she was read and appreciated by her contemporaries. Even if many best-sellers of any period have been forgotten and might not be interesting for us as contemporary readers, it is important to recognize that the erasure of women writers from our canon is complex and cannot be justified by saying that women’s writing was less qualitative and interesting than their male contemporaries’. Rediscovering Georges de Peyrebrune thus means rediscovering an author who was deeply aware of the contemporary discourses on femininity and authorship and who used literature to counter sexist ideas.

Secondly, Peyrebrune’s literary career gives us a glimpse of feminine and feminist literary networks of the Belle Epoque. Peyrebrune’s correspondence show that she stood in solidarity with other women writers and tried to build a literary network made of women. We unfortunately have few archives left from Georges de Peyrebrune, but some letters she received enable us to see how her contemporaries considered her as a generous mentor figure. For instance, in a letter from September 1912, Julia Daudet (the wife of the well-known writer Alphonse Daudet) asks Peyrebrune to support the publication of another woman writer. She writes: ‘Pourquoi favoriser toujours le travail masculin qui a toutes les chances, toutes les facilités ? […] Enfin je m’adresse à vous dont l’œuvre est toute généreuse et remarquable à tant de titres, dans un élan de justice féminine ou féministe, si vous aimez mieux’ (Why always favour men’s work which has all the chances, all the opportunities? […] I address you whose work is so generous and remarkable in so many ways, in a spirit of feminine or feminist justice, if you prefer). Here, Daudet reflects on the numerous opportunities given to men to get their works published and publicized, compared to the few women get. I also find her conscious choice of the word ‘feminist’ very telling: Peyrebrune’s ambition to have the value of women’s writing recognized as a feminist project. Daudet’s letter also demonstrates her confidence in Peyrebrune’s influence, highlighting that we are dealing with a respected and influential player on the literary market. Other letters from Georges de Peyrebrune’s correspondence show her as ready to help young writers by sharing her contacts within the publishing world and by giving them advice. One could think that in a society so hostile to women’s writing, the few who dared to publish would jealously protect their secret, but Georges de Peyrebrune was clearly a woman who valued other talents and strived to help other writers.

This work towards promoting women’s writing led Georges de Peyrebrune to be part of the first jury of the Prix de la Vie Heureuse. In 1904, several feminist and women intellectuals were tired to see that the prestigious Prix Goncourt was again given to a man despite the talent of a potential female candidate Myriam Harry with her novel La Conquête de Jérusalem. They thus decided to build their own literary prize to finally recognize and reward women’s talents, as well as encourage contacts among women writers. Among Georges de Peyrebrune, we find in the jury Anna de Noailles, Julia Daudet, Daniel Lesueur, Marcelle Tinayre, Gabrielle Réval, Séverine and Lucie Delarue-Maldrus all brilliant and influential writers of the time and well-established on the Parisian literary scene. This prize will become the Femina prize in 1917 and is still awarded today.

Her friendship with her contemporary, Rachilde, is also fascinating. Both women had opposite worldviews and ways to respond to literary trends of their time, but their literary ambitions brought them together. Both come from the Périgord and tried their luck as writers in Paris. At first, Georges de Peyrebrune appears as a mentor for the young Rachilde who tries to navigate the capital city and its literary circles. As she marries Alfred Valette, director of the influential journal Mercure de France, Rachilde gains more influence. It was now Georges de Peyrebrune’s turn to ask for Rachilde’s support through her literary critiques to publicize Peyrebrune’s new publications.

title page of "Une Décadente"Rachilde is known for being ‘the queen of the Decadents’ in fin-de-siècle France. She scandalized French audiences with her bold portraits of independent and sadistic heroines in her novels Monsieur Vénus (1889) and La Marquise de Sade (1887). Interestingly, she claimed loud and clear that she was not a feminist and often refused to be associated with other women writers, instead calling herself ‘homme de lettres’ (man of letters). Her pamphlet Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe (1908 – a signed first edition is displayed in the exhibition) illustrates her anti-feminist stance, but this text could also be interpreted as a marketing move to make herself relevant. Georges de Peyrebrune, on the contrary, clearly revendicated to be a feminist, but her female characters can seem rather tame compared to the ones of Rachilde. Rachilde published several critiques of Georges de Peyrebrune’s novels in the Mercure de France and underlined her moralising tone. Georges de Peyrebrune makes Rachilde appear under fictional traits in the novel Une Décadente (The Decadent Woman – displayed in the exhibition) in which she criticizes the morbid values of the Decadents. A friendship between the two can thus seem quite surprising, but their letters (see Nelly Sanchez’s edition of Georges de Peyrebrune’s correspondence, Correspondance. De La Société des gens de lettres au jury du prix Vie heureuse from 2016) show that they shared worries and advice on how to navigate the Parisian literary circles, making for a true literary friendship.

Finally, Peyrebrune’s concern with sexual violence in her fiction makes her works strikingly relevant for readers today. In a letter from June 1886, addressed to Georges de Peyrebrune, Rachilde mentions the way sexual harassment is a banal occurrence for young women writers: ‘En bonne franchise, quand une femme de lettres n’est pas une catin il faut au moins qu’elle puisse avoir l’air de l’être et au fond vous ne pouvez pas trop me donner tort, vous qui connaissez notre siècle’ (To be perfectly frank, when a woman of letters is not a whore, she at least needs to look like one and you cannot really disagree with me, you know our century all too well). All have to deal with unwanted sexual advances from publishers and journalists and sometimes have to compromise to get published. Georges de Peyrebrune deals with this issue in Le Roman d’un bas-bleu (The novel of a Blue-Stockings, 1892) which tells the destiny of a young writer who falls into despair as she refuses to compromise her self-worth for literary success. This novel poignantly reflects the debates started by the #MeToo movement which unveiled the harassment and abuse faced by women, particularly in their professional lives. Already in the nineteenth century, Georges de Peyrebrune denounced this harassment and how it kept women from accessing the public sphere as equals to men. Her message strongly resonates with contemporary debates.

This is not the only aspect which makes Peyrebrune’s works worth rediscovering today: as you will see in the exhibition, Georges de Peyrebrune wrote across genres, always finding new styles to reflect sometimes with humor, other times with pathos, on issues of class, sexuality, and modernity. We hope this exhibition will encourage more readers to discover this fascinating figure of French literature whose versatile style and political messages deserve to be rediscovered today.

You can listen to the episode from the French History Podcast on Georges de Peyrebrune to learn more information on her trajectory as a woman writer in fin-de-siècle France: https://www.thefrenchhistorypodcast.com/rediscovering-georges-de-peyrebrune-by-marie-martine/

With many thanks to Nick Hearn, French Subject Librarian, Taylor Institution Library.

Languages, Literature, and Afterlives: Medieval Irish and Welsh Collections in the Taylor Library

This blog post and book display for June is a showcase of the library’s excellent range of books on medieval Wales and Ireland. To limit the vast number of books on the subject, we have chosen a small selection on the following three themes: languages, literature and afterlives.

Languages 

         

While Welsh and Irish are the obvious languages spoken in medieval Wales and Ireland, both cultures had many points of contact with other languages. After all, the precursor language to Welsh – British – was spoken in areas all across the island of Britain, not just where Wales is today, ranging from around southern Scotland right down to modern day Cornwall. This meant that, during the Roman rule of Britain and into the fifth century, many British speakers also spoke Latin. Some Latin loan-words still survive into today’s Welsh: for example, the word for ‘ship’ – llong – stems from the Latin navis longa. Thomas Charles-Edwards offers an excellent account of this mixing pot of languages in the early medieval period in chapters one and two of Wales and the Britons.

Ireland, by contrast, had a very different introduction to the Latin language. Ireland never came under the rule of the Roman Empire: thus, inhabitants of the island only began to learn Latin when they began to convert to Christianity, in order to read the vulgate Bible and celebrate the liturgy. Elva Johnston has carefully explored the tension between the use of the vernacular Irish language and Latin in Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland: for example, she places medieval Irish writing into context with continental rhetorical education, and explores the interdependence of literacy in the vernacular with literacy in Latin.

       

Interest in Latin was not solely linked to dealings with the Roman empire, nor to the Christian church. Two books in the Taylor’s collections exemplify Irish and Welsh authors’ complex engagement with texts and stories from classical antiquity. Brent Miles’ Heroic Saga and Classical Epic in Medieval Ireland explores how medieval Irish authors used classical epics as an interpretive lens or inspiration for their own vernacular literature. From a different angle, Paul Russell explores the engagement of medieval Welsh scribes and authors with one specific Roman author in his Reading Ovid in Medieval Wales.

       

Beyond Latin, several other languages were spoken and understood in medieval Wales and Ireland. In this display, we have taken Wales as a particular example. Borders and frontiers became more pronounced between Welsh speakers and English speakers in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as Welsh speakers had gradually become more confined to beyond the Severn river. While interactions between these groups are usually characterised as antagonistic, the first chapter of Lindy Brady’s Writing the Welsh borderlands in Anglo-Saxon England offers a more cooperative picture of this multi-lingual landscape. In it, she studies a charter drawn up by both Welsh and English speakers, who collaborated in order to tackle the problem of cattle theft in the eleventh century.

The collection of essays, The Welsh and the Medieval World: Travel Migration and Exile, offers a number of different angles onto medieval Wales’ connections to courts and peoples living across Europe. In particular, Gideon Brough’s chapter examines Welsh diplomacy with the French court in the medieval period, demonstrating that Welsh princes and military leaders were in direct contact with continental courts and kings, rather than being isolated from continental politics or using England as a sole intermediary.

Literature 

         

A rich literary corpus has survived from both medieval Ireland and Wales, and the Taylor boasts a wide collection of editions and studies of such texts. For those not immediately familiar with literature from these cultures, you may nevertheless have heard of two particularly notable prose tales: the Irish Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) and the Welsh Mabinogion. The Taylor holds several translations of both, but we have chosen one of each for this display. Thomas Kinsella’s edition is a classic version, with some beautiful ink illustrations by Louis Le Brocquy accompanying the text. Sioned Davies’s work is a translation of the eleven tales that make up the Welsh masterpiece known as the Mabinogion. Davies also includes a comprehensive introduction to medieval Welsh literature and the culture which gave rise to such stories in this book.

Some of the earliest poems in the Welsh language are preserved in monumental compilations, such as those in the Llyfr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin). The poems in this manuscript have recently been translated and edited by Gwyneth Lewis and Rowan Williams in a beautiful edition for Penguin. You might have heard more about this particular collection of poems at this year’s O’Donnell Lecture, where Dr Rowan Williams spoke about ‘The Book of Taliesin: Welsh Identity and Poetic Identities’. Another very early Welsh poem is Y Gododdin (The Gododdin), a battle eulogy written by the early Welsh poet Aneirin. It has received a recent edition and translation by Gillian Clarke.

