Friday, September 27, 2013

A very short review: David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language

Anthony, David W. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton University Press, 2007.
When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be an archeologist. From the time I was in high school through graduating from college,  my interests shifted towards historical linguistics. If I had not sold out to the siren call of German medieval studies, I would have dreamed of writing a book like The Horse, the Wheel, and Language.

I did at least maintain older Germanic languages and Germanic linguistics as a secondary focus in graduate school, and I still like to curl up with a good book on the Indo-European languages whenever I get a chance. For that alone, David Anthony's book is richly rewarding. But more importantly, Anthony thoroughly integrates the expansion of Indo-European languages into the archeological picture of Eastern Europe and Central Asia that has emerged over the last thirty years. Most impressive of all is that doing so required Anthony not only to deal with the massive bodies of work in two widely disparate fields, but also to solve a number of hitherto unsolved problems in archeology, include where and when horseback riding began.

While largely confirming J. P. Mallory's view of Proto-Indo-European as a language of the Pontic Steppe of ca. 3000 B.C., The Horse, the Wheel, and Language adds several new and important aspects. I was surprised at the sheer number and complexity of cultural transitions in the archeological record preceding the proposed speakers of Proto-Indo-European. I found it immensely useful to have the linguistic evidence for early contacts with Finno-Ugric and Northwest Caucasian languages grounded in archeology. And several years after I had subtitled an undergraduate course on the history of the German language as "Our Heritage: Barbarian Invaders from the Steppes," I was pleased to see that the archeological record of Proto-Indo-European interaction with the cultures of Old Europe included more than plunder and pillage.

I particularly liked the author's fair treatment of alternative approaches to the Proto-Indo-European question, even while he takes a definite stand for or against one side or the other. Anthony makes a convincing argument that identifying the Indo-European expansion with the seventh-millennium B.C. spread of agricultural from Anatolia runs into intractable linguistic and archeological problems.

I would very much like to see more work of this type. The prehistory of the Germanic languages is still marked by some uncertainty and controversy; could Anthony's proposed origin for the Germanic languages in the Usatovo culture of ca. 3300-2800 B.C. be linked through similar linguistic and archeological study to the history of Germanic peoples in Europe? Anthony "hazards a guess" that has Germanic spreading "up the Dniester from the Usatovo culture through a nested series of patrons and clients," eventually reaching the "late [Trichterbecher] communities between the Dniester and the Vistual" that later "evolved into early Corded Ware communities," which in turn "provided the medium through which the Pre-Germanic dialects spread over a wider area" (360). If it hasn't been done already, I'd like to see a convincing case that connects these archeological categories to linguistic ones like "East Germanic" or even "Ingvaeonic" that are more familiar to Germanists, just as Anthony has done for Proto-Indo-European.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Catching up with the ÖNB

As I've spent the last several years scouring bibliographies of early printing and digitalization projects for facsimiles of one kind or another, I wondered several times why there was not much available from the Austrian National Library in Vienna. There seemed to be some subject-specific projects - Bibles, for example - but nothing of any scale, and nothing that I needed. I started mentally filing away works with a unique copy in Vienna as things that I would have to order individually, or never see.

No long ago, however, I started seeing fifteenth and sixteenth-century digital editions turning up on Google Books with an ÖNB ex libris. Interesting, I thought. They must be starting to digitize their early printed books.

So recently I thought I should check to see what was available from Vienna. To my pleasant surprise, I found a new (to me) search engine that made finding digital editions from the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries (or any other time period) very easy. How many editions had been digitized already?

20,565. That's twenty-thousand, five hundred and sixty-five. And counting.

So now I'll need to take some time to see if there's anything available that I'm interested in. A few trial searches each turned up digital facsimiles of things I hadn't seen before, like the 1551 Gulfferich edition of Lichtenberger's Prognosticatio. I'll have to start searching systematically.

I usually try to catch up with a digitalization project and then follow the RSS feed to follow new editions as they come in. There is an RSS button on the page, but it doesn't see to provide a feed that Thunderbird can understand.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua ignota: a basic bibliography

The fourth article I ever published -  “A New Gloss on Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua ignota,” Viator 36 (2005): 217-32 - was actually the reason I became a medievalist. I had started grad school with the firm intention of becoming a historical linguist, which had been my chosen field since I was a college sophomore. Then in the third week of grad school in my survey of medieval literature, I stumbled upon a topic that was just right for my seminar paper and, eventually, for a master's thesis: Hildegard of Bingen's Lingua ignota, a list of words from an unknown language with Latin and German glosses. For the first time in my life, I was digging into centuries' worth of scholarly research, staring at manuscript facsimiles, and reclaiming new disciplinary knowledge from the unsleeping seas of ignorance and forgetfulness. At least that's what it felt like at the time. It was pretty intoxicating stuff, and I was hooked. I worked tirelessly on my thesis throughout 1997, defended it in December...and then sat on it. I didn't get around to thinking about publication until 2004, when I was in my first post-Ph.D. position and had a better idea how publishing fit into academic careers.

