Monthly Archives: November 2011

What did the Carolingians have against the Jews?

The OHG Isidore translation
and it’s background

A friend of mine is doing her PhD on early medieval glossaries, which brings her often to Leiden University to work with facsimiles and original early medieval manuscripts, some of them containing glossaries that are highly valuable to the linguist, although linguists rarely turn to the manuscripts themselves. We had an interesting discussion on why glossaries were collected in the first place and, more importantly, the early medieval origins of vernacular translations on the continent. Somewhere in the discussion I mentioned the Old High German translation of Isidore’s De fide catholica ex veteri et novo testamento contra Iudaeos, remembering that linguistically it was highly archaic which suggested that it must have been written before the ninth century. We both wondered why in heavens name a sixth century tractate agains the Jews was translated in the vernacular in the first place, a wondering which demanded further inquiry.

As far as we both knew the Jews were a quite insignificant minority in Carolingian society (especially in the Germanic speaking parts of the empire) who mostly worked in trade enterprises and held some small but controversial privileges, although being generally discriminated against in legal matters. In this blogpost I want to discuss the main manuscript in which the text is preserved, lay out why the tractate was translated and give you a small fragment of the text, i.e. the latin original, the OHG translation and a modern English translation of the Latin and the Old High German.

                The text that we will discuss is known as De fide catholica ex veteri et novo testamento contra Iudaeos, written by bishop Isidoris Hispalensis, Isidore of Sevilla, around 614-615 as a theological motivation to a royal decree of the Visigothic king Sisebut, ordering all Jews to convert to christianity. The Old High German translation is preserved in a late eighth century manuscript, kept in the Bibliothèque National de Paris (BN lat. 2326), and a fragment of the text is to be found in another manucript, this one preserved in Vienna (ÖNB cod. 3093). Palaeograpically the text in the Paris manuscript, evidently a copy of the original, uses an orthograpical system commonly used in Murbach. The Isidor-fragment is preceded in the Paris manuscript by an OHG translation of  the Matthew gospel, another text which the editors of the manuscript called de vocatione gentium, the final part of an eigth century sermon and sermon LXXVI of Augustine. The Latin and vernacular are given in two seperate columns. Linguistically it seems preferable to place the author of the translation in Lorraine, since the language used is Old South Rhine Franconian. Metz, St. Avold and Hornbach have been suggested as possible places. Kowalski-Fahrun convincingly argued for an early Carolingian date to the translation, since linguistically the Old High German preserved in the texts is quite archaic.

                This can be illustrated by the fact that the common OHG syncope in the past participles and the preterite of the weak verbs has not yet taken place, certain unique OHG forms are used that only have a corresponding form in Gothic (OHG lyuzilla cf. Goth luttila, OHG chillaubin cf. Goth. gilaubi, OHG mittingart cf. Goth midjungarda, OHG geizzsi cf. Goth. gaitin) and certain archaic morphological traits, such as the preservation of the u-declination, the m-ending in the first singular of the present tense, as seen in bim and sculim, and the dative plural ending in –m.

With an early dating of the text corroborated by linguistic arguments, placing the translation in the beginning of the reign of Charlemagne (770’s AD) seems reasonable, although most vernacular writings are connected to late Carolingian scholarship in the closing years of the eighth and beginning of the ninth century.  Even with a late dating of the translation, the OHG Isidore, together with the Monsee-Wiener-Fragmente, would be the oldest witness to Carolingian theological writings in the vernacular.

It is believed that the reasons for the translation of the Latin text in the vernacular were purely practical. For Isidor had collected in his tractate exhaustively all the passages of the Old Testament that had any connection to Christ and he gave an excerpt of all material from the Old Testament, with the exception of the psalms, that was necessary for the support and understanding of the christian faith. It was, as it were, a survey of messianistic prophesies along with the necessary explanations historically ordered. It would have functioned as a practical teaching manual while the original intentions of the sixth century author were pushed into the background. This is corroborated by the fact that Latin iudaeos is translated by unchilaubun, i.e. “infidels” or “unbelievers”, showing that the identification of the antagonists as Jews against whom the tractate was originally meant, was secondary.  The sixth century work contra iudaeos presented to the early Carolingian clergy the quintessence of Old Testamentic writings relevant for a proper understanding of the true faith and it is probably there where we have to look for the reasons behind the OHG translation. Remarkable is the fact that the Latin is translated in what looks like mostly genuine OHG syntax. Also, in a lot of places the OHG is a very loose translation of the Latin, aiming to convey the meaning of the text, not so much the form. The Tatian translation with its word-for-word glossing style is in many ways a step back from the high-level translating skills shown in the OHG Isidore.

