Relations between Indo-European and the Caucasus

only or only Myth?


Last semester, as part of my MA in
Comparative Indo-European Linguistics at Leiden University, I took a class with
prof.dr. Alexander Lubotksy in Ossetic, a language spoken in the northern
Caucasus. This was my first introduction to the languages of the Caucausus,
although Ossetic is technically speaking not a Caucasian language, but rather a
Caucasized Indo-European language from the Northeast-Iranian branch. Having
spent a semester reading Nart sagas and marvelling at the rich case system and
consonantism of Ossetic, in the summer the opportunity came along to enroll in
a summerschool course by the name of “introduction to the Nakh-Daghestanian
languages”, taught by Diana Forker from the Max Planck institute in Leipzig. In
this course we were introduced to grammatical features of especially the
Daghestanian languages, e.g. Avar, Tzesh and the language that ms. Forker was
working on, Hinuq.

These two courses enriched me with a
rather large fascination for the Caucasus and it’s languages. The linguistic
features of the area which the Arabs call “the mountain of languages” look both
familiar and exotic to the Indo-Europeanist and therefore it constitutes an
interesting means of typological comparison for phonological developments
postulated for Proto-Indo-European. Ivanov and Gamkrelidze turned to the Nakh
consonantism to strengthen their glottalic theory of the Proto-Indo-European
stops and their purported development in the daughter languages. Even in the
strict linguistic realm connections between the Caucasus and Indo-European seem
plausible if one considers the obvious relation between PIE *snusos and
the Proto-Nakh *nuso, both of them meaning “daughter-in-law”!

In my search for more information on
the Narts and the Caucasian languages I quickly came across a book written by
John Colarusso, called “Nart sagas from the Caucasus” which is an amazing collection
of Nart sagas from the Northwest-Caucasian language communities, e.g. Ubykh,
Abchaz, Abaza, etc. It didnt take me long to figure out that Colarusso also
wrote some lengthy and interesting articles in the Journal for Indo-European
studies on comparative mythology and the phyletic relations between
Indo-European and the Northwest-Caucasus. The articles testify to his extensive
erudition and knowledge of the Indo-European languages, but I was surprised how
easily he accepted controversial views on root-derivation postulated by
Watkins. Thereupon I found a book called “current trends between Caucasian,
Eastern-Indo-European and Asian linguistics” which contained an article that
really got me suscipicous to his linguistic approach of specific problems in
Indo-European studies.

In this article called “More Pontic”
Colarusso wants to postulate a prehistoric phyletic relationship between
Proto-Indo-European and Northwest-Caucasian, which, according to him, can
enlighten some longstanding problems in Indo-European studies. His
argumentation on PIE reoconstructions and his interpretation of the glottalic
element of the PIE consonantism leans heavily on suggestions made by Eric Hamp
and it is especially the interpretation of the PIE larygeals that lead Colarusso
to link the reconstructed PIE forms to his reconstruction of
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian. In this essay I want to take the first etymon, *h1eḱṷos,
 that is elaborated on in Colarusso’s article and point at some
problems and leaps of argumentation which are present in it.

Colarusso starts with the word for
“horse” in PIE, commonly reconstructed as *h1eḱṷos, a
word widely attested in the Indo-European languages. This word has been
plausibly connected to the word for “swift” attested in Greek as ὠκύς by Jasanoff,
Beekes and Kloekhorst, in doing so attributing the onomagenisis of the word to
cryptonymic animal names, in this case calling a horse “the swift one”. To get
back to the word for “horse”, the Greek reflex
also attested in Mycenaean in a primitive form iqqo <i-qo>,
presents us with some problems. How did Greek get the i-vocalism? How
did Greek get the aspiration? A suggestion postulated by Hamp and accepted by
Colarusso would be that a laryngeal cluster caused the aspiration and a
schwa-secundum developing into a compromised e-grade between the
laryngeal cluster and the palatal caused the i-vocalism. The
laryngeal cluster would be constituted by *h3 followed by *h1,
according to the communis opinio representing ʕ
and ʔ. As
support for the assumption that the laryngeal cluster contained a pharyngeal
element (PIE *ʕ
or *H3)
he points at a marginal Northeast Caucasian language, Udi, in which the word
for “horse” is /eʕkw/ with a plural / eʕk-ur/.
On the basis of the link with “horse” Colarusso reconstructs the word for
“swift” also with these laryngeals:

PIE *h3eh1us >
Greek ὠκύς.

Support for this reconstruction he
finds in the Latin adjectival element acu-, attested in acupedius.
Latin acu must be related to Greek ὠκύς and the way to make that work,
according to Colarusso, is to assume a vocalization of a laryngeal cluster.

PIE *h3h1u– >
Latin acu

He therefore, instead of the common
reconstruction *h1eḱṷos,  postulates the
following development:

PIE (common reconstruction) *h3hṷos >
Late PIE *h3h
ṷos >
[PIE *HH– > Greek h]


PIE (glottalic reconstruction) *ʕʔəṷos >
Late PIE *ʕ
ʔéṷos >

The postulated compromised e-grade
between the laryngeal cluster and the consonant would be coloured by the
following palatal with i-vocalism (emphatic palatalization). It is
unclear how Colarusso imagines the development of the other cognates. He either
assumes that the laryngeal cluster was simplified in the proto-stages of the
other cognates (as he does elsewhere in the same article) or that the e-grade
which arose was only compromised by the laryngeal cluster in Greek.

PIE * h3h1eṷos >
Protogermanic *ehwaz and the other cognates.

This explanation brings its own
problems along but let’s leave those for later and follow Colarusso’s argument
to the next level. Colarusso believes he found an exact correlate within
Northwest Caucasian build on the root √*-xə– “to run” followed by an intensifier
suffix *-ʔá-, preceded by a noun-class marker *w-, ergo */ṷ-xə-ʔá/.
This protoform is attested in this exact ordering in Abaza where it yielded /ʕ
ə-ra/ “to pursue”. The reconstruction
for proto-Northwest Caucasian he projects back to Pontic, which furtheron
developed into the PIE laryngeal cluster to which a PIE suffix was added.

*ṷxəʔá > *x
əʔá > PIE *ʕʔó > *ʕʔ or PIE *h3h1
+ –

start with the things that Colarusso probably got right. On the basis of the
link with the PIE word for “swift” Colarusso infers that the thematization to a
PIE o-stem must be secondary. This is made plausible by Kloekhorst (2008) who
showed that the Anatolian forms attested in Hieroglyphic Luwian and Lycian
(Hittite used foreign ideograms for the word for “horse”) point to an original
u-stem, which leads him to reconstruct the Hittite word as *ekku based
on Hieroglyphic Luwian /à-sú/. But the reason why most linguists reconstruct h1
as the initial laryngeal is partly because the Anatolian forms don’t show a
laryngeal, h2 and h3 on the other hand would have been
preserved in Anatolian. The reconstruction of *h1eḱu(o)s for
“horse” should therefore be preferred along with the reconstruction *h1o-h1ḱus
for “swift (cfr. Beekes 2010).Furthermore, there is an inherent teleological
tendency in Colarusso’s argumentation. He needs *h3 to be part of
the laryngeal cluster in order to link it to his Proto-Northwest-Caucasian
reconstruction, but his only proof for *h3 consists of a reference
to a marginal Caucasian language attested in modern times.

brings us to another point; the reconstruction of 
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian relies on attestations in modern times, forcing us to
project hypothetical reconstructions back four or five millennia.
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian is therefore a theoretical construct of
reconstruction which leaves much more room for error than our reconstructions
of PIE, whose earliest attestations are only a millennium and a half removed
from the proto-language. Is a reconstruction of Proto-Northwest-Caucasian
eligible for linkage with reconstructed PIE forms? Personally, I’d like to stay
sceptical. Also, whilst the Indo-European languages have a morphemic structure
which contains a root and derivational suffixes with a specific semantic value,
the Northwest-Caucasian languages have a way larger array of markers and
suffixes capable of filling the numerous morphological slots around the root.
Therefore it is easier to postulate a formation which fits the purported
transition to PIE. Finally, it is kind of suspicious that Colarusso’s 
reconstruction of Proto-Pontic is practically the same as his reconstruction of
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian. Wouldn’t we want a larger time depth between the
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian stage and the Proto-Pontic stage? Further
complications are brought into play when Colarusso wants to link the words for
“wheel” PIE *kwékwlos to a
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian root that also contains pharyngeals. However, this
time the pharyngeals don’t develop into PIE laryngeals but into PIE
labiovelars. To explain this he must asume that the word made it’s way into PIE
at the PIE stage of the language and not at the hypothetical Proto-Pontic

freedom in the formation of Proto-Pontic forms and the subsequent linkage to
the PIE forms make for a quite teleological argument in which the semantic
correspondance between Proto-Northwest-Caucasian is not always evident,
sometimes even needing four or five semantic shifts to make the meaning of the Caucasian
word fit the meaning of the supposed PIE cognate. Although long and complex
semantic shifts are ofcourse possible they greatly impair the cogency of the
supposed relationship between the Caucasian form on the one hand and the PIE
form on the other. For the shifts suggested by Colarusso we move too far into
the realm of the hypothetical. Following Colarusso’s  analysis of the
etymon for “horse” a whole bunch of other words with perfect Indo-European
etymologies, some of them not even starting with laryngeals (which brings
Colarusso to postulate the presence of laryngeals which from a Indo-European
perspective do not have to be reconstructed) are treated in the same way to
strengthen his suggested link between the Caucasus and the Indo-European speaking
realms in the phyletic Proto-Pontic stage. Colarusso asserts that his
suggestions aren’t ad hoc-explanations and that the different outcomes of the
same Northwest-Caucasian phonemes in PIE are only significant if we persist in
an Indo-European perspective. This however creates too much space for
accidental correspondances and teleological inferments; the space which he uses
to push his argument, however creative his solutions for specific IE problems
may be (e.g. the i-vocalism and pre-aspiration in Greek of
ππος and the explanation of the *ith-prefix
before the Greek word for fish ἰχθῦς trough laryngeal clusters, the aspiration
in the latter having disappeared by an untransparant instance of Grassman’s