        

If you want to read beyond an edition of a text, the Taylor has copies of the most important studies of medieval Irish and Welsh literature. Ralph O’Connor’s The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel is a fantastic case-study in reading an Irish scél (saga or story), and provides an excellent foundation from which to read other such stories. Togail Bruidne Da Derga (earliest portion of the text written c. 1050-1100) concerns Conaire Mór, an Irish king who is doomed to contradict the increasingly impossible conditions of a curse (geis in Irish) laid upon him. This eventually results in his gruesome demise. Scholarly attention had previously focused on philological aspects of the text, or the sources standing behind it. By contrast, O’Connor advocates for reading Togail Bruidne as a literary creation in its own right, examining the structural coherence of the text as a whole.

Another study takes a more thematic approach to Irish literature: Mark Williams explores the literary portrayal of the remnants of Ireland’s pagan pantheon in Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth. Williams’ study is sweeping in its chronological range, and guides readers from the earliest original medieval Irish texts, through the late medieval and early modern period, and finishes by analysing their reworking of Irish deities in modern texts such as those by W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. If you have ever heard of some Irish divinities – like the dread war goddess, the Morrigan, or Mannanán mac Lir, the mysterious deity of the sea – but wanted to know more about how such figures actually appear in Irish literature, this is the book for you.

One of the most enigmatic texts connected to medieval Wales is the Latin De Gestis Britonum (On the Deeds of the Britons). It was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (fl. early- to mid-twelfth century) at some point between 1123 and 1139. Geoffrey pretended that his work was a translation of a book he discovered in either Welsh or Breton into Latin. While Geoffrey drew upon some earlier works in medieval Latin or Welsh, scholars are now agreed that he creatively filled the gaps between such sources with his own fictional material. The De Gestis is credited with popularising the story of King Arthur across Europe: before Geoffrey, Arthur was only mentioned briefly in a handful of early medieval Welsh poems and texts, where he is presented as an idealised warrior figure. Geoffrey moulded this Welsh Arthur into a very different character, making him a king as well as a fierce military leader. To read more about Geoffrey’s text and the immense impact it had upon medieval European literature and beyond, you can read the excellent collection of essays in the Taylor’s copy of A Companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth, edited by Georgia Henley and Joshua Byron-Smith. The essays within range from the manuscript dissemination of the text, its connections to other Welsh and English historical writing, through to its reception in cultures as far spread from Iceland to Byzantium.

Afterlives

         

The languages and literature of medieval Wales and Ireland continued to capture the imagination of authors into the early modern period and beyond. One such fascinating, but poorly-read, author is Elis Gruffydd (c. 1490–c. 1552). Elis was born in Flintshire in Wales, but served as a soldier in the English army and eventually ended up living in the English garrison in Calais. What makes Elis unique is that he poured a vast amount of energy into writing his Chronicl y Wech Oesoedd (Chronicle of the Six Ages), an ambitious history of the world from its beginning to Elis’ own lifetime and one of the longest texts in the Welsh language. Elis’ eyewitness accounts in the second volume are particularly exciting, where he reveals an insider’s view of life in London under the Tudors, or life in the trenches as a soldier in Calais or across Europe. For example, he gleefully records gossip he heard from other Welsh speakers who worked as servants in Catherine of Aragon’s household. A rich tapestry of these stories has been translated this year by Patrick Ford, along with an excellent introduction to Elis’ life and times by Jerry Hunter, in Tales of Merlin, Arthur, and the magic arts: from the Welsh Chronicle of the six ages of the world.

Another important author from the Tudor period is John Prise. We encountered Geoffrey of Monmouth in the previous section of this blog post, but his influence continued well beyond the twelfth century. By the mid-1500s, many had begun to doubt the historical veracity of Geoffrey’s work. Yet, Prise enthusiastically believed in the events of the De Gestis, and produced the Historiae Britannicae Defensio (The Defence of the British History) in order to defend its contents. Prise’s Defensio saw some of the earliest analysis in print applied to medieval Welsh poetry: he quoted mentions of Arthur in such poems in an attempt to corroborate his historical existence (although, as we now know, Prise was sadly somewhat misguided). Prise was also the author of the earliest printed book in Welsh – Yny lhyvyr hwnn (In This Book). Ceri Davies offers an excellent biography of Prise in his edition of the Historiae Britannicae Defensio.

As we move further into the modern period, some readers were not content simply to peruse the canon of Irish and Welsh literature: they wished to add their own works to this corpus, and pretend that their creations were genuine medieval artifacts. The Taylor holds two excellent studies of such authors. First, a collection of essays edited by Geraint Jenkins – A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg – explores the life and works of Iolo Morganwg. He was most famous for founding the Welsh Eisteddfod, but he also forged a number of poems by Dafydd ap Gwilym, one of the most important medieval Welsh authors and a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. Second, Fiona Stafford’s The Sublime Savage: A Study of James MacPherson and the Poems of Ossian delves further into the biography of the Scotsman James MacPherson, who claimed to find a corpus of poetry written by Fionn Mac Cumaill’s son, Ossian, which he had actually written himself. Fionn was an important figure in Irish and Scottish fianna literature: you may have heard of Fionn through his anglicised name, Finn MacCool, or Ossian spelled as Oisín. Both MacPherson and Morganwg were genuinely talented poets in their own right, but shared an irresistible draw to the authority of their medieval predecessors.

      

Finally, the Taylor holds a number of volumes showcasing the influence of medieval Welsh and Irish literature on modern literature. We have chosen two books to exemplify this: first, Dimitra Fimi has examined the legacy of such stories in Celtic myth in contemporary children’s fantasy. In a different vein to an academic study, Matthew Francis has creatively re-translated and re-written the Mabinogion in a 2017 publication for Faber & Faber.

There are many more books on medieval Welsh and Irish culture and literature in the basement of the Taylor. We hope this small selection will inspire you to explore it further, if you haven’t done so already.

Jenyth Evans, Reader Services Supervisor, Bodleian Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library & DPhil Candidate, Faculty of English

With many thanks for additional bibliography and advice to Janet Foot, Celtic Subject Librarian, Taylor Institution Library

Bibliography

Aneirin. The Gododdin: Lament for the Fallen. Edited by Gillian Clarke, Faber & Faber, 2021.

Brady, Lindy. Writing the Welsh Borderlands in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester University Press, 2017.

Charles-Edwards, Thomas. Wales and the Britons, 350-1064. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Davies, Sioned, editor. The Mabinogion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Fimi, Dimitra. Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Francis, Matthew. The Mabinogi. Faber & Faber, 2017.

Gruffydd, Elis. Tales of Merlin, Arthur, and the Magic Arts: From the Welsh Chronicle of the Six Ages of the World. Translated by Patrick K. Ford, introduction by Jerry Hunter, University of California Press, 2023.

Henley, Georgia, and Joshua Byron Smith, editors. A Companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Brill, 2020.

Jenkins, Geraint H., editor. A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg. University of Wales Press, 2005.

Johnston, Elva. Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland. Boydell & Brewer, 2013.

Kinsella, Thomas. The Táin. Illustrated by Louis Le Brocquy. Oxford University Press, 1970.

Lewis, Gwyneth, and Rowan Williams, translators. The Book of Taliesin: Poems of Warfare and Praise in an Enchanted Britain. Penguin Classics, 2019.

Miles, Brent. Heroic Saga and Classical Epic in Medieval Ireland. Boydell and Brewer Limited, 2012.

O’Connor, Ralph. The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel: Kingship and Narrative Artistry in a Mediaeval Irish Saga. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Prise, John. Historiae Britannicae Defensio: A Defence of the British History. Edited by Ceri Davies, Bodleian Library, 2015.

Russell, Paul. Reading Ovid in Medieval Wales. Ohio State University Press, 2017.

Skinner, Patricia. The Welsh and the Medieval World: Travel, Migration and Exile. University of Wales Press, 2018.

Stafford, Fiona J. The Sublime Savage: A Study of James MacPherson and the Poems of Ossian. Edinburgh University Press, 1988.

Williams, Mark. Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Romanian in Oxford: Celebrating 10 Years of the Romanian Lectorate

Romanian in Oxford. An exhibition to mark ten years of the Romanian Lectorate. 15 May - 9 June 2023. Voltaire Room, Taylor Institution Library. Romanian in Oxford is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution Library from 15th May to 9th June 2023. It showcases the library collections and related research on Romanian language from the 19th century to the present day.

What is Romanian?

The clue is in the name. Romanian originates in the language of the Romans, namely Latin. It therefore is a Romance language, one that descends from the Latin of the Roman Empire, and this makes it a ‘sister’ of languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Occitan, French, Italian, Sardinian, and many other languages besides. Romanian is today the official language of Romania (and the mother tongue of 90% of its approximately 22 million inhabitants), and of Moldova, where it is the mother tongue of about three quarters of a population of 3.4 millions. Emigration has meant that it is also extensively spoken outside Romania.

Map of the Romance languages showing the geographical isolation of Romania.

Map of the Romance languages

This map of the Romance languages shows how geographically isolated Romanian is from its ‘sisters’. In fact, it has been isolated for well over a millennium. Unlike other Romance languages, Romanian has been subject to major influences from Slavonic, Hungarian, and Turkish, mainly in vocabulary. What has emerged is a language which is still demonstrably related to other Romance varieties, but whose sound system, grammar, and lexicon also display striking, sometimes mysterious, differences. We have relatively little evidence of the history of the language: the earliest documents in Romanian to have survived date only from around the turn of the sixteenth century. Moreover, Romanian was written in the Cyrillic, rather than Roman, alphabet until well into the nineteenth century.

Romanian is actually just the principal member of the ‘Daco-Romance’ branch of the Romance languages. This branch comprises four major sub- branches: the ‘Daco-Romanian’ dialects (to which standard Romanian belongs), and Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian.

Map of Romania and neighbouring countries.

Map of Romania and neighbouring countries, with linguistic areas marked in red.

Aromanian probably split of from the rest of Daco-Romance before the 11th century, whilst Istro-Romanian and Megleno-Romanian seem to have become detached no earlier than the 13th. Istro-Romanian—the object of one of our major research interests in Oxford—is spoken in the north-eastern Istrian peninsula (in Croatia). The Aromanians are widespread in the Balkan area, particularly Albania, central and northern Greece and south-western North Macedonia. Megleno-Romanian has a few thousand speakers, settled in villages in northern Greece, and in Northern Macedonia.

Why is Romanian important?