                To give you an idea of what the text looks like here a fragment of the OHG Isidore translation, the Latin and the OHG, to which I added an English translation of the Latin and an English translation of the OHG. Personally, I find the late antique and early medieval logic in theological matters that this text conveys highly amusing and risible.

Latin version

4. Si Christus deus non est, dicant Iudaei nobis, quem sit affatus deus in Genesi cum diceret: ‘Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram.’ Sic enim subiungitur : ‘Et creavit deus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem dei creavit illum’. Quaerant ergo quis deus creavit , aut ad cuius dei imaginem condidit hominem quem creavit.

5. Quod si respondeant : ‘ad angelum,’, num angelus aequalem cum deo
habet imaginem, dum multum distet imago creaturae ab eo qui creavit. Aut numquid
angelus cum deo potuit facere hominem ? Quod ita existimare magnae
dementiae est. Cui ergo dicitur, aut ad cuius imaginem conditus homo creditur,
nisi ad eius, cuius una imago cum deo est et unicum nomen divinitatis est.

English translation
of the Latin

4. If Christ isn’t god, as the Jews may say to us, to whom would God have spoken in Genesis when he says: ‘Let us make man in our image and our likeness.’ Because it is joined with the following : ‘And god created man,  in the image and likeness of god he created him’. Thus they may ask which god created or in the image of which god he composed the man that he created.

5. But if they may answer: ‘in the image of the angel,’ does the angel not have an image similar to god, while the image of that being is very different to him who created.  Or surely the angel couldnt make man together with god? To believe this is a sign of great folly. To whom is it said thusly or in the image of whom is man believed to be composed, unless in the image of him, whose one image is with god and is the sole name of divinity?

Eighth century Old Rhine
Franconian rendering of the Latin

4. Ibu Christ got nist, sagheen nu dhea unchilaubun uns, zi huuemu got uuari sprehhendi
in Genesi, dhar ir quhad : ‘duoemes mannan uns anachiliihhan endi in unseru chiliihnissu’. So dhar auh after ist chiquhedan : ‘endi got chiscuof mannan anachiliihhan endi chiliihhan gote chifrumida dhen’. Suohhen dhea nu auur, huuelih got chiscuofi, odho in huuelihhes gotnissu anachiliihhan
mannan chifrumidi, dhen ir chiscuof.

5. Ibu sie antuurdant endi quhedant : ‘in angilo’: Inu ni angil nist anebanchiliih gote? Dhanne so dhrate mihhil undarscheit ist undar dhera chiscafti chiliihnissu endi dhes izs al chiscuof. Odho mahti angil so sama so got mannan chifrumman ? Dhazs so zi chilaubanne mihhil uuootnissa ist. Huuema ist dhiz nu zi quhedanne odho zi huues chiliihnissu uuardh man chiscaffan, nibu zi dhes dher anaebanliih ist gote endi chinamno ist mit godu ?

English translation
of the Old High German

                4. if Christ isn’t god, the unbelievers may say to us, to whom is god speaking in Genesis, where he says: “Let us make man similar to us and in our likeness.’ And where also is said after that:
‘and god created man, similar and liking to god he created him. However they may ask, which god would have created or in the likeness of which god he would have made man, when he created him.

                5. If they may answer and may say: “in the image of the angel’: is the angel not similar to god? Because there is a very big difference in the likeness of that creature and of him who created all. Or would the angel and god have created man together? To believe this is great folly. To whom should this be said or in the likeness of whom is man created, if not of him who is similar to god and who is the namesake of God.


Wilhelm Braune, Althochdeutsche Grammatik (12th edition 1967: Tübingen 1868).

Braune, Wilhelm, Althochdeutsches Lesebuch (17th edition 1994 Tübbingen; 1875).