concludes my critique on Colarusso’s article on Pontic and brings us to the
mythological links between the Caucasus and the Indo-European realm he defends
in other articles. There as well he shows great ingenuity and erudition in
constructing his arguments, but the rather far-flung assumptions and the ad-hoc
nature of some of his explanations leave his plea for the larger part in the
hypothetical realm. Therefore the link between the Indo-European mythologies
and the Caucasian mythologies remains attractive but lacks cogent arguments.
For the sake of the explanation power of the Caucasian link in the cultural
realm I still want to keep it as a plausible hypothesis, but the Proto-Pontic
connection is to my opinion a bridge too far. Therefore I believe, awaiting
cogent data, we’d better regard the relation between the Caucasus and
Indo-European as mainly pertaining to the exchange of mythologies. The
linguistic relationship between the Caucasus and Indo-European remains too
vague for a compelling argument.

J. Colarusso, More Pontic, Further
Etymologies between Indo-European and Northwest Caucasian, in Dee Ann Holisky
and Kevin Tuite (eds.) A Festschrift for Howard Aronson, (Leiden 2001)

J. Colarusso, Myths from the
Caucasus: the Nart Sagas of the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs
Mythos (Princeton 2002). R.S.P. Beekes, An etymological dictionary of Greek, 2
vols (Leiden 2010).

M. de Vaan, An etymological dictionary
of Latin (Leiden 2008).

A. Kloekhorst, Etymological dictionary
of the Hittite inherited lexicon (Leiden 2008).

H. Frisk, Griechisches Etymologisches
Wörterbuch, 2 vols (Heidelberg 1960-1970).

Beekes, Etymological dictionary
of Greek, 2 vols (Leiden 2009).

kinship terms in Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Nakh

Darmstadt 1970).

Robert S.P. Beekes, Comparative Indo-European
Linguistics; an introduction
(Leiden 1995).

Johanna Nichols, “Chechen Phonology”, in: Phonologies of Asia and Africa, ed. Alan S Kaye (1996) 941-973.

Johanna Nichols
et Arbi Vagapov, Chechen English and English Chechen dictionary (2004).

Werner Beerle,
“A contribution to the Morphology of the simple verb in Chechen,” in: Studia
I, ed. Fridrik Thordarson (Oslo 1998) 1-37.

Para Partchieva et Françoise Guérin, Parlons Tchétchène
– Ingouche



Swearing an Oath in Old Germanic Society

Swearing an Oath in Old Germanic society[1]

The reconstructed lexicon of the prehistoric language called Proto-Indo-European provides the linguist with a limited window on Indo-European concepts of law. From the Proto-Indo-European judicial lexicon Protogermanic preserved some interesting words. The one which concerns us in this essay is the word *aiþaz, the ancestor of modern English oath and the verb which is connected to this noun, namely PGmc. *swarijan-. The Protogermanic form *aiþaz has cognates in Old Irish oeth, Greek οἶτοϛ and Tocharian B aittaṅka but it only has the lexical specialisation “oath” in the western languages, e.g. Germanic and Celtic. In the early twentieth century scholars assumed that the Germanic word was loaned from Celtic, because they thought that the Celts had a higher level of civilization than the Germanic peoples in the early northern European iron age. Nowadays it is acknowledged that both the Celtic and the Germanic word can go back to Proto-Indo-European and there is no need to assume borrowing from one language into the other. The mentioned cognates ultimately go back to Proto-Indo-European *h1óitos which is derived from the root “to go” *h1ei (cfr. Latin ire and Greek εἶμι and Gothic iddja), which points to a meaning “a ritual walking”. Cultural attestations of Indo-European oath-taking by walking between slaughtered animals perhaps colour the etymology somewhat more and is reasonably plausible because of the Old Swedish attestation ed-gång meaning “oath-walking” . The earliest Germanic attestation is Gothic aiþs (glossing Greek ὅρκος) from Wulfila’s fourth century bible translation:

Lukas I, 73
jah gamunan (…)aiþis þanei swor
wiþra Abraham attan unsarana
(and to remember (…) the oath
that he swore to Abraham, our father)

Matteüs XXVI 72
jah aftra afaiaik (laugnida) miþ aiþa
swarands þatei ni kann þana mannan
(and again he denied with an oath
that he didn’t know the man)

Matteüs V 33
aftra haisdeduþ þatei qiþan ist þaim airizam:
ni ufarswarais, iþ usgibais fraujin aiþans þeinans
(again ye heard it said from the elders: don’t
break your oath, but give your oaths to the lord)

Marcus VI 26
jah gaurs warþans sa þiudans in þize aiþe jah
in þize miþanakumbjandane ni wilda izai ufbrikan
(and becoming sorrowfull the king didn’t want to
reject her considering the oaths and the sake of
those who were attending)

In Gothic the word aiþs is in all the four attestations accompanied by the verb swaran[2] in its proximity (cfr. ModE to swear; cognate to Sanskrit svárati, Old Church Slavonic svarŭ, going back to Proto-Indo-European *sṷer meaning “to say, to speak) and is also found with the modal prefixes bi- and ufar- with biswaran meaning “to implore” and ufarswaran meaning “to swear falsely”. The fact that bishop Wulfila used the term in rendering the greek ὅρκος suggest that “swearing an oath” was not purely a pagan religious phenomenon amongst the Goths, otherwise Wulfila would surely have invented a calque. The information we can gleam from the philological context of the Gothic bible translation learns us that in the Germanic languages “swearing an oath” was something that one did against someone (considering Luke I 73 wiþra Abraham). An possible cognate to Gothic aiþs may be Gothic aiþei “mother” (glossing Greek μήτηρ) which is also found in Old High German fōtar-eidi “nurse”, Old Icelandic eiða “morther” and Middle High German eide “mother”. This would mean that this word for mother literally meant “the one with the oath” which probably distinguished the lawful wife from the concubines. The phenomenon that oathtaking across kinshipgroups connected by marriage was common in Germanic society, we will also encounter in an Old English compound furter on.

In the Beowulf epic the combination “to swear an oath” is also used, suggesting that the word was part of the poetic register of the Anglosaxons.

Beowulf (470-473)

Siððán þa fæhðe fēo þingode
Sende ic Wulfingum ofer wæteres hrycg
Ealde mādmas; hē mē āþas swōr
afterwards the feud I settled with wealth
I send to the Wulfings over the back of the water
ancient treasures: he swore oaths to me


Ic on earde bād
Mælgesceafta   heold mīn tela,
Ne sōhte searonīðas ne mē swōr fela
āða on unriht
I awaited on earth
destined events I held my property well
nor did I seek battle-hostilities nor did I swear
many oaths unjustly


Fin Hengeste
Elne unflitme āðum benemde
Finn to Hengest
with undisputed valour proclaimed with oaths

In the third example from the Beowulf an other verb is used, namely benemnan which means to proclaim. The verb is used one other time in the Beowulf and than in reference to the proclaiming of justice by princes whilst facing the last judgment.


Swá hit oð dómes dæg      díope benemdon
þéodnas maére
thus this till doomsday     they proclaimed deeply
the famous kings.

In the Beowulf also the nouns āðsweord  “oath-swearing” and āðumsweoras “father-in-law and son-in-law” are attested. The first is also found in OHG eidswart and biswart seems to continue *swardiz. The second compound, like Gothic aiþei, also refers to oath-taking that accompanied the marriage-bonds between kinshipgroups. Apparantly the bond and the obligations to abandon feuding that a marriage brought along for two kinshipgroups had to be confirmed by oath-taking.  In Old High German another term is found, eidum meaning “son in law”

In the Old Saxon bible epic Heliand, a vernacular retelling of the life of Christ, the word ēð is also used, as is the verb swerian. As we will see this is also the verb used in West Frankish, one of the vernaculars of the Carolingian Franks. The start of fitte 18 in the Heliand begins with a whole sermon against the breaking of oaths and also names the term for a perjurous oath, namely mēnēð < *main-aiþaz, preserved in modern Dutch as meineed. Because it is contemporanous with Carolingian society the passage is worth quoting in full. A connection with the Carolingian programme aimed at reducing the oath-taking in society to swearing oaths of allegiance to the king may be present alongside with the objective of getting rid of the possible pagan religious context that the taking of oaths may still have had in the newly conquered Saxon areas.