There are multiple answers. One is academic. An understanding of the modern structure and historical development of the Romance languages — and, beyond that, understanding of what the Romance languages can tell us about the nature of language change generally—is not really possible unless we take Romanian into account alongside other Romance languages such as Italian, French, etc. In a memorable metaphor, the Swedish Romanianist Alf Lombard wrote (Le Verbe roumain 1954:1) [our translation]:

Any comparative enquiry that does not take Eastern Latinity into account is more or less pointless, or at any rate incomplete. Actually, it rather brings to mind a table for which the carpenter has been content to make just three legs rather than four—think of the three principal sister languages: French, Spanish, and Italian—leaving the fourth corner unsupported and worryingly unstable.

The study of Romanian is simply essential to doing Romance linguistics: otherwise, our ‘table’ is forever destined to be rickety and unreliable. Actually, Romanian already possesses a most impressive body of detailed descriptive linguistic studies assembled over the past 70 years, largely under the aegis of the Romanian Academy, by Romanian scholars. These are mainly written in Romanian and therefore not easily accessible internationally. The quality of the scholarship is extraordinarily high, yet too few linguistic scholars have appreciated it or made use of it.

Another reason why Romanian is important is ‘social’. The recent Census for England and Wales revealed that Romanian is now the third most widely spoken language after English and Polish. We can ill afford not to be curious about the language spoken by one of our most significant communities. Romanian is being spoken all around us, as a stroll through central Oxford with one’s ears open will confirm!

The top ten main languages spoken in England and Wales, excluding English (English or Welsh in Wales)

The top ten main languages spoken in England and Wales, excluding English (English or Welsh in Wales). Total usual resident population, aged three years and over, who speak each language as their main language, 2011 and 2021, England and Wales.

Total usual resident population, aged three years and over, who speak each language as their main language, 2011 and 2021, England and Wales.

Of course there are many other reasons why Romanian is important. Not least the fact that it is the language of a major European culture, with a literary tradition dating back to the sixteenth century but which is still little known outside Romania. Ignorance of Romania and Romanian is no longer excusable as a result of the historical isolation of the country and its culture.

How long has Romanian been studied in Oxford?

It’s hard to say how long Romanian has been of interest to Oxford scholars. Romanian is a Romance language, and the history of the Romance languages has been studied in Oxford since at least the late nineteenth century. By 1877, the University had realized the international importance of the historical and comparative study of the Romance languages (a subject already flourishing in the German-speaking world), and the proposal was made to establish a Professorship of the Romance Languages, although the Chair was not established until 1909.  It is fair to say that the main focus of interest of the first eight Professors of the Romance Languages throughout the 20th century was French, with other Romance languages receiving less attention and Romanian being neglected.

However, this does not mean that no attention was paid to Romanian. Several Oxford scholars took a lively academic interest in the language. One of these was Frank Barnett, Fellow in French at Trinity College from 1952 to 1986, who visited Romania, knew the language well, and encouraged his students to learn  the language and visit Romania. Among these students was John Charles Smith, later to become Fellow and Tutor in French Linguistics at St Catherine’s College and now Emeritus Fellow of the College, whose work displays a constant awareness of the importance of Romanian. For example, a forthcoming paper by Smith addresses the vexed question of why ‘Moldovan’ has historically been considered a different language from Romanian (they are not different languages, in fact!).

Another Oxford scholar who contributed to Romanian studies was Graham Mallinson, Lecturer in Linguistics in Oxford in the 1970s, who was the author of one of the first descriptions of the Romanian language in English (e.g., 1979 The History and Structure of Romanian and 1986 Rumanian. Mallinson was also the author of the article on Romanian in The World’s Major Languages (ed. B. Comrie), recently revised and updated (2018) by our lector in Romanian, Dr Oana Uță Bărbulescu.

The other  Oxford scholar to explore Romanian was Dr Tony Hurren, who in the late 1970s taught Linguistics at Wadham College. Hurren’s Oxford doctoral thesis focused not on standard Romanian (although he knew the language very well) but on one of the four major branches of Romanian, ‘Istro-Romanian’ spoken in modern Croatia. Hurren’s fieldwork, thesis, and publications have formed the basis of a major research project in Oxford in the past few years, the ISTROX project. Others, too, have published on Romanian, for example Margaret Renwick, a postdoctoral research associate and later postdoctoral researcher in Oxford, author of a work on Romanian phonology.

The current, and ninth, Professor of the Romance Languages, Martin Maiden, arrived in Oxford in 1996. He is the first holder of the Chair to develop a major research interest in the Romanian language and its history. Before he came to Oxford Romanian was not, however, a particular theme of his research. His interest in the language developed slowly, over many years, but began with an attempt to learn Romanian from a grammar book in his teens, at the height of the Cold War, when Romania was a distant, inaccessible, country. It seemed to Maiden that he was so unlikely ever to meet a native speaker of the language or even hear it spoken, and that Romanian was anyway so dauntingly difficult (he was quite wrong), that he decided that he might as well give up trying to learn it!  Many years later, however, in 1987, he took an opportunity to attend the month-long Curs de Vară (Summer Course) in Romanian language and culture organized annually by the Romanian authorities in Bucharest. (By the way, Oxford now sends students from Oxford almost every year on the continuant of this course).

In 2003 Maiden spent part of a sabbatical year in Romania exploring dialectological materials held by the Romanian Academy. This renewed acquaintance with the language encouraged him to take more account of it in his work on the comparative history of the Romance languages, and after his arrival in Oxford he published a number of articles focusing on aspects of the history of Romanian morphology (word structure), notably the highly complex systems of plural formation and nouns and of diminutive derivation.

The creation of the Lectorate in Romanian in Oxford: a revolution

A crucial moment in the study of Romanian in Oxford occurred in late 2010, when Maiden was contacted by the then Romanian Ambassador to London, H.E. Ion Jinga, who wanted to discuss ‘a proposal’. This turned out to be nothing less than an extraordinarily generous offer by the Romanian government to fund a lectorate in Romanian at Oxford, administered via Institutul Limbii Române (the Institute of the Romanian Language). The Lectorate, situated within Oxford’s Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics, commenced in October 2012, and the Lector sent to us from the University of Bucharest, Dr Oana Uță Bărbulescu, has had her mandate renewed ever since. Dr Uță is a specialist in Romanian language and linguistics and a member of Institutul de Studii Sud-Est Europene of the Romanian Academy.

The creation of the Lectorate was also marked in 2013 by a one-day conference Romanian in Oxford: language, culture, and history, supported by the Ertegün Foundation, and attended by scholars from Britain, the US, and Romania, including the late Prof. Marius Sala, one of the world’s foremost experts on Romanian and its dialects.

It is no exaggeration that the creation of the Lectorate revolutionized the study of Romanian in Oxford. First, it made it possible to provide weekly courses, open to any member of the University (students, postdoctoral researchers, lecturers, professors), in Romanian language, at beginners’, intermediate, and advanced levels. These courses have been enthusiastically attended, and they have also provided the basis for a specialist examination subject in Romanian language and linguistics, taught by the Lector in Romanian and Professor Maiden. This subject covers the Romanian language in its historical and cultural context, and major aspects of the structure and evolution of the Romanian language and dialects. We are pleased to report that half of the students who have taken the special option to date have achieved a First Class result.

Not only has the creation of the Lectorate enabled our students (and others) to learn Romanian and about Romania, but it has given a major impetus to research into the Romanian language and its structure and history. This work, mainly led by Professor Maiden, has yielded numerous results in the past ten years: we have produced over 40 publications on Romanian linguistics in refereed journals and volumes over the past 10 years. We have also published various studies designed to introduce general readers to Romanian, such as Maiden’s general introduction to Romanian grammar, an article which came out of a course on the Romanian language and its history held by Maiden in France in 2014.

In all this, we are immensely grateful for the presence of the Lector in Romanian, who has repeatedly been a major stimulus and source of advice, and has herself been very academically productive. These publications have also been the basis for over thirty lectures and presentations at international conferences. Romanian also occupies a prominent place in our research and publications on general Romance linguistics (e.g., the chapter on Romanian and related dialects in the Cambridge History of the Romance Languages (2016), or the OUP volume The Romance Verb (2018). This is one case where you can judge a book by its cover: the cover is an image from one of the earliest Romanian linguistic atlases, and it reflects the importance accorded to Romanian in the book, which is a comparative-historical study of Romance verb morphology.

Maiden, Martin. The Romance Verb : Morphomic Structure and Diachrony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Taylor Institution Library Shelfmark PC145.M35 MAI 2018

Maiden, Martin. The Romance Verb : Morphomic Structure and Diachrony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Taylor Institution Library Shelfmark PC145.M35 MAI 2018

The Bodleian Libraries support research into Romanian through their very good collection of works on the Romanian language, and their willingness to acquire new works in the subject. A major element in the research into Romanian linguistics conducted in Oxford has been the study of Romanian dialects, and a major source of information is the remarkably detailed collection of Romanian linguistic atlases. They have all been vital research tools and without them many of our recent publications would have been impossible.

Some of these atlases are displayed in the exhibition, ranging from Gustav Weigand’s Linguistischer Atlas de dacoromunischen Sprachgebietes (1909), the earliest Romanian linguistic atlas, through Atlasul lingvistic român: this was produced in the 1960s under the aegis of the Romanian Academy – which has also overseen the production of a major series of regional linguistic atlases. Atlasul lingvistic român pe regiuni: sinteza is a synoptic synthesis of many of the valuable data contained in those regional atlases. We also show Atlasul lingvistik moldovenesk, the linguistic atlas of (what was then) the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The atlas is published in Romanian but, as was normal at that period in Moldova, it is written in a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet, based on that used for Russian. All of the maps on display from these atlases show aspects of Romanian dialect verb morphology, a topic on which we have published a great deal of research in Oxford.

Equally important is our collection of dictionaries and grammars of the language, some going back to the mid nineteenth century, and an extensive range of works describing Romanian dialects. A magnificent example from the Bodleian’s collections of old manuscripts and books from Romanian is presented by Dr Cristina Neagu (Christ Church) on Digital.Bodleian.[1]

Fol. 006v from the Bodleian Library's MS. Canon. Gr. 122, 'Gospels of Gavril'. Image from Digital.Bodleian.

Fol. 006v from the Bodleian Library’s MS. Canon. Gr. 122, ‘Gospels of Gavril’. Image from Digital.Bodleian.