Eckhardt Meinecke et Judith Schwerdt, Einführung in das Althochdeutsche (Paderborn 2001).

Herta Kowalski-Fahrun, “Alkuin und der Ahd. Isidor”, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 47 (1923) 312–324.

Horses in the Heroic Age


Johnny Cheung, Studies in the Historical
Development of the Ossetic Vocalism
, Beiträge zur Iranistik 21 (Wiesbaden

W.L. Van Helten,
Altosfriesische Grammatik (Leeuwarden, 1890)

A. Van Loey, Schönfeld’s
Historische Grammatica van het Nederlands
(6th edition; Zutphen, 1959).

Dirk Boutkan and Sjoer Michiel Siebinga, Old
Frisian Etymological Dictionary
(leiden 2005).

a suspicion also uttered by De Vries in his “Etymologisch Woordenboek van het



[4] The wide distribution of similar
forms (e.g. ORus. xъmelь
,  Hung. komlo, Finn. humala) has
been explained by Abaev by positing an Alano-Ossetic origin for all these
words, going back to PIIr. *hauma-aryaka,
the famed haoma of the Gathas, although Cheung sees a formal problem in
that *aryaka should have yielded
Ossetic **ælæg and not ællæg.

Belgian Beer, Belgian toponyms and Belgian i-umlaut

The Belgians make some fine beers…whatever side of the planet you´re
from, it is very likely that you have heard this or experienced this yourself.
If not, go to a pub and get hammered right now! One of these fine beers is
Leffe blond, a soft fruity beer with a bitter aftertase. However, I am not here
to advertise beer brands, I am hear to talk about the name Leffe and its
toponymics. When I was grabbing a beer this week with one of my friends I thought
that the name Leffe, named after the 12th century Belgian abbey
where the beer was originally brewed, contained the toponymical element –effe­,
going back to Pgmc *-aχwjō. Unfortunately, a quick peek in Maurits
Gysseling’s “Toponymisch Woordenboek” proved me wrong by showing the first
attestation of the name as leffle in 1152 AD. This name is probably to
be connected with a proper name Leffo and a toponymical element *-lauha
meaning “woodland”. However, the foundation of the abbey was carried out by
monks from a place called Floreffe, which does contain the element –effe. In
this post I want to explore the specifics concerning the historical development
of this element.

                The toponyms named
by Gysseling as containing this element are the following, given with the
proposed etymology.



First attestation






< Ofrnk *bōn[1]-aχwjō



ca 700

< Ofrnk *flōr-aχwjō




< Ofrnk *hunu-aχwjō




< Ofrnk *leni?-aχwjō




< Ofrnk *marna?[3]-aχwjō



ca 900

< Ofrnk *soni-aχwjō



ca 1070

< Ofrnk *sumbro?[4]-aχwjō



ca 1050

< Ofrnk *walha- aχwjō


The first remarkable thing that springs to mind is that the Old Frankish
fricative /h/ or /χ/ is represented as /f/ in the attestation,
with the exception of the eighth century[5]
attestation florechia for Floreffe. This, however, is a very common
soundchange seen in numerous branches of language families (e.g. Latin, where
PIE */gwh/ turns Italic */χw/ before yielding /f/ in
Sabellian and Latin) and is the regular Romance soundsubstitution of Germanic
*/χ/ in the combinations Old Frankish */χr-/[6]
and */χl-/. Wordinternally, Old Frankish */-χw-/ was replaced
by Pre-French /-ff-/ as shown in the Pre-French latinization of Old Frankish *skōhwāri
as Mlat scoffarius. Wordinternal /-χχj-/ is romanized distinctly as
shown by Old French gehir from Old Frankish *jeχχjan. Consider
the following etymologies.








< *hlanka

MHG lenken


descendant of Clovis

< *hlodowing




< *hlāwa-

Dutch lauw



< *hrok

Dutch rok


to wrinkle

< *hrunkjan

ON hrukka


to hit

< *hrappjan

ON hrappr

gehir (OFr)

to confess

< *jeχχjan

Dutch biecht < *bi-jeχti

scoffarius (Mlat)


< *skōhwāri

Germ Schuster


The development which eventually yielded –effe is best
illustrated by the early attestations of Floreffe, both dating to the eighth
century, although their copies are centuries younger, preserved in eleventh
century manuscripts containing the eighth century Vita Sancti Bertuini.