Old Saxon Heliand

Ōc is an them ēo gescriban
Uuārun uuordum so gi uuitun alle,
that mīðe mēnēðos mancunnies gihuuilic
ni forsuuerie ina selbon huuand that is sundie te mikil
farlēdid liudi an lēðan uueg
than uuiliu ic iu eft secgan that sān ne suuerie neoman
ēnigan ēdstaf eldibarno
ne bi himile themu hōhon huuand that is thes hērron stōl
ne bi erðu thar undar huuand that is thes alouualdon,
fagar fōtscamel nec ēnig firiho barno
ni suuerea bi is selbes hōbde huuand he ni mag thar ne suuart ne huuīt
ēnig hār giwerkean būtan sō it the hēlago god
germarcode mahtig; bethiu sculun mīðan filu
ērlos ēðworðo. Sō huue sō it ofto dōt
sō wirðid is simbla wirsa huuand he imu giuuardon ni mag
Bithiu scal ic iu nu te uuârun uuordun gibeodan
that gi neo ne suerien suuîðoron êðos,                              

Also is in those books always written
with true words so ye all knoweth
that may avoid perjuries each of mankind
may he not forswear himself for that is a sin too great
it tempts the people to the hateful road
then I want to tell you again that no one may swear
any oathmark of mankind[4]
nor by the high heaven for that is the seat of the lord
nor by the earth beneath it for that is the allmighty’s
beautiful footstool and may any of mankind
swear on his own head for he can not make
any hair black or white except for when the holy god
mightily makes it so: therefore many should avoid
honourless oath-words. Whoever does it thus often
so it will worsen him always because he cannot hold it
Therefore I shall truly order with words
that ye shalt not swear stronger oaths

In connection to Carolingian decrees on oath-taking it may also be interesting to look at the Old High German Mainzer Beicht, a confession list preserved in a tenth century manuscript (dated around 950) but which may go back to a ninth century example.

Mainzer Beicht

Ih gihun gode almahdigen unde allen godes
engilon unde allen godes heilegon unde dir
godes boden allero minero sundino (…) meinero

I confess to god allmighty and to all the angels of
god and to all god’s saints and to you, god’s messenger
all my sins (…) (and) my oaths

Another famous example is the Old High German Priestereid, containing an oath in a religious context.

Priest oath

De sacramentis episcopis qui ordinandi sunt ab eis

Daz ih dir hold pin .N. demo piscophe.
So mino chrephti enti mino chunsti sint.
Si minan uuillun. Fruma frūmenti enti scadun
uuententi kahorich enti kahengig enti statig
in sinemo piscophtuome. So ih mit rehto aphter

That I am loyal to you, the bishop; according to my
strenghts and my wisdom, may I be with my will,
whilst promoting benefit and avoiding damage,
obedient and consistent and steady. Thus I will do
rightly according to the canon
canone scal.

In western Francia it is harder to turn towards the vernacular in search for Germanic terms connected to the swearing of oaths. The Germanic dialects that may have survived into the eighth century in northern Gaul beyond the current language border between French and Dutch were under constant pressure from Galloromance, the vernacular language of the Romance speaking Franks. However, when the Franks settled in northern Gaul in the fifth and sixth century the prestige of their language was still well recognized. A recent lexical study of the Frankish loanwords in Old French makes it plausible that a lot of the idiosyncracies of Old and Modern French are caused by (a considerable amount of) Romance speakers learning Frankish, not the other way around. The Franks ofcourse also brought their legal terminology along. The first and most important testimony to the language and laws of the Franks has been preserved in the Legis Pactus Salicae, an early sixth century law code drawn up by the Salian Franks. In the lawcode vernacular glosses are preserved and because they are introduced by Mallobergo (which you can translate as “on the mountain of the law court”) they are called the Malbergische Glossen. One of these glosses is uuedredo, which doesn’t look Old Frankish but may be a Carolingian (West Frankish?) interpolation of a vernacular law term. The gloss  uuedredo doesnt’t have a satisfactory explanation but one explanation might be that it represents a Frankish nominative plural of the compound *wiþra-aiþa, meaning “counter-oath”, which doesn’t look that weird if one recalls the Gothic expression swaran aiþans wiþra “swearing oaths against one”. In the Langobardic Laws we do have the word aido preserved, connected with a lawarticle on compurgation. In Frankish legal sources we also find the term leudosamium being connected to the taking of oaths. However, considering the meaing of the word *leudi-samjō being something like “people’s peace”, the word clearly had more to do with the desired effect of the oath than the actual oath itself and must have acquired a degree of metanymia in elitist discourse.

The Gallo-Romance language itself preserved the latin word jurare and passed it on to Old French as jurer which doesn’t make clear whether the word endured in the lower strata of the Romance speach community during the entire Proto-French period or that the word was inserted into Gallo-Romance from judicial speech. However, in the Strassburger Eide the verb jurare is used, which does make a continued existence of the verb in the early medieval Romance plausible.

Strassbourg Oaths

Si Lodhuuigs sagrament quę
son fradre Karlo iurat, conservat
et Karlus meos sendra de suo part
non los tanit si io returnar non
l’int pois…

If Ludwigs oath that
his brother karl swore, holds
and karl, my lord, on his part
does not hold it, when I may not
dissuade him from it.

Oba Karl then eid, then er
sīnemo bruodher Ludhuuīge
gisuor, gileistit indi Ludhuuig
mīn herro then er imo gisuor
forbrichit, ob ih inan es
iruuenden ne mag…

If Karl holds the oaths which he
swore to his brother Louis and
Louis, my lord, who swore it to
him, breaks it, when I may not
dissuade him from it…

The vernacular Romance equivalent of Frankish *aiþ is Latin sacramentum which yielded Old French sairement leading to Modern French serment. The verb which accompanies the noun sacramentum  in Old French, however, was loaned from Germanic; Old French escharir goes back to Old Frankish *swarjan via a romanized form *scuarire (the soundchange /sw-/ > /skw-/ is to be expected), possibly with influence from Old Frankish *skarjan. That the noun *aiþ “oath” was in some stage also loaned into Romance is clear from a fourteenth century attestation from Liège; the noun afforat must go back to Old Frankisch for-aiþ, cognate with East Franconian fraaidhi and Middle High German freidi . The fact that for these terms concerning oath-taking an Old Frankish word became current in the whole Proto-French speaking area (Old Provence escharida)  , in my opinion, points to the non-Roman characteristics of oath-taking.


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Uhlenbeck, C.C., kurzgefasstes etymologisches Wörterbuch der gotischen Sprache (Amsterdam 1900).

Voretsch, Karl, Altfranzöschises Lesebuch zur Erläuterung der altfranzösischen Literaturgeschichte (1921).

[1] All the translations from the Old Germanic languages to modern English are my own, mostly because of a lack of faithfull translations. I prefer to keep my translation of poetry (just as I did with Otfrid’s praise of Louis) as close to the original language as possible.

[2] Gothic swaran is probably secondary to earlier *swarjan < *swarijan- as suggested by OS and OE swerian, OHG swerren, OIc. sverja. This PGmc. *swarijan- is a secondary causative/iterative formation in *-e̯ie- to the root *su̯or- that was adopted into the VI class of strong verbs, which is unusual because class VI mainly has primary *-̯ie-/*-e̯ie-formations.

[3] Litterally: “the business of the assembly” but apparantly it could also be used in a metaphorical sense

[4] the genitival construction depends on neoman

[5] note the stabreim, the original Germanic alliteration model, which strongly suggest that the oath leans on older vernacular formulas.

Ossetic and Indo-European fratricide

Mallory and
Watkinsin in their efforts to reconstruct parts of the cosmology of
Indo-European cultures, both working from the foundations of that discipline
that were laid by Georges Dum
ézil, and the myths that accompanied them
assumed a bifurcality and duality within the three functions of Indo-European
society. The third function, being the function associated with the dioscuroi
or the heavenly twins, portrays just the kind of duality that Dumézil also wanted
to see in the other classes. The story of the heavenly twins is in some
Indo-European traditions accompanied with a family drama which may be an
archaic traditional core. Fratricide as the bane of peaceful kinship plays a
large role in the universal motives of human storytelling. Abel and Kain are herein
the Semitic counterparts to the Indo-European Romulus and Remus, the latter one
deriving from PIE *yemos (Sanskrit yama, Old Icelandic Ymir).
A nice reflex of the Indo-European fratricide by heavenly twins motive one
finds in the Ossetic Nart-sagas. Here my translation of the first part of the
story about the death of Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg (the story goes on from the
place I left it, a couple of blog-entries ago).




æмæ Æхсæртæджы мæлæт


Дзерассæ Æхсары йæхи лæг фенхъæлдта, уымæн æмæ
Æхсар æмæ Æхсæртæг æмхуызæттæ уыдысты, асæй дæр æмæ уындæй дæр: бурхил,
дæргъæлвæс, фæтæнриу æмæ цæхæрцæст гуырдтæ, æмæ сæ ничи зыдта, чи сæ кæцы у,
уый, Хуыцау æмæ зæххы йеддæмæ. Мусонджы дуарæй куы бакаст æмæ Дзерассæйы куы
федта Æхсар, уæд загъта йæхинымæры: «Хуыцауты Хуыцау, нæ амонд нын фæндагыл дæр
ма фесаф æмæ бынаты дæр! Уый та кæм æнхъæл уыдтæн, æмæ Æхсæртæг æд бинойнаг

Дзерассæ йæм скаст æмæ йæ фæрсы:

— Куыд æрæгмæ цыдтæ?

Æхсар æм ницы сдзырдта.

— Уаих фæуай! Нал мæ зоныс?— афæдзæй-афæдзмæ
доны бын иумæ куы уыдыстæм,— зæгъгæ, йæм бадзырдта Дзерассæ.

Уæд бæлвырд базыдта Æхсар, ай йе ’фсымæр
Æхсæртæджы ус кæй у, уый.