A recently completed doctoral dissertation (2022) by Constanța Burlacu (Medieval and Modern Languages, supervised by Martin Maiden and Ralph Cleminson) breaks new ground: Translation and Circulation of Romanian and Slavonic of Romanian and Slavonic biblical books in the Romanian lands: a textual analysis of the sixteenth century Apostolos and Psalter texts.[2]

Romanian linguistics and Oxford University Press

Our strong links with Romanian linguistic scholars are reflected in a number of recent publications with Oxford University Press. These works, subject to OUP’s extremely rigorous processes of peer-review and quality control, are giving a much greater international prominence to knowledge of the Romanian language and its history than has ever been possible before. They include:

The Grammar of Romanian. 2013 (G. Pană Dindelegan, ed.; consultant ed. M. Maiden)
Verb Movement and Clause Structure in Old Romanian. 2016 (V. Hill, G. Alboiu)
The Syntax of Old Romanian. 2016 (G. Pană Dindelegan, ed.; consultant editor M. Maiden)
Word Order and Parameter Change in Romanian. 2019 (A. Nicolae)
The Diachrony of Differential Object Marking in Romanian. 2021 (V. Hill, A. Mardale)
The Oxford History of Romanian Morphology. 2021 (jointly by M. Maiden, A. Dragomirescu, G. Pană Dindelegan, O, Uță Bărbulescu, R. Zafiu)

Several of these items are displayed in the exhibition.

A number of these are collaborative works between Oxford linguists and Romanian linguists. Among them is what is undoubtedly the most thorough description of Romanian grammar (The Grammar of Romanian) ever published in any language other than Romanian. The most recent publication is The Oxford History of Romanian Morphology a collaborative work led by Maiden and involving our Lector, Dr Uță Bărbulescu, and three other colleagues from the linguistics institute of the Romanian Academy.

The intellectual legacy of Tony Hurren and the ISTROX project

In the late 1960s the Oxford linguist Tony Hurren (1933-2006) studied the already highly endangered language which linguists call ‘Istro-Romanian’. It was spoken by only a few hundred people in the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia and today it is recognized by UNESCO as being severely endangered. The result was Hurren’s Oxford DPhil thesis on the language: A linguistic description of Istro-Rumanian,[3]and his Istro-Rumanian: a functionalist phonology and grammar.[4] Hurren also published an article on a remarkable facet of the Istro-Romanian verb system, its grammatical ‘aspect’ system.

In 2010, Tony Hurren’s widow, Mrs Vera Hurren, generously donated to the University over thirty hours of sound recordings made by her husband in the 1960s together with his field notebooks. She later gave us other material, including photographs from the fieldwork of the 1960s where Tony Hurren interviewed Istro-Romanian speakers, making recordings and taking notes of the language.

Since 2018 the Hurren donation has inspired new research into Istro-Romanian in Oxford, funded hitherto by Oxford’s John Fell Fund, PER Seed fund project, and TORCH Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund. In particular, we have conducted our own fieldwork on Istro-Romanian (some photos of our fieldwork are displayed). We have been exploring how this language has changed since the 1960s, and also traced how the population of speakers has dwindled over the past half-century, innovatively using online methods and social media to establish contacts with members of the speech community in émigré communities in the US and Australia.

Žejane, 2019. Visit to the ć family. Mrs ć, her older sister Mrs ć, and their families, met with us in their family home in Ž. Just over 50 years earlier, recorded both sisters, as well as their mother, Mrs ć who was 37 at the time.

Žejane, 2019. Visit to the Sanković family. Mrs Vesna Sanković, her older sister Mrs Laura Sanković, and their families, met with us in their family home in Žejane. Just over 50 years earlier, Tony Hurren recorded both sisters, as well as their mother, Mrs Maria Sanković who was 37 at the time.

Click here to listen to Vesna Sanković (‘Kljomina‘), 8 years old, as recorded by Tony Hurren in the 1960s.

You can hear further recordings of Istro-Romanian and read more about current research projects at the following pages:

All the materials associated with this project are preserved in the Oxford Research Archive.[5].

From 26 June to 24 August 2022, the ISTROX project and Hurren’s work was the subject of an exhibition (in English and Croatian) at the Lapidarium Museum in Novigrad, Croatia, entitled ISTROX 50 years of the Istro-Romanian Language: from the Oxford Hurren Collection to the ISTROX project. At the opening of the exhibition, many members of the surviving Istro-Romanian-speaking community attended – photographs below.

The Oxford tradition of research into Istro-Romanian is also now being carried forward by a doctoral student, Fabian Helmrich, who is working on a subject which also fascinated Hurren: the expression of ‘aspect’ in the Istro-Romanian verb system. Helmrich is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Maiden and Uță Bărbulescu are also involved, in collaboration with scholars at Universitatea de Vest in Timișoara, Romania, in editing and preparing for publication the fifth and final volume of P. Neiescu’s dictionary of the Istro-Romanian language, left unfinished when the author died in 2021.

Our work on Istro-Romanian in the diasporic community has earned such appreciation that one of its members, Mr Libero Soldatić, now resident in Australia, has generously endowed the annual Anton Soldatić and Antonija Soldatić (née Skalir) Memorial Prize, in memory of his parents, for the best piece of work by a student on Istro-Romanian or other languages of the Istrian peninsula.

The long-term aim of Oxford research into Istro-Romanian is to publish a comprehensive history of the language and its speakers.

Martin Maiden

Statutory Professor of the Romance Languages
Director, Research Centre for Romance Linguistics
Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics & Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages
Fellow of Trinity College
University of Oxford

Footnotes

[1]Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Canon. Gr. 122. Four Gospels (‘Gospels of Gavril’): https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/47dff5d9-d2a0-46a9-b28a-44f974aa1861/

[2] Burlacu, C. Translation and Circulation of Romanian and Slavonic Biblical Books in the Romanian Lands: a Textual Analysis of the Sixteenth Century Apostolos and Psalter Texts. University of Oxford, 2022. http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/ora-erej81xna

[3] Hurren, H.A. A Linguistic Description of Istro-Rumanian. University of Oxford, 1971. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:bfb29e35-e2b8-4613-97cf-3b62bdb6a1f6

[4]Hurren, H.A. Istro-Rumanian : A Functionalist Phonology and Grammar. Unpublished manuscript. Oxford, 1999.

[5]ISTROX Dataset. The Oxford University Hurren Donation and the Istro-Romanian language, 2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/bodleian:GOrqZkzVJ

 

 

Manx in Oxford: Discoveries in the Taylorian Basement

The Taylor Institution Library is well known for its extensive research and teaching collections, which cover many major European languages, including French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Russian. However, if you spend time browsing the Taylor’s shelves, you might be surprised by sections of the collections dedicated to lesser-known languages.

I discovered one such section as I was procrastinating writing an essay on French literature during the final year of my undergraduate degree. My wanderings through the library took me to the Celtic section, located in the basement stacks. I picked my way through the shelves dedicated to Irish and Welsh for some time, until I landed on a section of works on Manx. This is the native language of the Isle of Man – called Gaelg or Gailck (pronounced “gilk”) by its speakers. As a speaker of this language and a resident of the Isle of Man, it was a joy for me to find this collection in my favourite library.

Unless you are a Celticist, or have an interest in endangered languages, it is likely that you have never heard of Manx. As its aforementioned autonym may suggest, this is a Gaelic language, closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and less closely related to the other Celtic languages – Welsh, Breton, and Cornish. Although Manx clearly derives from Old or Middle Irish, Manx is its own language, with its own associated history, literature, folklore, and music. Due to the influence of the Vikings, who settled extensively on Mann, a few modern Manx words are of Norse origin, e.g. skeeal (“story”).

Satellite Image of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man).

Satellite Image of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man). Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As was the case with many smaller languages, the number of Manx speakers slowly declined, especially from the 19th century onwards, in this case in favour of English. Manx is often regarded to have “died” in 1974, with the death of the so-called “last native speaker”, Ned Maddrell. Although the situation was dire for Manx, a small number of enthusiasts kept the language alive by learning and teaching it, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Manx Language pre-school Mooinjer Veggey (“Little People” – a reference to a traditional Manx euphemism for the fairy folk) and the Manx-Language primary school (Bunscoill Ghaelgagh). By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Manx language and culture revival movement had enjoyed some measure of success. As a result, according to the Isle of Man Government Census in 2011, around 1,800 people claimed to be able to speak, read, or write Manx, which amounts to around 2% of the Island’s population. This number has likely since increased. The language now has a stronger base amongst young people; Manx is present in the education system from ages 4-18, and it is often heard at cultural events.

The Taylorian’s collections hold a wealth of works on Manx, including books and journal articles on the language, its literature, and music, as well as language-learning materials. Readers can also access CDs, including the Manx Language Archive Recordings, which consist of recordings of elderly native speakers made in the mid-20th century. These recordings, made by researchers from the Irish Folklore Commission, are immensely important for linguists to know what the language sounded like prior to its revival.

If you can brave Manx’s slightly odd spelling, the Taylorian has all the resources you need to learn to speak a little of the language yourself. Harrison’s Manx Words gives examples of frequently-used vocabulary, while Cain’s Manx Phrases will help with the “please”s and “thank you”s. Stowell’s comprehensive Y Coorse Mooar (“The Big Course”) guides the reader through the language and provides learning exercises to test knowledge. For the more linguistically-minded, Draskau’s Practical Manx is an up-to-date guide to the rules of the language, complete with examples of attested and correct usage. Every language-learner will need to use a dictionary at some stage, and the Taylorian’s collection holds both Fargher’s English-Manx Dictionary and Cregeen’s Manx-English Dictionary, as well as Kneen’s English-Manx Pronouncing Dictionary; all essential tools for the solo language-learner.

Caption: Manx learning materials on the Taylorian’s New Books Display

Caption: Manx learning materials on the Taylorian’s New Books Display.     Image Credit: Erin McNulty

Those interested in the academic study of the language may also wish to read the work of early scholars, such as Sir John Rhys, who wrote extensively on the philology of the Celtic languages. Rhys, the first Professor of Celtic at the University of Oxford, was one of the first academics to devote serious study to the Manx language. His 1894 work, The Outlines of the Phonology of Manx Gaelic, remains an incredibly important contribution to the field. In addition, Thomson’s The Study of Manx Gaelic and Outline of Manx Language and Literature are both key texts in Manx studies. As modern speakers and researchers we owe much to the works of these two men.

For a historical overview of Manx, Stowell’s A Short History of the Manx Language is also invaluable. Broderick’s Handbook of Late Spoken Manx is an exhaustive resource focussing on how the language was used by speakers in the 19th and 20th centuries, just prior to its “death”. Broderick’s Language Death in the Isle of Man charts the changes that the language went through during its decline, as well as discussing some of the economic and social factors that led to this decline.