8th c. 11th
c. Copy

form already underwent
i-mutation, Gmc fricative intact


8th c. 11th
c. Copy

Romance development of Lat
/ō/ > */eu/ reflected in spelling?



Romance substitution of
Germanic */-χw-/ for /-ff-/



first geminate spelling

In the case of Floreffe, the first attestation shows the fricative /χ/
in the spelling /ch/[7],
herein being the only attestation of the toponymical element showing such an
archaic state of affairs. The first vowel of the second element is ostensibly
umlauted under influence of the yod in the following syllable. This umlaut is
evidently of Germanic origin for several reasons. Firstly, Pre-French metaphony
would not have been active in clusters other than /ry/ and /sy/ (e.g.
Vulg.Lat. area > Mod.Fr. aire [ɛr], Vulg.Lat. basiare
> Mod.Fr. baiser [beze]). Secondly, the closed syllable of the
element would have preserved the /a/ if the element was accented
independently (compare Pgmc *þwaχhlja > Mod.Fr. touaille [twajə]).
Finally, a Pre-French soundchange in the second toponymic element would be
highly unlikely since the vowel in the first toponymic element remains
unaffected by Pre-French diphtongization of old /ō/ to */eu/
<e>? (this */eu/ presumably develops to */œu/
before being simplified to /œ/ <eu> of Modern French) in
most of the attestations. Therefore it seems very likely that the first
attestation of the toponym as florechia reflects a development stage
before romanization of the toponym and possibly before romanization of the
place Floreffe itself.

 The fact that it already underwent i-mutation would
point to a early completion of the process since the early eighth century
versions of the abrogans-list still show largely unmutated vowels.  The Germanic umlaut also tells us that the
Germanic language that was spoken in that area was part of the Frankish dialect
continuum, since in other dialects of Old High German the cluster would have
prevented umlaut from taking place. (e.g. compare the usual OHG sahhis,
to the Frankish of the OHG Tatian, sehhis, sehhit), a feature
that Frankish shares with Old English, e.g. OE hliehhan < *χlaχχjan).
 A final remark is warranted by the
historical and modern geminate spelling /-ff-/. Is this a West-Germanic
gemination before yod? It may be that the form Old Frankish *aχwjō already
underwent gemination before yod, thus yielding *aχχwjō, then i-mutation
took place and subsequently the geminate got romanized as [f:]
<ff>, thus *-eχχwja > *-effia. However, MLat scoffarius shows that the cluster /
χw/yielded a geminate anyway.




Edouard, précis historique de phonetique française nouvelle collection a

Gamillscheg, Ernst, Romania germanica. (Berlin:1970).

Gaston Zink, phonétique
historique du français
(Paris, 1986).

Kr. Nyrop, Grammaire
historique de la langue française
, tome deuxième (Copenhagen, 1960).

Ti Alkire and Carol
Rosen, Romance languages; a historical introduction (Cambridge, 2010).

A. J. Greimas, Dictionnaire
de l’ancien français; jusqu’au milieu du XIVe siècle
(Larousse, 1989).

Wilhelm Braune, Althochdeutsche Grammatik (12th edition 1967: Tübingen



[1] Gysseling reconstructs Old
Frankish *bōn in the meaning of “roseau” (reed), however, strictly
speaking also the element *bauna is eligible for consideration, for Old
Frankish /au/ was already monophtongized in the 10th century, as
evidenced in the Wachtendonckse Psalmen.

[2] But hunafie is attestated in
a diploma from 1034, although preserved in a 17th century copy it
clearly shows a more archaic form.

[3] A suffix *-na to Pgmc *maraz

[4] a proper name Sumbro is
suggested by the toponym Sombrin which is first attested as sumbring, showing
a patronymic suffix.

[5] However, the surviving copy date
back to the 11th century.

[6] The Romanisation of Old Frankish */χr-/
however is not unproblematic, where some dialects do substitute /fr-/ and some
/r-/, these differences may reflect a chronological distribution.

[7] a spelling also encountered
in the 6th century Salic law and Merovingian chronicals and