Ус лæппумæ йæхи ласын байдыдта, фæлæ йæм Æхсар
йе ’ргом нæ лæвæрдта. Хуыссын афон куы æрцыд, уæд Æхсар йæ нымæт Дзерассæйы бын
бакодта, Æхсæртæджы нымæт та сæ уæлæ ныккодта æмæ, цæмæй кæрæдзимæ хæстæг нæ
уыдаиккой, уый тыххæй йæ кард фелвæста æмæ йæ сæ дыууæйы астæу нывæрдта. Ус
фæмæсты ис, фестади æмæ бустæгонджи хицæнæй сбадтис.

Уæд уалынмæ Æхсæртæг æрхæццæ ис æмæ саджы мард
æрхаста æд къала бæлас. Æмæ Дзерассæйы æнкъардæй, бустæгондæй бадгæ куы федта,
уæд йæ зæрдæ фехсайдта,— афтæ ’нхъæл уыдис, æмæ йын Æхсар батых кодта. Æмæ
хъама фелвæста æмæ йе ’фсымæр Æхсары ныццавта æмæ йæ амардта. Уæд ын ус
радзырдта, куыд уыдис, уый. Æхсæртæг фæсмоны бацыдис, ме ’фсымæры æнаххосæй
амардтон, зæгъгæ, æмæ йæ хъама фелвæста, йæ фистон ын Æхсары риумæ сарæзта, йæ
фындз та йæхи зæрдæмæ æмæ йыл йæхи ’руагъта, æмæ хъама йæ зæрдæйы сфардæг ис,
æмæ фæмард ис. Дзерассæ байдыдта дзыназын, кæуын, ниуын, додой кæнын; хоста йæ
сæр, йæ уæрджытæ — ай мыл цæй æбуалгъ ми æрцыд, мæн тыххæй куы фæмард сты дыууæ
’фсымæры, зæгъгæ. Йæ дзыккутæ тоны, йæ рустæ рæдувы, хъарæг кæны, æмæ йæ хъарæгæй
арауынц хæхтæ; сырдтæ дæр ныхъхъус сты арф хъыгæй; згъалы хъарм цæсты сыгтæ
Дзерассæ дыууæ ’фсымæрыл. Сæ астæу сбадти æмæ æмбисæхсæвмæ фæкуыдта Æхсары
мардыл, æмбисæхсæвæй бонмæ та — Æхсæртæджы мардыл.



The death of Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg


supposed that Aexshaer was her husband, because Aexshaer and Aexshaeraeg looked
alike, both in length and appearance: they were born blond, tall, broad-chested
and agile and no one, except God on the earth, knew who is which of them. When Aexshaer
looked from the door of the tent inside and when he saw Dzerasshae, he said to
himself: “God of the gods, don’t destroy our fortune, neither on the road, nor
in the house! But where am I to suspect, that Aexshaertaeg will come down with
a wife!”

            Dzerasshae looked up at him and asks
him: “How late have you come!” Aexshaer answers nothing to her. “Shame on you! Don’t
you know me anymore? Even when we were together for a year on the bottom of the
sea?” said Dzerasshae to him. Then Aexshaer knew for sure that this was the
wife of his brother Aexshaertaeg. Then the woman began to approach to him, but
Aexhaer didn’t yield to her. When the time came for sleeping, Aexshaer put his
coat under Dzerasshae, but the coat of Aexhaertaeg he put on top of them both
and, as to they wouldn’t be close to eachother, he drew his sword and he laid
it amidst them. The woman was offended, stood there for a while and, whilst
complaining, sat down apart from him.

            Then by that time Aexshaertaeg
arrived and brought the carcass of a deer together with a tree with branches.
And, when he saw Dzerasshae sadly sitting there and complaining, his heart was
troubled –thus was his suspicion- and because of this he overpowered Aexshaer.
And he drew his dagger and stabbed his brother and killed him. Then the woman
told him what the situation was. Aexshaertaeg went down in remorse saying, I
killed my own brother who was innocent, and he drew his dagger; he pointed the
handgrip from the breast of Aexshaer to himself; it’s point lowered to his own
heart and on himself; his dagger pierced his heart and he died. Dzerasshae
began to moan, to cry, to wail, to lament; she hit her head, her knees: “What
an unusal case that happened to me, when because of me two brothers are dead,”
she said. She ripped her bangs and scratched open her cheeks, she yelled
elegies and the mountains resonatedwith her lamentations; the beasts were also silent
because of deep grief; Dzerasshae poured warm tears down upon the two brothers.
She sat down amidst them and wept untill midnight on the body of Aexshaer and
from midnight till dawn on the body of Aexshaertaeg.

Altniederländisches Schrifttum

Ich möchte deutschsprachliche Leser die zufällig auf meinem Blog geraten sind und etwas lesen wollen über meiner Beschäftigung mit der Altgermanistik und dem ältesten belegten Stadium des Niederländischen gerne versorgen mit dieser Übersetzung meines Artikels, der nächster Monat in TWISTER, dem Mitteilungenblatt der Leidenen Studienassoziation der algemeinen und vergleichenden Sprachwissenschaft erscheinen wird.


Wissenschaftler, die sich beschäftigen mit dem ältesten Stadium von dem direkten Vorfahr des heutigen Niederländisches, haben dafür drei frühmittelalterliche Quellen zu ihrer Verfügung: die „Wachtendonckse Psalmen“, der “Egmondse Williram” und die mittelfränkische Reimbibel. Von keinen dieser kann man sagen dass es wirklich altniederländische Texte betrifft. Oft hat ein vermutlich altniederländisch-sprechender Abschreiber die althochdeutsche Lautform dem eigenen Dialekt angepasst. Das ist nicht ziemlich erstaunenswert weil die meisten Schreibcentra in dieser Zeit im Westen der Niederländen lagen. Nur das Kloster Egmond hat im Westen des Landes ein Scriptorium, sondern das wurde nur ab dem zwölften Jahrhundert wirklich aktiv.

            Wir vermuten dass ein im althochdeutschen geschriebener Kommentar auf dem Hohelied Salomos dort seine altniederländischen Züge bekommen hatte, bevor das Manuskript in Leidener Universitätsbibliothek geraten war. Die Anpassungen die der Abschreiber anbrachte waren darüberhinaus auch unvollständig und inkonsequent. Ein wahrer Alptraum für dem Sprachwissenschaftler der die Quellen braucht für die Rekonstruktion des altniederländischen Lautstandes. Deshalb sprechen viele Sprachwissenschaftler nicht vom Altniederländischem, sondern vom Altniederfränkischem, damit die Position des Dialektes im fränkischem Kontinuüm betont wird. Man muss sich hingegen realisieren dass auch die Bezeichnungen Altsächsisch, Angelsächsisch und Althochdeutsch nur theoretische Konstrukte sind, welche manchmal wenig mit der sprachwissenschaftlichen Realität zu tun haben.

            Bestimmt wenn man sich die „Wachtendonckse Psalmen“ anseht, trifft man ein Dialekt an der in vielen Hinsichten der Vorfahr des Mittelniederländischen war. Die althochdeutsche Lautverschiebung hat in diesem Dialekt nicht statt gehabt, es gibt drei verschiedene Pluralis-endungen im Präsens des Verbs, der Reibelaut /x/ <h> ist für einen /l/ schon verschwunden, Auslautverhärtung ist in diesem Dialekt die Norm und der Laut der dem Altsächsischen /ô/ entspricht ist im Altniederländischem schon zum /uo/ geworden. Durchaus wertvolle Daten für den Altgermanist.

            Dennoch bleibt der Existenz des Altniederländischen für viele Niederländisten und Laien beschränkt auf der alniederländischen Probatio Pennae ‚hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnen hinase hi anda thu’ „alle Vögel haben Neste begonnen ausser mir und dir“ und für diesen Niederländisten sehen die übrigen altniederländischen Schriftdenkmäler oft sehr exotisch aus. Es ist nicht verwunderlich als die Niederländisten sich kaum kümmern um das altniederländischen Schrifttum. Auch Sprachwissenschaftler begeistern sich nicht oft an interlinearen Glossen lateinischer Psalmen und exegetischen Ausarbeitungen des Hohelieds. Das es nur interlineare Übersetzungen der Bibel gibt, ist noch nicht so schlimm, sondern dass keine interessanten Teile der Bibel versehen sind mit altniederländische Glossen ist ziemlich Schade. Nur ein einzige Zeile des Hohelieds kann ein bisschen aufregend genannt werden: wanda bezerre sint thine spune themo wine “denn besser sind deine Brüste als Wein”.

Es ist zu Schade dass der altniederländischer Abschreiber nicht das Buch Genesis oder die Offenbarung des Johannes mit altniederländischen Glossen versehen hat. Deshalb habe ich mir die Freiheit genommen den enigmatischen Anfang der Genesis 6 (1-4) vom Niederländischem des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts im Altniederländischem zu übersetzen. Was die Wortfolge betrifft, habe ich die niederländische Syntaxis des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts benutzt. Ich habe mich entschieden für eine Übersetzung aus modernem Niederländischem weil das Ergebnis netter war als eine wörtliche Übersetzung aus dem Latein des Vulgats. Ich habe mich genau für diese Zeilen entschieden weil die Passage für frühmittelalterliche Leute eine wichtige bedeutung gehat haben müsste. Die Passage gab ihnen eine Möglichkeit ihre nicht-christlichen Weltanschauungen in der biblische Chronologie zu stellen. Die altgermanische Welt kannte nämlich auch Göter und Riesen und die Römische Kirche könnte mit einem Hinweis auf diese Passage erklären warum es auch nach der Bibel kein Götter und Riesen mehr gäbe: sie waren nämlich während der Sintflut alle vertrunken. In dieser Übersetzung habe ich die Wörter die nur im Althochdeutschen belegt sind in den vermutlich entsprechenden altniederländischen Formen verändert. Zum Beispiel habe ich <ouch> in < ôk> verändert.