The linguistic study of Manx as it is spoken in the 21st century is a small but growing field. A number of articles have been written on the subject, all of which are well worth a read. For example, Wilson, Johnson, and Sallabank’s I’m not dead yet’: a comparative study of indigenous language revitalization in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey discusses how the Manx language has been and is being revived in the Isle of Man, and how its situation compares to that of the native Norman French of Jersey and Guernsey. Lewin’s Scholarship and Language Revival: Language Ideologies in Corpus Development for Revived Manx deals with issues of language ideology in modern Manx, and Ó hIfearnáin’s Sociolinguistic Vitality of Manx after Extreme Language Shift focusses on the effects of the sociology of Manx’s environment on the language.

The Taylorian also holds works on the Manx language expressed through the arts. Carswell’s Mannanan’s Cloak: An Anthology of Manx Literature is a good place to start a foray into the literary works in the language. Faragher’s Skeealyn ‘sy Ghailck (“Stories in Manx”), a collection of short traditional stories in the language, is also worth a look. Much of the reading material produced in modern Manx consists of translations of works in Irish or English, such as Kemmyrkagh (“Refugee”), a Manx translation of Pól Ó Muirí’s Irish-language novel, Teifeach. The book tells the story of Marika, a young Bosnian woman living with her daughter in a village in rural Ireland. Manx also has a rich musical history, a sample of which is given in Moore’s Manx Ballads and Music.

We can also find works on Manx folklore and history in the Taylorian’s collections. Examples of the former include Sir John Rhys’ Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx, as well as Moore’s The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man. For the latter, Kelly’s New Manx Worthies contains biographies of notable historical Manxmen and -women. MacQuarrie and Nagy’s The Medieval cultures of the Irish Sea and the North Sea: Manannán and his neighbors also looks at the interconnected history of the Isle of Man and surrounding areas in the Middle Ages. Finally, Broderick’s A Dictionary of Manx Place-Names and Kneen’s The Personal Names of the Isle of Man are useful for anyone interested in the onomastics of Manx.

Caption: Kelly’s New Manx Worthies on display at the Taylor

Caption: Kelly’s New Manx Worthies on display at the Taylor.
Image Credit: Erin McNulty

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the resources on Manx available in the Bodleian Libraries and wider Oxford collections should consult the LibGuide page for Celtic, maintained by the Celtic Subject Librarian, Janet Foot. Here you can also find links to language-learning websites and online dictionaries, as well as further resources on many aspects of Manx Studies.

Gura mie eu as shiu lhiah! Thanks for reading!

Erin McNulty, Graduate Library Trainee (2019-20)

Literatures of Multilingual Europe: Polish

The lecture series on Literatures of Multilingual Europe, most of which took place in the course of Michaelmas 2018 came at a very significant time. As we were giving our talks at the Taylorian, we could hear the almost imperceptible sound of the Brexit time-bomb  ticking  towards its final countdown like the calm before the storm. How ironic to introduce ‘lesser-known’ European literatures such as Scandinavian, Irish, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Modern Greek, and Yiddish to -our English-speaking audience at a time when we  could not even take an interest in the more mainstream ones for granted? This thought kept nagging  away at the back of my mind as we discussed the rather flimsy position of translated literature in the UK and the US during our introductory panel.

2018 was a particularly successful year for Polish literature and film in the UK. The Man Booker International Prize was awarded to Polish contemporary writer (and later the 2018 Nobel Laureate in Literature) Olga Tokarczuk and her American translator Jennifer Croft for Flights (Fitzcarraldo). This happened only the year after yet another Polish author, Wioletta Greg (based in the UK), made it onto the longlist alongside her translator Eliza Marciniak for Swallowing Mercury (Portobello Books). In 2019, Tokarczuk was shortlisted again with her other translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, for Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Fitzcarraldo). Some might call it a literary hat-trick, others might see it as a positive trend for the British reception of Polish works. In other news relating to the visual arts in 2018, the UK-based and Oxford-educated Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski, known for his previously Academy-awarded Ida (2014), created another black-and-white masterpiece entitled Cold War. The film earned him the Best Director prize in Cannes and three nominations for the Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film.

London : Portobello Books

Wioletta Greg ; translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak. London : Portobello Books, 2017.

While this was clearly a reason to celebrate the significance of Polish artistic output in the UK, it still felt like a parallel universe somewhat disengaged from everyday problems. Polish is currently the second most widely spoken language in the UK after English and, on a wave of anti-EU sentiment, the Polish minority in the UK has been subject to a range of xenophobic assaults, including verbal and physical violence such as hostile graffiti, offensive messages and gang attacks. Of course, there  have been strong moves to commemorate the presence and contribution of Poles in the UK way before 2004 (e.g. the Chopin statue in Manchester, the Joseph Conrad bike tour, Polish ENIGMA code breakers in Bletchley Park, the statue of war hero General Maczek, the statue of Wojtek the Bear, and the Great Polish map of Scotland, to mention a few).

However, it is very difficult to  bring the two divergent worlds together, when there is so little academic interest in Polish literature and culture. Whilst the study of the history, economy, and politics of the country is also crucial, elevating and re-evaluating the status of Poland’s vibrant literary and cultural activity across the centuries might be a more promising way of changing  the way it is perceived ‘under Western eyes’. This was partly the intention of the introductory talk which I gave for the series. In addition to serving as a taster of a lesser-known literature and highlighting the Bodleian and Taylorian’s collection, the talk was meant to condense the long rich history of a literature which represents Britain’s ‘invisible minority’. This literature perhaps remains overshadowed by the stereotyped view of a community which is thought of as just another Eastern European country supplying the UK with skilled manual labour.

2018 was also symbolic for another reason: it marked the centenary of Poland regaining its independence after more than a century of being partitioned between three empires (those of Prussia, Austria, and Russia). These partitions  took place at the end of the eighteenth century, after hundreds of years of a prosperous Kingdom of Poland and later a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and exerted a stranglehold over Polish life and culture throughout most of the nineteenth century up until 1918. It is towards the end of this tumultuous period interspersed with failed uprisings and frustration that anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski and writer Joseph Conrad (or more accurately: Józef Konrad Korzeniowski) arrived in London at the heart of the British Empire. It is also half way through this period, in 1850, that the Bodleian Library purchased a large collection of early Polish books known as Libri polonici (see Stone 2005), which would become one of the major collections of the kind in the West. This repository includes less than two thousand items such as printings of sixteenth-century literature, a unique copy of the first Polish newspaper dating back to 1557 and material related to Polish Arianism in the age of Reformation.

Libri polonici (Polonica from the Bodleian’s pre-1920 catalogue), entry on different printings of the work by Mikołaj Rej (1505-69), one of the founders of the Polish literary language.

Fifteen years later, in 1865, the Earl of Ilchester, a friend of the Polish prince and statesman Adam Czartoryski, endowed the University of Oxford with a substantial sum to encourage ‘the study of the Polish and other Slavonic languages, Literature, and History’. He made it explicit in his will that priority should be given to Polish over any other Slavonic language. However, most likely following the advice of an amateur philologist, Lord Strangford, Convocation breached the agreement. Instead, the University funded the study of Russian, the language of one of Poland’s imperial occupiers at that time (see: Stone 2005). Taking this backstory into account, there are few places where the celebration of Poland’s regained independence from imperial forces could have been felt more powerfully so many years later than here in  Oxford.

When preparing for the talk and asking our Library Subject Specialist Nick Hearn for books to be displayed, I came to realize that the collections of both the Bodleian and the Taylorian were far more diverse and rich in Polish sources than I could ever have foreseen. As part of Libri polonici, the Weston Library holds quite a number of early seventeenth-century printings of the work of Polish Renaissance poet Jan Kochanowski (1530–84), including his cantos, epigrams (fraszki), threnodies (treny), and elegies, both  in Polish or Latin. In my talk, I introduced his cycle of threnodies or lamentations entitled Treny from 1580, movingly rendered into English by Seamus Heaney and Stanisław Barańczak, among others. In particular, I briefly discussed Kochanowski’s ‘Lament 7’:

‘Tren 7’ by Jan Kochanowski, Kraków 1639, Weston Library (Libri polonici).

The holdings of the Taylor Institution library were in particular a great surprise to me. As part of the series on Literatures of Multilingual Europe, we hosted Professor Bill Johnston from Indiana University. Bill returned to Oxford after decades (he read Modern Languages at University College in the early 1980s) to read from his newly released Guggenheim-funded translation of Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz. Originally published in Paris in 1834, Pan Tadeusz [Master Thaddeus] comprises twelve books in verse and is sometimes considered the last great epic poem in European literature as well as the Polish national epic. How excited we were to see that the Taylorian was actually in possession of the first edition!

Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, Paris 1834, Taylorian collections.

With their worn-out edges and dog-eared pages, library holdings like this one contain whole different universes and bygone worlds, which have sadly sunk into oblivion and remain unexplored. They could almost stand for the “empty frames” in the hall of mirrors from this passage in Bill’s translation of Pan Tadeusz (p. 52):

These memories had clearly left him pained,

He wished them gone. Upstairs they came at last

To a great room that had been in the past

A hall of mirrors; now all you could see

Were empty frames and windows. A gallery

Overlooked the gate. Gerwazy hid his eyes

In his cupped hands, head bowed in thought. His gaze,

When he looked up, showed grief and hopelessness.

Dusting off some of Bodleian and Taylorian’s impressive holdings and revisiting their stories seemed like giving them a new lease of life. To speak about them to the Oxford public was an act of filling these empty frames again with some colours and reflected images. Perhaps, some other generation of readers, students, and scholars will also come to look into all these mirrors, and hopefully, they will find and recognise themselves in their reflections, too.

Dr Kasia Szymańska

Former Junior Research Fellow in ML, Oxford; Thomas Brown Assistant Professor, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, Trinity College Dublin.