In some ways, the delay was unfortunate. In other ways, everyone is better off for it. When I picked up my thesis again, I had enough distance from the topic that I could pare away the wandering tangents, insignificant observations, and the parts that didn't even convince me anymore. The 160-page thesis turned into a 16-page article, and the slimming down by 90% still seems about right to me.

Those interested in the topic will find a great deal of material about the Lingua ignota, but in some cases enthusiasm outstripped understanding. A short bibliography of indispensable works might look like this:

  • Wiesbaden Hessische Landesbibliothek Hs 2, fols. 461v-464v. (online facsimile)
  • Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Ms. lat. quart. 674, fols. 58r-62r.
Scholarly editions
  • Higley, Sarah Lynn. Hildegard of Bingen’s Unknown Language: An Edition, Translation, and Discussion. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Roth, F. W. E. Die Geschichtsquellen des Niederrheingaus, Theil III: Sonstige Geschichtsquellen des Niederrheingaus. Wiesbaden, 1880. 457-65.
  • Steinmeyer, Elias, and Eduard Sievers. Die althochdeutschen Glossen. Berlin: Weidmann, 1895. 3:390-404.
    [Higley's edition is the most modern, but anyone thinking of digging into the topic should become familiar with the manuscripts and the older editions as well.]
Relevant sections in larger works on Hildegard
  • Embach, Michael. Die Schriften Hildegards von Bingen: Studien zu ihrer Überlieferung und Rezeption im Mittelalter und in der Frühen Neuzeit. Berlin: Akademie, 2003. 252-86.
    [Embach's book is a thorough updating of Schrader and Führkötter. I didn't become aware of it until my article was in print, unfortunately.]
  • Schrader, Marianna, and Adelgundis Führkötter. Die Echtheit des Schrifttums der Heiligen Hildegard von Bingen: Quellenkritische Untersuchungen. Cologne: Böhlau, 1956. 51-54.
    [This was a groundbreaking work for Hildegard studies, and secured the Lingua ignota as authentically Hildegard's.]

Recent scholarly literature
  • Green, Jonathan.  “A New Gloss on Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua ignota.” Viator 36 (2005): 217–32.
    [Yes, I would actually list my own article as required reading on the topic, but I might be biased.]
  • Schnapp, Jeffrey T. “Virgin Words: Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua ignota and the Development of Imaginary Languages Ancient to Modern,” Exemplaria 3.2 (1991) 268-98.
    [As one of the first modern scholarly treatments of the Lingua ignota, Schnapp's article has been very influential.]
Older scholarly literature
  • Reutercrona, Hans. “De fornhögtyska Hildegardglossorna och deras ‘Lingua ignota:’ Ett språkligt kuriosum,” Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift: Filosofi, Språkvetenskap och Historiska Vetenskaper 5 (1921): 93-110.
    [Reutercrona's article is often overlooked as it was written in Swedish, but it shouldn't be forgotten. It was one of the first scholarly articles that wasn't invested in the cultural politics of Hildegard's sainthood, and it's the most thorough attempt to date to analyze the Lingua ignota etymologically. Even if I think that method is a dead end, the idea of approaching it as a linguistic problem is still basically correct.]
  • Grimm, Wilhelm. “Wiesbader Glossen,” Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 6 (1848): 321-40.
    [Grimm, on the other hand, was invested in the cultural politics of Hildegard's sainthood, and it shows. Since Wilhelm Grimm is Wilhelm Grimm, and he was publishing in ZfdA, people still refer to him.]

Friday, September 6, 2013

Coburg LB Mo A 12

Over the last several weeks, the Landesbibliothek Coburg has released digital facsimiles of the entire content of a volume (shelf mark Mo A 12) compiled in the sixteenth century mostly including practicas and other astrological prognostications from Grünpeck, Virdung, Carion, and many others, including eight booklets that appear to be unique copies. The appearance of more digital facsimiles is always to be welcomed, and the contribution from Coburg is particularly important. For the survival of early modern pamphlets, compiled volumes like this were essential. There are similar volumes in Erlangen, Zwickau, and several other places that I'd love to have available online, and I'd like to see more research done on how these volumes were compiled, and by whom, and why. Coburg's online catalog provides links to the facsimiles (search for "mo a 12" as the Signatur).

The appearance of these facsimiles does point to one problem that none of the digitalization projects have effectively solved, however. While the booklets were collected and bound together as a single unit, the electronic facsimiles obscure many features of the compilation, including the binding and the sequence of pamphlets. The Coburg catalog at least makes it possible to get a list of all the pamphlets in the volume when searched by shelf mark, but in other catalogs it's nearly impossible to determine what else is contained in a compiled volume, and what order any other elements occur in. There are still some things where spending time in Coburg or München can't be entirely replaced by staring at facsimiles.