Genesis 6 1-4


Ende het geschiedde, als de menschen op den aerdbodem begonnen te vermenichvuldigen, ende hen dochters geboren werden; dat Godes sonen de dochteren der menschen aensagen, dat sy schoon waren, ende sy namen hen wijven uyt alle, die sy verkoren hadden. Doe seyde de HEERE; Mijn Geest en sal niet in eeuwicheyt twisten met den mensche, dewyle hy oock vleesch is: doch sijne dagen sullen zijn hondert ende twintich jaer. In die dagen warender Reusen op der aerde, ende oock daer na, als Godts sonen tot de dochteren der menschen ingegaen waren, ende sich [kinderen] gewonnen hadden: dese zijn de geweldige, die van outs geweest zijn mannen van name.


*In is gedân thuo thie man an erthon begunnun te gemanagfaldone in im giboran uurthen dohtera that Godes sunon dohtera mannero scouuodon that sia scona uuaron in sie namon im uuif ut allon the sie gecoran habdon. Thuo quath druftin: min gçst ne scal in euuon fehtan mit manne bithiu hç ist ôk flçsc thoch sîn daga sculon uueson hundrat in tuuintig iaro. An then dagon uuaron wrisila an erthon in ôk aftir also Godis sunon te dohteron mannero ingangon uuaron in im kint giuuunon haddon; thesa sint thie giuueldigon the fan eldi geuueson uuaron, man mit name.




A Quak & J.M. van der Horst, Inleiding Oudnederlands (Leuven 2002).

Arend Quak, Die altmittel- und altniederfränkischen Psalmen und Glossen; nach den handschriften und Erstdrucken neu herausgegeben (Amsterdam 1981)

Arend Quak, “Hintergründe eines altniederländischen Textes”, in: Amsterdammer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 66 vol 1 (Amsterdam 2010) 63-74.

Bijbel, dat is de gansche heilige schrift bevattende alle de canonieke boeken des Ouden en nNieuwen testaments (Amsterdam 1917)

Robert L. Kyes, Dictionary of the Old Low and Central Franconian Psalms and Glosses (Tübingen 1983).





Oudnederlands schriftdom: saai of super?

Wetenschappers, die zich bezighouden met de oudste bekende fase van wat de directe voorouder van het Nederlands mag heten, hebben daarvoor drie vroegmiddeleeuwse bronnen tot hun beschikking: de Wachtendonckse psalmen, de Egmondse Williram en de Middelfrankische rijmbijbel. Van geen van dezen kan men zeggen dat het om louter Oudnederlandse teksten gaat. Vaak heeft een vermoedelijk Oudnederlands sprekende kopiist de Oudhoogduitse klankvorm van de tekst aangepast aan zijn eigen dialect. Dat is geen verrassing wanneer we bedenken dat de schrijfcentra in die tijd vaak in het oosten van het land gelegen waren. Alleen het klooster Egmond had in het westen van het land een scriptorium, maar dat werd pas vanaf de twaalfde eeuw echt actief.

We vermoeden dat een adaptatie van een in het Oudhoogduits geschreven commentaar op het Hooglied dáár zijn Oudnederlandse trekken heeft opgedaan, vooraleer het manuscript in de Leidse universiteitsbibliotheek terecht kwam. De aanpassingen die de kopiist aanbracht waren dan ook nog eens niet volledig en niet consistent. Een ware nachtmerrie voor de taalwetenschapper die de bronnen wil gebruiken voor het reconstrueren van de tiende-eeuwse Oudnederlandse klankstand. Daarom willen veel linguïsten niet van het Oudnederlands spreken, maar gebruiken liever de neutralere term Oudnederfrankisch, die aangeeft waar het dialect zich in het Frankische dialectcontinuüm bevindt. Men moet zich echter realiseren dat ook termen als het Oudsaksisch, het Oudengels en het Oudhoogduits theoretische constructen zijn die soms weinig met de taalkundige realiteit te maken hebben.

Zeker wanneer men naar de Wachtendonckse psalmen kijkt, ziet men toch een dialect dat in veel opzichten als de voorloper van het Middelnederlands beschouwd kan worden. De Oudhoogduitse klankverschuiving is in het dialect niet opgetreden, er zijn drie verschillende pluralis-uitgangen in de tegenwoordige tijd van het werkwoord, de wrijfklank /x/ is voor een /l/ reeds verdwenen, Auslautverhärtung is in het dialect de norm en de klank die correspondeert met de Oudsaksische /ō/ is in het Oudnederlands een /uo/ geworden. Wel degelijk waardevolle gegevens voor de Oudgermanist.

Toch blijft het bestaan van het Oudnederlands voor veel Neerlandici en leken beperkt tot het zinnetje ‘hebban olla vogala nestas bigunnan hinase hic anda thu’ en zijn de Wachtendonckse psalmen en de Egmondse Williram voor veel Neerlandici exotisch ogende schriftmonumenten. Dat de Neerlandici zich nauwelijks bekommeren om het Oudnederlandse schriftdom zij hen vergeven. Ook als taalkundige is het erg moeilijk om van letterlijke boven de Latijnse tekst staande vertalingen van de psalmen en onduidelijke exegetische uitwerkingen van het Hooglied opgewonden te worden. Dat het letterlijke bijbelvertalingen zijn, is op zich niet eens zo erg, maar dat er weinig interessante stukken uit de bijbel van Oudnederlandse glossen zijn voorzien, is dan wel weer jammer. Alleen een enkele Hooglied-passage kan als lichtelijk amusant gezien worden: wanda bezerre sint thine spune themo wine “want beter zijn jouw borsten dan de wijn’.

Het blijft jammer dat de Oudnederlandse kopiist niet het boek Genesis of de Openbaring van Johannis van Oudnederlandse glossen had voorzien. Daarom heb ik de vrijheid genomen om het enigmatische begin van genesis 6 (1-4) met de vroegmoderne syntaxis van de Staatenvertaling van 1618 van het vroegmodern Nederlands in het Oudnederlands te vertalen. Ik heb voor een vertaling vanuit het vroegmodern Nederlands gekozen in plaats van een vertaling van de Latijnse tekst uit de Vulgaat van sint Hiëronymus, omdat het resultaat gewoon stukken leuker is. Ik heb juist voor deze passage gekozen omdat zij voor de vroege middeleeuwers erg belangrijk was. Het gaf hun namelijk een mogelijkheid hun oude niet-christelijke wereldvoorstellingen in de bijbels ante-diluviale (d.w.z. van voor de zondvloed) chronologie te plaatsen. De Oudgermaanse wereld kenden namelijk ook goden en reuzen en de kerk kon door naar deze passage te verwijzen, verklaren waarom die Oudgermaanse goden en reuzen ook volgens de bijbel nu niet meer zouden bestaan; ze waren namelijk tijdens de zondvloed verdronken. Bij de vertaling heb ik de woorden die alleen in Oudhoogduitse vorm overgeleverd zijn, omgezet naar de vermoedelijke Oudnederlandse klankstand. Zo heb ik bijvoorbeeld omgezet naar < ōk>.

Genesis 6 1-4

En het geschiedde, als de mensen op den aardbodem begonnen te vermenigvuldigen, en hun dochters geboren werden, dat Gods zonen de dochteren der mensen aanzagen, dat zij schoon waren, en zij namen zich vrouwen uit allen, die zij verkozen hadden. Toen zeide de HEERE: Mijn Geest zal niet in eeuwigheid twisten met den mens, dewijl hij ook vlees is; doch zijn dagen zullen zijn honderd en twintig jaren. In die dagen waren er reuzen op de aarde, en ook daarna, als Gods zonen tot de dochteren der mensen ingegaan waren, en zich kinderen gewonnen hadden; deze zijn de geweldigen, die van ouds geweest zijn, mannen van name.

*In is gedān thuo thie man an erthon begunnun te gemanagfaldone in im giboran uurthen dohtera that Godes sunon dohtera mannero scouuodon that sia scona uuaron in sie namon im uuif ut allon the sie gecoran habdon. Thuo quath druftin: min gēst ne scal in euuon fehtan mit manne bithiu hē ist ōk flēsc thoch sīn daga sculon uueson hundrat in tuuintig iaro. An then dagon uuaron wrisila an erthon in ōk aftir also Godis sunon te dohteron mannero ingangon uuaron in im kint giuuunon haddon; thesa sint thie giuueldigon the fan eldi geuueson uuaron, man mit name.


A Quak & J.M. van der Horst, Inleiding Oudnederlands (Leuven 2002). Arend Quak, Die altmittel- und altniederfränkischen Psalmen und Glossen; nach den handschriften und Erstdrucken neu herausgegeben (Amsterdam 1981) Arend Quak, “Hintergründe eines altniederländischen Textes”, in: Amsterdammer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 66 vol 1 (Amsterdam 2010) 63-74. Bijbel, dat is de gansche heilige schrift bevattende alle de canonieke boeken des Ouden en nNieuwen testaments (Amsterdam 1917) Robert L. Kyes, Dictionary of the Old Low and Central Franconian Psalms and Glosses (Tübingen 1983).

The beautiful Dzerasshae

Here is the following part of the saga about Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg. The story continues and the intrigue deepens.   