You can see the podcast of Kasia’s lecture here: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/polish-literature


Polish literature bibliography

Adam Mickiewicz, 1798-1855 : selected poems, editor: Clark Mills (et al.) New York: Noonday Press, 1956

Foer, Jonathan  Tree of codes London: Visual editions, 2010

Gombrowicz, Witold Ferdydurke Kraków : Wydawn. Literackie, 2010

Gombrowicz, Witold Ferdydurke  Translated by E. Mosbacher, London, 1965

Greg, Wioletta  Swallowing mercury  Translated by Eliza Marciniak  London: Portobello books, 2017

Kochanowski, Jan  Laments Translated by Seamus Heaney and  Stanisław Barańczak,

Kochanowski, Jan Treny Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy imienia Ossolińskich, 1986

Krasicki, Ignacy  Mikołaja Doświadczyńskiego przypadki Warszawa: Książka, 1947

Krasicki, Ignacy The adventures of Mr Nicholas Wisdom Translated by Thomas Hoisington Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1992

Krasicki, Ignacy Monachomachia ; Antymonachomachia Warszawa : Książka i Wiedza, 1988

Krasicki, Ignacy Myszeidos pieśni X Wrocław : Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1986

Lem, Stanislaw  Solaris  Warsaw: Agora, 2008

Mickiewicz, Adam  Ballady i romanse Lipsk, 1852

Mickiewicz, Adam  Forefather’s Eve Translated by Count Potocki of Montalk  London: Polish cultural foundation, 1968

Mickiewicz, Adam  Dziady  Wrocław, 1864

Mickiewicz, Adam  Pan Tadeusz, or, The last foray in Lithuania: a story of the gentry from 1811 and 1812: comprising twelve books in verse Translated by Bill Johnston  New York: First Archipelago Books edition, 2018

Mickiewicz, Adam  Pan Tadeusz, czyli, Ostatni zajazd na Litwie : historja szlachecka z r. 1811 i 1812, we dwunastu ksiegach, wierszem Paris, 1834

Miłosz, Czesław The History of Polish Literature  Berkeley : University of California Press, 1983

Peterkiewicz, Jerzy, Five centuries of Polish poetry, 1450-1950; an anthology London: Secker & Warburg, 1960

Prus, Boleslaw  The doll Translated by David Welsh  New York: New York Review, 2011

Prus, Boleslaw  Lalka: powieść w trzech tomach  Warsaw: PIW, 1972

Schulz, Bruno  The street of crocodiles  London: Pan books, 1980

Schulz, Bruno  Sklepy cynamonowe ; Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą    Translated by Celina Wieniewska  Kraków : Wydawn. Literackie, 1994

Tokarczuk, Olga  Flights  Translated by Jennifer Croft  London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018

 

Literatures of Multilingual Europe: an introduction to Modern Greek

It would be difficult to account for the whole of Modern Greek literature in a single lecture; indeed, the only possible approach is through selected highlights. This is precisely what Peter Mackridge, Oxford Professor of Modern Greek (1996-2003), contrived to do in his lecture in the Bodleian Libraries lecture series ‘Literatures of Multilingual Europe’, which took place in Michaelmas Term 2018. [You can see the full podcast of the lecture at http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/introduction-modern-greek-literature.]

Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857)

Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857)

In a wide-ranging talk, which began with the nineteenth century Romantic poet Dionysios Solomos and then circled back to him by way of Medieval, Renaissance and Modern writings, Peter took his audience on a whistle-stop tour of the major landmarks of Modern Greek Literature.

Beginning with the humorous Medieval begging poems of an author known to us only by his pseudonym, ‘Poor Prodromos’, Prof. Mackridge went on to delineate the 16th-17th century Cretan ‘Renaissance’ verse romances and the beginnings of the Modern period in the Greek revolution of 1821. Apart from Solomos, the ‘Father of Modern Greek Poetry’, Prof. Mackridge noted the two most prominent exemplars of 19th century Greek prose, Emmanouil Roidis (author of the subversive satire ‘Pope Joan’, first translated into English in an abbreviated version by Lawrence Durrell) and Papadiamandis, whose extraordinary realist novel ‘The Murderess’ has recently been retranslated by Liadain Sherrard. Prof. Mackridge himself has translated the long short story, ‘Around the Lagoon’.

Around the lagoon by Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911), translated by Peter Mackridge.

Around the lagoon by Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911), translated by Peter Mackridge.

As Prof. Mackridge pointed out, the astonishing continuity of Greek literature (defined as literature in Greek) is largely inherent in poetry. C.P. Cavafy, the best-known and most-translated Greek poet, who died in 1933, preceded the so-called Generation of 1930, whose shining lights include George Seferis, Yannis Ritsos and Odysseas Elytis.

 Seferis and Elytis both won the Nobel Prize for Literature, whilst Ritsos was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. All three poets have had their work set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, whose settings have proved hugely popular with people from all walks of life.

Among the issues discussed by Prof. Mackridge were the school syllabus, with its emphasis on national pride and the glorification of heroes of the War of Independence, and the related emphasis in Greek culture (including the arts) on identity: what it means to be Greek. Here, there were humorous references to “Zorba the Greek” (Kazantzakis) and the stereoptyping to which English translations of this work (there is no “the Greek” in the Greek title) have contributed.

Zorba the Greek (1964) by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)

Zorba the Greek (1964) by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)

Finally, Prof. Mackridge referred to more recent writings, including the poetry anthology inspired by the Greek financial crisis: “Austerity Measures” (edited by his former D. Phil. student, Prof. Karen Van Dyck).

At the beginning of his talk, Prof. Mackridge apologised for his exclusion of women writers. In fact, much of the period under discussion yields no well-known female authors, but the twentieth century has produced women novelists and poets of some stature, including Maro Douka, Rea Galanaki, Jenny Mastoraki, Maria Laïna, Evgenia Fakinou and Kiki Dimoula. There were also earlier poets, such as Maria Polydouri, who was popular in her day though her work has not really stood the test of time. The one woman writer referred to, the poet and novelist Ersi Sotiropoulou, was mentioned in connection with her recent fictionalised account of an episode in the life of C. P. Cavafy.

Ersi Sotiropoulou, 'What's left of the night', (Patakis, 2015).

Ersi Sotiropoulou, ‘What’s left of the night’, (Patakis, 2015). A fictionalised account of an episode in the life of C. P. Cavafy.

Rea Galanaki’s acclaimed novel, ‘The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha’, translated by Kay Cicellis,  makes an interesting companion volume to the Nobel laureate Ivo Andric’s last novel, ‘Omer Pasha Latas’ (1968), recently translated by Celia Hawkesworth (winner of the 2019 Weidenfeld Translation Prize for this volume). ‘The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha’ has been described as an ‘elaboration’ on Borges’ traitor-hero theme (Beaton, An Introduction to Modern Greek Literature, p. 291). It creates a biography for a historical figure about whom almost nothing is known. Seized in Crete as a child by the Ottomans and sold as a slave in Egypt, Ismail eventually becomes the leader of the Ottoman Egyptian army and  returns to Crete to quell a local revolt. In parallel to Ismail, Andric’s Omer Pasha is a Christian boy who converts to Islam and becomes commander-in-chief of the Sultan’s armies.

Maria Iordanidou’s autobiographical novel Loxandra is set in pre-1922 Constantinople/Istanbul. This is an earlier version of the world of the popular Greek film ‘Politiki Kouzina’/’A Touch of Spice’ (Tassos Boulmetis, 2003).

Karen van Dyck has done much to bring contemporary Greek women poets to an English-speaking audience and the leading translator of Modern Greek Literature, David Conolley, has produced sensitive renderings of Kiki Dimoula.

Dr Sarah Ekdawi

Faculty Research Fellow
Reviews Editor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
Assistant Director of Studies, Oxford School of English


For readers who would like to read some Modern Greek literature in excellent translations, the following selection is highly recommended. This select bibliography (compiled by Sarah Ekdawi) is followed by Prof. Mackridge’s more extensive bibliography, used to illustrate his talk.

* Names marked with an asterisk are Oxford alumni

Select Bibliography

Overview

Roderick Beaton, An Introduction to Modern Greek Literature (Oxford Clarendon Press,1994

Poetry

P. Cavafy, The Collected Poems, translated by Evangelos Sachperoglou, with an introduction by Peter Mackridge, bilingual edition (Oxford World Classics, OUP, 2007)

George Seferis, Novel and Other Poems, translated by Roderick Beaton (Aiora Press, 2016)

Yannis Ritsos Among his Contemporaries. Twentieth-Century Greek Poetry Translated by Marjorie Chambers (Colenso Books, 2018)

Rhea Galanaki, Jenny Mastoraki and Maria Laina, The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding. Three Collections by Contemporary Greek Women Poets, translated and introduced by Karen van Dyck, bilingual edition. Wesleyan University Press, 1998

Kiki Dimoula, Lethe’s Adolescence, translated by David Conolly (Nostos Books, 1996)

Novels

Alexandros Papadiamantis, The Murderess, translated by Liadain Sherrard (Denise Harvey Publisher, 2011)

Maria Iordanidou, Loxandra, translated by Norma Aynsley Sourmeli (Denise Harvey Publisher, 2107)

Rhea Galanaki, The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha, translated by Kay Cicellis (Peter Owen Publishers, 1999)

Evgenia Fakinou, The Seventh Garment, translated by Ed Emery (Serpent’s Tail, 1991)

Menis Koumandareas, Their Smell Makes me Want to Cry, translated by Patricia Felisa Barbeito and Vangelis Calotychos, (University of Birmingham, 2004)

 

Prof. Mackridge’s Bibliography

Cretan Renaissance literature (16th-17th c.)
1. Georgios Chortatsis (c. 1550-c. 1610), Plays of the Veneto-Cretan Renaissance: a bilingual Greek-English edition, ed. & tr. Rosemary Bancroft-Marcus*, vol. 1 (OUP, 2014) [PA5610.C45 A2 CHO 2013]
2. D. Papamarkos* and G. Ragkos, Erōtokritos tou Vintsentzou Kornarou (graphic novel, Polaris, 2016) [PN6790.G73 G68 GOU 2016]

The War of Independence (1820s)
3. Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857), The Free Besieged and other poems, ed. Prof. Mackridge* bilingual edn (Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2000 [22015])

Mid-19th c.
4. Emmanouil Roidis, Papissa Ioanna (graphic novel, illustrated by Dimitris Hantzopoulos, Athens 2018; also forthcoming edn translated as Pope Joan by Prof. Mackridge*)

Turn of 19th-20th c.
5. Alexandros Papadiamandis, The Boundless Garden: selected short stories (Denise Harvey, 2007) [PA2104.P2.A3.B7]
5a. Alexandros Papadiamandis, Around the Lagoon: reminiscences to a Friend. Bilingual edn, tr. Prof. Mackridge* (Denise Harvey, 2014).