Aexshaertaeg arrived at the house of Donbettyr on the bottom of the sea. While the house was such a house, that it’s walls were made mother of pearl, its floor from blue glass and on the roof the morning star. In the house sat seven brothers, above them, two sisters of them, each more beautiful than the other, the hair of their head shone golden. “Peace in your home and may your morning be good,” said Aexshaertaeg when he entered. “Then may your part be good as well!” they said to him as well and they got up, the seven brothers and their two sisters, and they made Aexshaertaeg sit down; then the seven borthers sat themselves down, three of them higher than Aexshaertaeg, four of them lower.

When they had been seated for a small while, the brothers looked at Aexshaertaeg and they said to him: “Never was brought to us a guest similar to you, also never will there be brought one to us, and of course it is necessary to make you at ease, but we are in bitterness. “May god say no bitterness to you! But because of what do you grieve?” Aexshaertaeg answered them. They said to him: “We have three sisters and to their misfortune they have the habit to go the garden of the Narts. There on one tree grew a golden apple. Repeatedly it ripened by day, but repeatedly at night our sister Dzerashae stole it in this way; every time she entered in the appearance of a dove. Of course we have said to her: “Youth is spoiled on the Narts, when not a bird in the heaven dares to fly. Don’t go to the apple! But she didn’t listen to us. Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg of the Narts –may they arrive on the swords of eachother!- they protected the apple tree and wounded her.”

There on that moment he heard moaning from the room. Aexshaertaeg answered: “Whose moaning is this?” “Alas! About that we say to you, this is our sister Dzerasshae.” “And is there no medicine for her?” answered Aexshaertaeg the brothers. And they said to him: “Of course there is a medicine for her.” “ And what is that medicine?” “Her drops of blood, these are her medicine; once you would collect these and once you would blow them upon her, then she will be saved, otherwise there is no more remedy for her. “What good will you do to him, who will save her?” answered Aexshaertaeg them. We would give him our beloved sister Dzerashae. God predestined him for her.” “Then I am Aexshaertaeg, the son of Waerxaeg of the Narts, I have her drops of blood, as I brougt her down, because I hit her, I will also heal her. Go and bring her here!”

The faces of the brothers are shining with joy. There was not an end to their happiness! And they said to Aexshaertaeg: “The girl is heavily ill, and it is not possible for her to go to you, but enter the room to go to her. The boy moved next to the patient. The girl lay in bed, her golden bangs hung loose to the ground, but from her face the suns seemed to laugh and from her neck two beautiful moons looked down. And she turned to Aexshaertaeg.
Then Aexshaertaeg smiled his smile out of great joy and pulled from his girdle, because of the powers in the silk handkerchief, the drops of blood of the girl and blew them on her. The beautiful Dzerashae stood up seven times more beautiful than she was before. Nine days and nine nights took the honeymoon of Aexshaertaeg and the girl of Donbettyr. And Dzerashae and Aexshaertaeg united as one as the sun and the moon in the sky.

They lived there days and weeks, then one day Aexshaertaeg was saddened, he remembered Aexshaer- and said: “It is no longer appropriate to me to live here – it is necessary that I will find my brother and that I will go for a while to my house. Dzerashae also rejoiced: “If you have a house, than why will we not go there –to us it is no longer appropriate to sit here.
They prepared for a footjourney. And on the miracle moment Dzerashae pulled a hair from her head and they became two fat mother-of-pearl-coloured fishes and they were on their way from the bottom of the sea to the surface of the sea.

Aexshaer had hunted untill that time, build on the seashore in a dark forest a tent from the hides of wild animals and awaited his brother. Then on a day he looked and the sea brought a white helm. Aexshaer rejoiced, whilst saying, my brothers goes up, and he thought: “Come and I will leave on a hunt, and that I may kill anything then for his return.” And he went off on the hunt.

In that time Waerxaeg of the Narts began to be very sad, saying “what became of my sons, when they don’t appear to me any more from anywhere. From day to day the sorrow conquered, his bodily strength broke to him. Then to the youth of the Narts this was very pleasant, after the sons of Waerxaeg didn’t arrive anymore, because to them Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg didn’t give right and did harm upon them. And the youth of the Narts began to make fun of the old head of Waerxaeg and they took revenge upon him by making him shepherd of the Narts. Waerxaeg also from malice drove the flock of the Narts far away and poured them into the sea, by throwing them down from the tip of the cliff. A couple of days Waerxaeg didn’t go from the cattle-river to the village – his leg carried him no more because of the sorrow for his sons.

Aexshaertaeg and Dzerashae rose from the sea and saw on the seashore the tent of Aexshaer. They went to the tent. Aexshar was on the hunt, the tent was unused. When Dzerashae looked from the door of the tent, from the shining of her face was the tent so beautiful, as she said: “Until I have gotten enough of sitting in that tent, I wil not move from there!” Aexshaertaeg said to her: “In that case sit here untill that moment; I will seek my brother. And Aexshaertaeg was away searching ofr Aexshaer. On that moment Aexhaer on the other hand went to his tent. The two brother are seperated from eachother.

The apple of the Narts

I want to publish another saga I translated from the Ossetian source text.
This one is the first part of a story which is found in all the Caucasian Nart
sagas, but one can safely assume that the story and the motives in it
originated from the Indo-European Iranians in the Caucasus. The story is very
interesting to the comparative mythologist! The halfgods have a tree with
golden apples, which possess magic healing power. But alas, a thief steals one
of them every night. Of course the apples must be protected by two semi-divine
twins (cfr. the Greek dioscouroi Castor and Pollux) to let life resume it’s
normal course. The motive of the theft and the retrieval of golden apples one
also encounters in Greek and Germanic mythology. To these ancient attestations
of cultural heritage the Indo-Europeanist can add the orally transmitted
Ossetian Nart-sagas, written down in fixed form in the nineteenth century, but
reaching back to the ancient beginnings of Indo-European culture.


Нарты фæткъуы


Нартæн сæ цæхæрадоны задис иу фæткъуы бæлас; йæ дидинджытæ-иу æрттывтой
æрвыгау, æмæ йыл задис иунæг фæткъуы. Фæткъуы уыдис сыгъзæрин фæткъуы, зынгау
æрттывдтытæ калдта. Æмæ уыдис æлутоны хос адæмæн: иу адзал не здæхта фæстæмæ, уый
йеддæмæ цы хъæдгом нæ дзæбæх кодта, цы низæй нæ ирвæзын кодта, ахæм нæ уыдис.Бон изæрмæ-иу арæгъæд ис уыцы фæткъуы, æхсæв та иу æй цыдæр адавта. Æмæ
йæ хъахъхъæдтой радыгай Нарт; æмæ йæ ничи фæрæзта бахъахъхъæнын.Уæд иу бон æрзылдис Уæрхæгæн йæхи рад. Æрбасидтис йæ фырттæм, Æхсар æмæ
Æхсæртæгмæ, Уæрхæг æмæ сын загъта:— Ай уын фæндаггаг. Ацæут, мæ хуртæ, æмæ уæ цæхæрадон бахъахъхъæнут, кæннод
райсом Æртæ Нарты хæдзарæн лæгæй æрбацæудзысты æмæ уæ иуæн йæ сæр ракæндзысты, иннæмæн
— иæ цонг æмæ сæ дыууæ михыл æрсадздзысты, æмæ Æртæ Нарты ’хсæн дзæгъæлæй
баззайдзынæн, æнæ дарæгæй.Цæхæрадон уыдис саджы сыкъатæй бæрзонд æхгæд — маргъ æрбатæхæн дæр æм нæ
уыд.Лæппутæ загътой:— Ма тæрс, нæ фыд, мах ацæудзыстæм æмæ бæлас бахъахъхъæндзыстæм!Уæрхæг сын загъта:— Цæугæ бæргæ акæндзыстут, фæлæ тæрсын, фæстæмæ куы нæуал æрцæуат — куы
нæ йæ бафæразат бахъахъæнын.

 Æхсар æмæ Æхсæртæг араст сты цæхæрадонмæ; цæхæрадоны астæу диссаджы
фæткъуы бæласы бын æрбадтысты. Æхсæвæр куы бахордтой, уæд кæстæр æфсымæр —
Æхсæртæг, загъта Æхсарæн:— Æрхуысс уал, Æхсар, радыгай хъахъхъæнæм — æмбисæхсæвмæ ды бафынæй кæн,
уырдыгæй бонмæ та — æз.Æхсар сразы ис æмæ ’рхуыссыди æмæ бафынæй ис. Æмбисæхсæв фехъал ис æмæ
дзуры Æхсæртæгмæ:— Хуыцау мын æй ныббарæд — æгæр афынæй дæн. Æхсæртæг æм фæстæмæ дзуры:— Нырма æмбисæхсæв нæу, æмæ уал хуысс. Хуыссæгхъæлдзæг лæппу та
’рхуыссыд фæстæмæ æмæ та афынæй ис. Æхсæв æмæ бон кæрæдзийæ куыд хицæн кодтой, афтæ
цæхæрадонмæ ’рбатахтысты æртæ маргъы.Æхсæртæг бады, йæ фат æмæ йе ’рдын йæ къухы, афтæмæй. Кæсы, æмæ
’виппайды бæлас ныррухс и, æмæ йыл бады æртæ ’хсинæджы. Фæткъуымæ куыддæр
фæцæйæвнæлдтой, афтæ сæ Æхсæртæг фехста, æмæ атахтысты, æрмæст сæ иуæн йæ туджы
’ртæхтæ ’ркалдысты зæхмæ. Æхсæртæг райхъал кодта Æхсары æмæ йын загъта:— Æхсинæг фæцæф кодтон фæткъуы бæласыл, æмæ мын цæфæй атахти.Мæнæ кæсыс йæ туджы ’ртæхтæм! Куы фæцæф ис, уæд ныллæджыты атахтис, æмæ
мæнæн йæ тугвæдыл æнæ цæугæ нæй. Кæнæ йæ хъуамæ æрцахсон, кæнæ йæ фæдыл хъуамæ
амæлон, æндæр гæнæн мын нæй.

 Æрбамбырд кодта туджы ’ртæхты, батыхта сæ зæлдаг кæлмæрзæны.Кæлмæрзæн йæ фæснахы атъыста æмæ, куы ’рбабон ис, уæд загъта Æхсарæн:— Æз ныр цæуын сæфты мæргъты фæдыл, æмæ цы зæгъыс?Æхсар ын загъта:— Æз дæр цæуын, ды кæдæм цæуай, уырдæм. Араст сты ’фсымæртæ æмæ цæуынц
тугвæдыл, æмæ сæ уый бахаста денджызы былмæ. Уым фæд денджызы бынмæ ныххызтис..
Æхсæртæг загъта Æхсарæн:— Æз цæуын денджызы бынмæ, ды мæм ам, денджызы был, æнхъæлмæ кæс, æмæ, кæд
денджыз сырх фынк хæсса, уæд-иу нæ хæдзармæ аздæх — мæнæй дын пайда нал ис; кæд
урс фынк хæсса, уæд мæм-иу афæдзы бонмæ банхъæлмæ кæс.Хорз,— загъта Æхсар æмæ баззад денджызы был, Æхсæртæг та йæ дзауматæ
’рбатымбыл кодта æмæ ныффардæг ис денджызы бынмæ.


The Apple of the Narts


In the garden of the Narts grew an apple tree; repeatedly its flowers
shone heavenly blue and on it grew a lonely apple. The apple was a golden apple
and it poured glitterings as fire. And it was a medicine of wonderous food for
the people. Except for that it did not reverse destiny, each wound it cured, such
a disease it did not cure, did not exist. During the day in the evening
repeatedly that apple ripened quickly, but at night somebody repeatedly took it
away. And the Narts by turn protected it; and nobody was able to protect it.

Then one day came the turn to
Waerxaeg himself. He summoned his sons, Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg, and Waerxaeg
said to them: “Here to you provisions. Go out, my suns, and protect ye your
garden, otherwise in the morning three of the Narts, a man from each family,
will go out and to one of you they will cut of the head, to the other the arm
and they will put these two on a stake and among the three families of the
Narts I will remain unattended, without a provider.” The garden was high
enclosed with the antlers of deer, even a birds flight was not enough to get
in. The boys spoke: “Don’t be afraid, father of ours, we will go out and
protect the tree!” Waerxaeg said to them: “Of course you will go, but I fear
that when you will not be able to protect it, you will not come back any more.”

Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg went
off to the garden; in the middle of the garden under the apple tree the two sat
down. When they ate dinner, the youngest brother, Aexshaertaeg, said to
Aexshaer: “Lie down for a while, Aexshaer, we will protect the garden in turns.
On midnight you can fall asleep, while from the decline to the day I will
protect the garden. Aexshaer agreed, lay down and was asleep. At midnight he
woke up and said to Aexshaertaeg: “May God forgive me this! I was asleep for
too long. Aexshaertaeg replied to him: “It is not yet midnight, sleep for a
while!” And the sleepy boy lay back down and was asleep. As day and night made
eachother evenly seperate, in this way three birds flew to the garden.
Aexshaertaeg sat thus, his arrow and bow in the hand. He looked up and suddenly
the tree was shining and three birds sat in the tree. Once they started to go
to the apple, Aexshaertaeg shot thus at them and they flew off, only by one of
them drops of blood poured down to the ground.

Aexshaertaeg awoke Aexshaer
and said to him: “I wounded a dove in the apple tree and because of the wound
it flew away. Here, look up to the drops of blood! When it is wounded, it flew
low flights, and to me there is no choice but to go after it’s bloodtrack. Or
it is necessary that I catch it, or it is necessary that I die on it’s track,
to me there is no other option.” He collected the drops of blood, he wrapped
them in a silk handkerchief. He tucked the handkerchief in his girdle and, when
dawn came, he said to Aexshaer: “I go now after the track of the wounded one of
the birds and what say you? Aexshaer said to him: “I go as well there, where
you will go. The brothers went off and went after the bloodtrack, and this
brought them at the seashore, There the track crept down to the bottom of the
sea. Aexshaertaeg said to Aexshaer: “I go to the bottom of the sea, wait for me
here, on the seashore, and, when the sea brings red foam, then return to our
home. From me to you there is no more profit; when it brings white foam, wait
then until the day of the following year. “ Good,”  said Aexshaer and sat down on the seashore,
while Aexshaertaeg took under his arm his things and arrived at the bottom of
the sea.

the Narts saga’s and Indo-European

High up in the Caucasian mountains there is a small autonomous republic within the Russian state called Ossetia-Alania. The inhabitants of this country historically descended from the Alans who played a significant role in the age of migrations. The word ‘path’ in Germanic is from Iranian origin and probably came into the Germanic languages by way of the Alan peoples who moved through Europe in the fifth century. The modern descendant of Alanic is Ossetian, the language of Allano-Ossetia, spoken by 600.000 Ossetians, linguistically related to the Iranian language family and very archaic in it’s case system (9 cases). Apart from being linguistically interesting, the Ossetian peoples introduced a rich Indo-European mythology into the northern Caucasus, which was rediscovered in modern science by Georges Dumézil. Georges Dumézil studied a lot  of Caucasian languages and their myths and published an invaluable translation of the Ossetic corpus of Nart-sagas. In Ossetian mythology a race of halfgods roams the mountains, a race which is called the ‘narts’ (word is IE for ‘man’ and cognate with greek anèr) and who lived heroic lives full of ‘kleos aphthiton’ (unsterbliche Rum). As a linguist, a philologist and as a student who is preparing his exam on the Ossetian language I would like to present you with one of these saga’s. In this particular tale the birth of two important Nart heroes is related. I wil translitterate the Cyrillic alphabet (in which Ossetian is transscribed) in personal names in my own manner, which means that I will translitterate the /x/ with <x>, the /æ/ with <ae>, the glottalized consonants with <C’> and the labialized with <Cw>.

   Нартæн уæд сæ хистæр Уæрхæг уыдис.

   Уæрхæгæн  райгуырдис дыууæ лæппуйы, фаззæттæ. Иу дзы райгуырдис
фыццаг   кæркуасæны,   иннæ  та  райгуырдис   дыккаг   кæркуасæны,
Бонвæрноны скастмæ.
   Рухс  хуры  тынтæ  ныккастис  Уæрхæгмæ,  базыдта,  хъæбул  куыд
адджын  у,  уый.  Уæрхæг йæ лæппуты райгуырды боны  фарнæн  скодта
нæртон куывд сырды фыдæй. Æрхуыдта уæларвæй Куырдалæгоны, фурдæй —
Донбеттыры, Нартæй та — Борæйы æмæ æндæрты.
   Уæрхæджы   уарзон   лæппутыл   буц   нæмттæ   сæвæрдта   уæларв
Куырдалæгон:  хистæрыл  — Ахсар, кæстæрыл — Ахсæртæг.  Номæвæрæджы
лæварæн  Куырдалæгон радта Уæрхæгæн удæвдз йæ  куырдадзы  фæтыгæй,
болат  æндонæй  арæзт. Удæвдзы Нарт сæвæрдтой сæ фынгыл,  æмæ  сын
кодта диссаджы зарæг уадындз хъæлæсæй:
   «Айс æй, аназ æй Хуыцауы хæларæй,
   Айс æй, аназ æй — ронджы нуазæн!»
   Уæрхæджы  хуынд  уазджытæ иннабонæй-иннабонмæ  минас  фæкодтой,
стæй  уæд фæфардæг сты: Куырдалæгон абадтис цæхæр уады хъисыл  æмæ
ныппæррæст  ласта уæларвмæ, хæдтæхгæ Пакъуындзæйау,  Донбеттыр  та
фестадис  æргъæуон  цæхæр кæсаг æмæ ныцъыллинг  кодта  стыр  фурды
бынмæ; Нарт дæр фæфардæг сты хæтæны, стæронтау.
   Уайтагъд  айрæзтысты Ахсар æмæ Ахсæртæг: бон  рæзтысты  уылынг,
æхсæв  та  — уыдисн. Фæлæ тынг фыдуаг рацыдысты. Сарæзтой  сæхицæн
фæттæ æмæ ‘рдынтæ æмæ арвыл маргъ тæхын нæ уагътой — æрмийæ-иу  æй
   Айхъуысти  дунейыл, зæгъгæ, Нарты Уæрхæгæн рахъомыл и  хъæбатыр
фырттæ, фаззæттæ — Ахсар æмæ Ахсæртæг. Ахсар æмæ Ахсæртæг та цæмæн
хуындысты?  Уымæн,  æмæ  Ахсар,  хистæр  æфсымæр,  уыд  Ахсарджын,
Ахсæртæг та, кæстæр æфсымæр— Ахсарæй Ахсарджындæр.