20th century
6. C. P. Cavafy, The collected poems, tr. Evangelos Sachperoglou, intro. Prof. Mackridge, bilingual edn (Oxford World Classics, 2007) [PA2105.K5.A14.2007; also Bod]
7. Kostas Karyotakis, Battered guitars: poems and prose, tr. William W. Reader and Keith Taylor (Birmingham: Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, 2006) [PA2105.K4.A2.B3.E5]
8. Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek (Faber Modern Classics, 2016) [Bod]
9. Robert Levesque (tr.), Seferis: choix de poèmes traduits et accompagnés du texte grec avec une préface (1945) [PA2105.S4.A4.L6.F8]
10. Roderick Beaton, George Seferis: waiting for the angel (Yale UP, 2003) [PA2105.S4.Z6.B3.W1 + Bod.]
11. Yannis Ritsos, Selected poems, tr. Nikos Stangos (Penguin, 1974) [Bod]
12. Odysseas Elytis, Selected poems, ed. Edmund Keeley* and Philip Sherrard (Penguin, 1981) [PA5610.E43 A213 ELY 1991]

21st c.
13. Haris Vlavianos*, History of western philosophy in 100 haiku, tr. Prof. Mackridge (Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2015)
14. Karen Van Dyck*, Austerity measures: the new Greek poetry, bilingual edn (Penguin, 2016) [PA5289.E6 AUS 2016]

Battle of the Russian Greats

‘Dostoevsky’s dead,’ said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently.

‘I protest!’ Behemoth exclaimed hotly. ‘Dostoevsky is immortal!’

― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

There is no prerequisite to know Russian if you work at the Taylor. The Slavonic collections returned to our St Giles’ location only three years ago from their home in Wellington Square, the newest layer to our nesting-doll of a library. We even have a cheat sheet for staff to navigate the Cyrillic alphabet, lest they be asked about a book they cannot read.

And yet somehow Russian—the language, the literature, the culture—permeates the building like a foundational block, the missing sister to the European languages carved as goddesses on our Eastern façade. Cyrillic, learned or cheated, is part of our daily rhythm.

After two years working in the Taylor and seeing some mention of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky on a daily basis, I decided it was time to fill the gap in my education and read some of the classics. I started with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in Hilary term and spent Trinity term and the summer holiday reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

“Every person is either a Tolstoy person or a Dostoevsky

person,” one of my colleagues told me as

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

we discussed my progress.

“Well, which are you?” I asked.

“Oh, Tolstoy,” she said firmly.

Another colleague passed by—Nick, our Russian subject librarian.

“How about you?” I asked him. “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?”

He paused. “Oh, that’s a hard one. But I have to go with Dostoevsky.”

We asked another colleague later—

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Trevor, who studied Russian and French as an undergraduate before pursuing a career in libraries.

“Tolstoy,” he answered, nodding enthusiastically.

One by one, we asked the rest of our staff the ultimate Russian literature desert island question: if you had to choose, would you read Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?

The results:

Tolstoy: 9

Dostoevsky: 6

Neither: 2

Abstain: 3

Interestingly, the results are reflected in our collection: we hold 1131 books related to Tolstoy and 986 to Dostoevsky, almost the same ratio. Why, then, the preference for Tolstoy?

His visual language appeals to many of us who find reading Tolstoy like watching a movie, the scenes of Natasha’s dance or Anna’s descent a vivid picture that lingers long after reading. Dostoevsky, in contrast, sends us deep into the human psyche in works that read almost like plays, with harrowing insight into fundamental truths. That depth, though engendering strong loyalty from those who choose him, is daunting for others.

I spoke to one of my Russian colleagues to see how she felt about these two pillars of her national canon.

“For us [Russians], these people are like monuments like Lenin,” she explained. Reading them, especially Dostoevsky, draws her back to a childhood spent playing on snowy streets in the dark Russian winter.

So whom does she choose?

“Chekhov,” she answered after deliberating for a while, preferring his shorter form, lively language, and humour.

A small selection of our Chekhov books

A small selection of our Chekhov books

As for me? I find myself in the majority camp choosing Tolstoy, drawn in by the empathetic way he writes women and the sweeping scale of his stories. I must admit, however, that I think of The Grand Inquisitor and Ivan’s conversation with the Devil more than any individual Tolstoy scene.

We would love to know what our readers think about this battle of the greats. Let us know on our Facebook poll!

Link to Facebook poll

—————————————

Alexandra Zaleski

Taylor Institution Library

The First Oxford-Groningen Old Frisian Summer School

In the lovely sunny week of 8-12th July, twenty-four students gathered in St Edmund Hall for the first edition of the Old Frisian Summer School. Eleven students came from the University of Groningen, most of them Frisian speakers. Others hailed from Oxford or from as far afield as  St Petersburg and Toronto, a mix of undergraduates, postgraduates and post-doctoral researchers. Sessions were held in St Edmund Hall, the Taylor Institution Library and the Weston Library.

Why Old Frisian?

Old Frisian was an Old Germanic language, spoken along the mainland North Sea coast, as far south as the river ‘Zwin’ or, in Old Frisian, ‘Sincfal’, which is nowadays the border between the Netherlands and Belgium, and as far east as to the river Weser in Germany. The area shrunk over time, by 800 AD the river Rhine was the southern border, by the year 1000 the western border was formed by the river Flee. Over time, the area diminished as Prof. Rolf Bremmer (Leiden University) showed in his first lecture ‘The Scope of Old Frisian Studies’.

Map of Frisia in King Radbod’s time, 8th century. Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frisia_716-la.svg Attribution: Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-fr.svg: Sémhur, Eric.dane 800nc ex leg.jpg: RACM & TNO derivative work: Richardprins [CC BY-SA 3.0] River names added by J. Sytsema.

Map of Frisia in King Radbod’s time, 8th century. Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frisia_716-la.svg Attribution: Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-fr.svg: Sémhur, Eric.dane 800nc ex leg.jpg: RACM & TNO derivative work: Richardprins [CC BY-SA 3.0] River names added by J. Sytsema.

Linguistically, Old Frisian is related to Gothic and Old Norse, more closely to Old High German and Old Saxon and most closely to Old English. The Anglo-Frisian connection is so close that some scholars assumed that both languages must stem from one Anglo-Frisian ancestor, before they split into Old English and Old Frisian, the so-called ‘Anglo-Frisian hypothesis’.

Archaeological evidence shows that there were plenty of Anglo-Frisian connections during the 7th and 8th centuries, proven by very similar jewellery and other finds either side of the North Sea, as Nelleke IJssennagger, former curator of the Frisian Museum and co-author of Frisians and their North-Sea Neighbours, showed in her lecture. There was ongoing trade after the settlement of Britain, so language contact must have been maintained in the following centuries.

Dr Nelleke IJssennagger with an image of artefacts from Kent and from Frisia.

Dr Nelleke IJssennagger with an image of artefacts from Kent and from Frisia.

Linguistic similarities between Modern English and Modern Frisian still show the close connection between the two in comparison with German and Dutch:

  Frisian English   German Dutch
vocabulary kaai key Schluessel sleutel
Irregular plurals ko – kij cow – kine (archaic) Kuh-Kühe koe-koeien
goes – gees (archaic) goose – geese Gans – Gänse Gans – ganzen
skiep – skiep sheep – sheep Schaf – Schafe schaap – schapen
Palalisation of k/g tsjerke church Kirche kerk
dei day Tag dag

These similarities are just an example of connections that were much closer at the time of Old English and Old Frisian. The closeness of the two Old Germanic languages led to the Anglo-Frisian hypothesis, the assumption of one common Anglo-Frisian ancestor from which both Old English and Old Frisian descended. Scholars adhered to this hypothesis for a long time, until 1995 when Dr Patrick Stiles (UCL) denounced the theory on phonological grounds. Dr Stiles explained that many supposed ‘Anglo-Frisian’ sound changes are in fact also shared with Old Saxon or Old High German. The only sound changes that are exclusively Anglo-Frisian are the fronting of West Germanic long ā > ē or ǣ and the fronting of West Germanic short a > e or æ. The West Germanic vowel remains unchanged in Old High German, as shown in the table below.

WGmc OE OFris OHG gloss
*dād- dǣd dēd tāt ‘deed’
*dag- dæg dei tag ‘day’

Why a Summer School?

Old Frisian may be regarded as a ‘niche’ subject within the study of Old Germanic languages and is not always part of the curriculum at universities that offer Old Germanic. To enable students and early career researchers with an interest in Old Germanic to familiarise themselves with the Old Frisian language, its history and its textual sources, the Old Frisian Summer School was organised outside of term time. It was a great advantage to have such an international group of delegates, and many were amazed how much they learned in a week, enough to actually translate Old Frisian texts.

Why in Oxford?

Some unique Old Frisian sources are found at Oxford in the Bodleian Library. These manuscripts are the main source of our knowledge of Old West Frisian[1].  Collections of law texts, the manuscripts came to Oxford by Franciscus Junius’ bequest, dated 1677. Junius was a polymath who had taught himself Old Frisian by copying parts of Codex Unia, now ms Junius 49 and ms Junius 109.   He had borrowed Codex Unia from the Frisian history writer Simon Abbes Gabbema, and failed to return it. (Nothing new under the sun!) He must have borrowed Codex Aysma, now Junius 78, from Gabbema, too. These two manuscripts constitute the base of Old Frisian studies at Oxford.

Codex Aysma, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 78

Codex Aysma, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 78

The first lines of Codex Unia, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 49, in the hand of Franciscus Junius.

The first lines of Codex Unia, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 49, in the hand of Franciscus Junius.

 Junius had an interest in Old Frisian as an Old Germanic language. Having studied Gothic, Old English and Old High German, he clearly considered his knowledge of Old Germanic incomplete without knowledge of Old Frisian.  So, unknowingly, he paved the way for further comparative Old Germanic studies at Oxford, and provided a good reason for the choice of Oxford as the first university to host the Old Frisian Summer School.

Was it fun or hard work?

The summer school programme consisted of lectures in the mornings and workshops in the afternoons, interspersed with some social events and library tours and with excellent lunches. The morning lectures covered the grammar and phonology and aspects of the overarching theme of Anglo-Frisian Connections.  Delegates were presented with an introduction to the field of Old Frisian Studies by Prof Rolf Bremmer (Leiden) to set the scene. Dr Leneghan (Oxford) , whose forthcoming monograph on Beowulf will contain a section on the role of the Frisians, a gave a lecture on Frisians in Beowulf, showing the presence of Frisians in Old English Literature.

Viewing Old Frisian manuscripts at the Weston Library.

The Old Frisian manuscripts were viewed during a visit to the Weston Library. The Junius specialist Dr Kees Dekker had come from Groningen to talk about the manuscripts with the help of a visualizer, (a projector showing the text of a manuscript on a screen), in the Visiting Scholars Centre of the Weston Library.

The delegates had to learn Old Frisian grammar in just three lectures; though most students had some prior knowledge of at least one other Old Germanic language, this was still felt to be a crash course.  Following two grammar lectures by Prof Bremmer and Dr Sytsema, Dr Nelson Goering (BA Research Fellow, Somerville College) explained eight sound changes that are typical for Old Frisian. For those interested in comparative Old Germanic, Dr Howard Jones (Oxford) offered a more in-depth comparison of the verbal classes in the Old Germanic languages.

It may have felt like a crash course, but delegates proved to be able to translate some Old Frisian texts with the help of the grammar and the dictionary (see references) of which each delegate had a copy. The translation classes were valued so much so that none of the students wanted to stop at 5pm when they had not finished their assignment! Since the groups were multilingual in a modern sense (English, Frisian and German) and also in an ‘Old Germanic’ sense – knowledge of Old Norse, Old English, Old High German, Old Frisian and Gothic were present in the group – students were able to benefit from each other’s knowledge.

Prof. Nigel Palmer, Emeritus Professor of German Medieval and Linguistic Studies and Fellow  of St Edmund Hall, placed Old Frisian in a wider European context by introducing the 15 Signs of Doomsday, a text based on various Latin exemplars that circulated in Europe in the 13th century. In addition to the many extant medieval High and Low German versions of this text, there is one Old Frisian version. Students translated this into English in the translation workshop. Their English translation will appear on the Old Frisian Summer School website as one of the Summer School outcomes.

Delegates were shown round the Bodleian Library, the Taylor Institution Library and St Edmund Hall Old and New library, thus seeing the places where the Old Frisian manuscripts in the Junius and Marshall collections and Frisian items in the Alistair Campbell Collections are kept.

 

Taylor Institution Library

Main Reading Room, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford

The public lectures on the Anglo-Frisian thesis in the Taylor Library were attended by a wider audience. Some came to see Alistair Campbell’s Frisian collection in the Taylorian. As Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon (1963-1974), Alistair Campbell had shown a great interest in Anglo-Frisian connections and was co-founder of the Frisian Academy.  Some items in the Taylorian collections bear witness of his contacts with other Old Frisian scholars.

Students agreed that the summer school was intensive, but also a lot of fun, as proven by these photographs!

Video report

Fardau Visser compiled this excellent video report of the summer school:

 What’s next?

 Partnership with Groningen University

The OFSS was the first event in the Oxford-Groningen partnership. Groningen University is traditionally the university in the Netherlands where Old Frisian is taught and the library at Groningen holds precious Old Frisian manuscripts, as does the Bodleian in Oxford. Nearly half of the delegates came from Groningen University, and next year it will be Groningen’s turn to organise the summer school. Hopefully, the OFSS will continue to be held on an annual basis in Oxford, Groningen or elsewhere. The spreading of knowledge of Old Frisian language and history should continue, ‘salang’t de wyn fan ‘e wolkens waait’ (as long as the wind blows from the clouds).

Funding

The OFSS could not have happened without the generous funding of TORCH International Partnership Fund and of TORCH Oxford Medieval Small Grants. Also, the studentships made available by the Faculties of Linguistics and of English have enabled some Oxford students to take part. Groningen University has also contributed in various ways, not least in allowing the Old Frisian lecturer Anne Popkema to co-organise the summer school.

Summer school convenors and participants

Summer school convenors and participants

A number of students told me they wanted to come to the summer school again next year in Groningen. There will be a different special topic, as well as an opportunity to see the different manuscripts held by Groningen.

 Old Frisian Network

A mailing list will ensure that delegates, speakers and any other scholars or students with a research interest in Old Frisian can keep in touch and share news. If you would like to join the mailing list, please contact me by email: johanneke.sytsema@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

 

Johanneke Sytsema

Subject Librarian for Linguistics, Dutch and Frisian, Bodleian Libraries

Linguistics lecturer, St Edmund Hall

 

[1] Old East Frisian manuscripts are kept in Leeuwarden, Groningen and Oldenburg.

References

Bremmer, R.H.Jr. (2009) An introduction to Old Frisian : history, grammar, reader, glossary. Amsterdam/Philadelphia : John Benjamins.

Dekker, C. (2000) ‘Francis Junius (1591-1677): copyist or editor?’, In: M. Lapidge, M. Godden, & S. Keynes (Eds.), Anglo-Saxon England Volume 29 (pp. 279 – 296). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hofmann, D and A. Popkema (2008) Altfriesisches Handwörterbuch. Heidelberg : Winter.

Leneghan, F. (forthcoming) The Dynastic Drama of “Beowulf”.

Hines, J. & IJssennagger, N. (2017) Frisians and their North-Sea Neighbours. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK : The Boydell Press.

Gerhardt, Ch. & N. Palmer (1992) Das Münchner Gedicht von den fünfzehn Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht : nach der Handschrift der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek Cgm 717 : Edition und Kommentar.

Giliberto, C. (2007) ‘The Fifteen Signs of Doomsday of the First Riustring Manuscript’, in Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, 2007, Vol.64(1), pp.129-152.

Stiles, P. (1995) ‘Remarks on the ‘Anglo-Frisian’ Thesis’, in: Friesische Studien II: Beiträge des Föhrer Symposiums zur Friesischen Philologie vom 7.–8. April 1994.
Herausgegeben von Volkert F. Faltings, Alastair G.H. Walker und Ommo Wilts
[
NOWELE Supplement Series 12]. 177-220.

Sytsema, J. (2012) Diplomatic Edition Codex Unia http://tdb.fryske-akademy.eu/tdb/index-unia.html

Sytsema, J. (2018) ‘Old Frisian studies in Oxford’, in: It Beaken, vol.80, 3-4. 202-220.

 

Ancient Scripts and language

In a packed lecture room in the Taylor Institution Library, John Coleman, Professor of Phonetics at Oxford, gave a fascinating seminar on the connection between Ancient Scripts and language. He focused on the following questions; “What might writing systems reveal about how people think (or thought) about their languages? How are differences between writing systems relate to differences between languages?”

He pointed out that script is relatively young, as the earliest examples of writing date back only 6000 years (to 4000 BC), whereas 200,000 years ago homo sapiens already had speech. The importance of writing language down was illustrated by the request to the University from a non-literate speaker of Nipode Uitoto, an oral South American language, to invent a writing system for his language. The request reached Oxford via a linguistics student when he did fieldwork in the area. In the recorded message the speaker said “…We truly want to know about our language so that we can teach our word to our children. […] if it is truly possible to write down our language, I want to know how this can be done.”

In the Middle East, script developed from ideographs (characters representing concepts) to syllabic script (characters representing sounds). The oldest texts were either written on stone or on clay tablets, some of which have survived. In Oxford, we don’t have far to go to see examples: the Ashmolean Museum holds clay tablets as well as engraved stones. The stone monument pictured below is engraved with Hieroglyphic Luwian, where some symbols represent a whole word but most represent syllables.

Stone monument from Carchemish (modern Jarablus, Syria) written in Hieroglyphic Luwian.

Stone monument, Ashmolean Museum.

Syllabic scripts were regarded as systems of sounds that could be listed in syllabaries; lists of symbols that represent syllables with a consonant and a vowel in one symbol or element. There are examples of such syllabaries in various languages, including the Native American language Cherokee, Japanese, Amharic (Ethiopic) and the Linear B writing system used to write Mycenean Greek. Since the symbols consist of just one element representing sounds like ‘da’ or ‘ja’, these symbols show no understanding of the distinction between consonants and vowels.

Mycenaean Greek (Linear B)

Bilingual texts can help us to decipher scripts and translate unknown languages. For example, the extract below from an Old Babylonian grammar with Sumerian translation gives us an insight into both languages. We can see in the chart below that Sumerian has more inflections than Babylonian.  Members of the Babylonian elite were keen to learn the Sumerian language as it was seen as more prestigious.

Extract from Old Babylonian Grammatical Text I (c.1600 BC)

Ancient Chinese writing, which is entirely separate from the Middle Eastern tradition, also shows some awareness of sound structure. The majority of Chinese characters are picto-phonetic, so every character has a meaning in itself, but can also be used for its phonetic value as a sound.  Even in the case of pictograms that do not have an internal structure, there are some examples indicating that scholars analysed the syllable in two parts as in the rhyme tables below.

Ancient Chinese (700 AD)

In conclusion, the earliest writing is based on both meaning and sounds, so even the oldest symbols could already represent sounds. “Sounds” usually means syllables or parts of syllables. Moving to writing based on sounds makes literacy easier to acquire and makes it possible to read and write almost anything, including intangible meanings and foreign names. Almost as soon as scribal education started, we have documents about language: sign-lists, lists of vocabulary, lists of translations, grammatical paradigms … in other words, what we once called Grammar and now call Linguistics.

Many thanks to Prof. Coleman for the content of this blog. You can listen to the full lecture and see the slides here.

……………..

Johanneke Sytsema, Linguistics Librarian

…………….

Further reading

Senner, W. M. ed. 1991. The Origins of Writing. University of Nebraska Press.

Naveh, Joseph. 1982. Early history of the alphabet : an introduction to West Semitic epigraphy and palaeography. Jerusalem : Magnes Press, Hebrew University ; Leiden : E.J. Brill.

Powell, Barry B. 2012. Writing : theory and history of the technology of civilization. Chichester : Wiley-Blackwell.

Robinson, Andrew. 2009. Writing and script : a very short introduction Oxford : Oxford University Press

Jean, Georges. 1992. Writing : the story of alphabets and scripts. London : Thames & Hudson.

Harris, Roy. 1986. The origin of writing.  La Salle, Ill : Open Court.

Daniels, Peter T. and William Bright, eds. 1996. The World’s Writing Systems. OUP.

Coulmas, Florian. 1989. The Writing Systems of the World. Blackwell.

Sampson, Geoffrey.1985. Writing Systems, a Linguistic Introduction. London: Hutchinson.

Cohen, Marcel. 1958. La grande invention de l’écriture et son evolution. Paris : Impr. Nationale.

Baines, John. J.Bennet and S.D.Houston. 2008. The disappearance of writing systems : perspectives on literacy and communication. London : Equinox.

Asher, R. E. and E. J. A. Henderson, eds. 1981. Towards a History of Phonetics. Edinburgh University Press.

Jacobsen, T. ‘Very Ancient Linguistics’, in: Hymes, D.ed., Studies in the History of Linguistics: Traditions and Paradigms. Indiana University Press. pp.41-62.

Veldhuis, Niek. 2014. History of the Cuneiform Lexical Tradition. Münster : Ugarit-Verlag.

Glassner, Jean-Jacques. 2003. The Invention of Cuneiform. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Melchert, H. Craig, ed. 2003. The Luwians. Brill.

Han, Jiantang. 2012. Chinese characters. Cambridge University Press

Tsien, Tsuen-hsuin. 2013. Written on bamboo and silk : the beginnings of Chinese books and inscriptions. Chicago ; London : University of Chicago Press.

Drucker, Johanna. 1995. The alphabetic labyrinth : the letters in history and imagination. London : Thames & Hudson.