Waerxaeg and his sons


The birth of Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg


Waerxaeg was in that time the oldest of the Narts. To him two boys were born, twins. One of them was born on the first cockcrow, the other on the second, at the sunrise of Venus.   The rays of the burning sun looked down on Waerxaeg and he learned this; how sweet the child is. Waerxaeg made a feast because of the glory of the day of the birth of his sons from the meat of wild animals. He invited from the heaven Kwyrdalaegon, from the sea Donbettyr, the sea god – and from the Narts Borae and others. Upon the beloved boys of Waerxaeg the heavenly Kwyrdalaegon placed caring names; upon the older one, Aexshaer, upon the younger one, Aexshaertaeg. Kwyrdalaegon gave to Waerxaeg as the gift of the godfather a magic flute from the metal of his smithy, prepared from the Bolat steel. The Narts put the magic flute upon their table and to them the flute made a song of miracle with a voice:

"Take it, drink it, to the glory of God.

Take it, drink it, the goblet filled with Rong!"

The invited guests of Waerxaeg celebrated for a weak, then after that time they went off; Kwyrdalaegon sat on a string of a fiery storm and took flight in a flash, flying as the mythical bird Pak’wyndzae, while Donbettyr turned into a sparking fish made out of mother-of-pearl and made a plunge to the bottom of the great sea; Also the Narts went off in a campaign, as cattle-thiefs.

Immediately Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg grew; during daytime they grew the span of a forefinger to the thumb, but at night the span of a whole palm. But they came out very spoiled. They made arrows and bows and a bird flying in the sky they did not leave alone – repeatedly they shot them down from the arm. 

The people heard in the world, the saying, that indeed brave sons were grown up to Waerxaeg, twins -Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg. But to what call the people them Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg? Because Aexshaer, the oldest brother, was heroic, but Aexshaertaeg, the younger brother, was more heroic than Aexshaer.


Some notes:

  • the name Donbettyr was a folk-etymological (Don means river) epithet for the Ossetian seagod based on Saint Peter (Saint Peter was venerated by the Eastern Orthodox christians in Caucasian Georgia).
  • apparently a feast with the meat of wild animals was something special.
  • Rong was an alcoholic beverage.
  • mother-of-pearl was a a much sought-after material of decoration in the lands of the Ossetians.
  • being called a cattle-thief was something honourable 

Isidorus van Sevilla en de linguis gentium de vroegmiddeleeuwse taalwetenschap beschouwd

Als historisch taalwetenschappers en filologen moeten
we werken met de historische talen waarvan schriftmonumenten tot ons gekomen
zijn. Al sinds de middeleeuwen was men bekend met het adagium ‘verba volant, scripta manent’ [woorden
vliegen, geschreven zaken blijven] en ook vandaag de dag worden we met de
waarheid van deze uitspraak dagelijks geconfronteerd. Zo denk ik dat er vele
Indogermanisten zijn, die maar wat graag een seance met een spreker van het PIE
zouden houden, al was het maar om te horen of H1 daadwerkelijk een
glottisslag was. Het mysterie dat taal heet te zijn en waarvan de moderne
taalwetenschap al sinds de negentiende eeuw de finesses probeert te doorgronden,
was voor de westerse middeleeuwse wetenschapper even mysterieus, hetzij minder
problematisch. Taal was als grammaticaal fenomeen voor de middeleeuwer afdoende
verklaard door laatantieke grammatici zoals Donatus. Wat een stem is, wat een
foneem is, wat een syllabe is; de grammatici hadden het in de derde en vierde
eeuw na Chr. allemaal overzichtelijk opgeschreven en voor de middeleeuwer was
daarmee de kous af. De Stoïcijnse notie dat in taal de ware aard (etymon) van de dingen verborgen zou
zijn, werd bij wijze van woordspel ook wel eens door middeleeuwse
wetenschappers verkend. Als cultureel fenomeen was taal voor de middeleeuwer
interessanter, omdat het één van de theologische fundamenten van het
christendom betrof.


Het woord Gods was in de Scripturae (de Schrift) aan de volkeren
geopenbaard en mocht alleen in de drie heiligen talen opgeschreven worden, te
weten het Hebreeuws, het Grieks en het Latijn. Net deze talen waarin de
aanklacht IESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM, die men op Pilatus’ bevel aan het
kruis hing, geschreven was. Gelukkig waren de oosterse bisdommen het met deze
leerstelling niet eens (zij noemde deze leerstelling de Pilatiaanse ketterij),
zodat wij het Gotisch, het Armeens en het Oudkerkslavisch overgeleverd hebben
gekregen. Ook de bekeringspraktijk en oppervlakkige kerstening in barbaars
Germanië noopten clerici ertoe verscheidene volkstalen aan het schrift toe te
vertrouwen. De Ieren hadden, eigenwijs als zij waren, geen buitenlandse
missionarissen nodig om hun taal te verschriftelijken en besloten zelf de
christelijke teksten in hun eigen taal om te zetten. Maar hoe keken deze
middeleeuwers naar taal? Welke preconcepties namen zij met zich mee toen zij
aan hun noeste vertaalarbeid begonnen? Een gedeelte van het antwoord op deze
vragen ligt besloten in de Etymologiae
van Isidorus van Sevilla. Isidorus was een zevende-eeuwse bisschop in
Visigothisch Spanje en schreef het monumentale werk Etymologiae, wat men met een beetje goede wil als de middeleeuwse
voorganger van wikipedia kan beschouwen. In deze encyclopedie verzamelde
Isidorus alle kennis over alle zaken, die hij belangrijk achtte, in twintig
boeken. Ook het fenomeen taal komt in deze boeken aan bod. Daarom zou ik u nu
graag kort kennis laten maken met Isidorus’ kijk op taal, die door de
middeleeuwen heen en zelfs daarna leidend was. Een kijkje dus in de
taalwetenschap van de vroege middeleeuwen.


Hoezeer het de Indogermanist ook zal verdrieten, in de
middeleeuwen was men er van overtuigd dat het Hebreeuws de oudste taal ter
wereld was. Isidorus laat daar geen twijfel over bestaan: Nam priusquam superbia turris illius in diversos signorum sonos humanam
divideret societatem, una omnium nationum lingua fuit, quae Hebrae vocatur.

[want voordat de hoogmoed van deze toren (van Babel) de menselijke gemeenschap
in verschillende klanken van betekenissen zou hebben verdeeld, was er één taal
voor alle volkeren, die het Hebreeuws wordt genoemd] Wat er na de toren van
Babel gebeurde, was voor Isidorus niet helemaal duidelijk. Hij nam aan dat hoewel
er aanvankelijk evenveel volkeren als talen moeten zijn geweest, er later meer
volkeren dan talen waren, omdat verscheidene volkeren uit dezelfde taal moeten
zijn voortgekomen [quia ex una lingua
multae sunt gentes exortae
]. Op zich
een zinnige opmerking, waarvan veel negentiende-eeuwse romantici wat hadden
kunnen leren.


Ook andere kwesties houden Isidorus bezig; zo heeft hij
zichtbaar moeite met het feit dat God de woorden ‘fiat lux’ [er worde licht]
gesproken zou hebben, aangezien er toen nog geen taal kon zijn. Hoe God dan überhaupt
gesproken zou kunnen hebben, wanneer er geen taal bestond, laat Isidorus
onbeantwoord. Ook vraagt hij zich af met welke woorden God zich tot de profeten
zou hebben gewend. De notie dat God in de oertaal (de taal vóór Babel) tot de
profeten zou hebben gesproken, wordt door Isidorus verworpen. Want, zo zegt
hij, dan zou niemand de Heer hebben verstaan. Deze uitspraak is weer wat
vreemd, aangezien hij een regel daarvoor had beweerd dat het Hebreeuws de
oertaal was en de Hebreeuwse profeten welzeker Hebreeuws moeten hebben gekend.
Zo zijn er meer uitspraken van Isidorus waarbij menig postmodern wetenschapper
een wenkbrauw zal optrekken. Doofstomme mensen komen er bijvoorbeeld in de Etymologiae slecht vanaf, want mensen
die geen taal spreken ‘zijn slechter dan brute beesten’ [animalium brutorum deterior]. Verder grosseert Isidorus in
truïsmes. Zo zegt hij dat het voor een mens zeer moeilijk is om alle talen van
de wereld te leren (een waarheid als een koe) en dat niemand weet welke talen
er in de toekomst zullen worden gesproken. Andere problemen die Isidorus
aansnijdt zijn voor ons weinig interessant. Zo heeft Isidorus een uitgesproken
mening over het vraagstuk of de engelen een eigen taal hebben en vindt hij dat
de oosterse volkeren (zoals de Joden) hun taal en woorden in de keel samenknarsen.


De noties van Isidorus waren
in de middeleeuwen leidend, maar niet bindend. Zo meende een Ierse monnik dat
Goidel, de eponymische stamvader van de Ieren, ten tijde van de bouw van de
Babylonische toren elders vertoefde en zo de spraakverwarring ontlopen had.
Omdat Goidel zich misdeeld voelde, kreeg een Egyptische geleerde van God de
opdracht om uit alle talen van de wereld het beste van die taal te nemen en in
een nieuwe taal te stoppen. Deze kunsttaal die ‘bérla teipide’ [de uitgekozen taal] werd genoemd, werd vervolgens
aan Goidel en zijn nazaten gegeven. Zo zou dus het Iers tot stand zijn gekomen.  Vanaf de
achtste eeuw meenden verscheidene andere volkeren dat ook hun taal gebruikt
mocht worden om god te loven, hetzij alleen als complement op de Latijnse
geletterdheid. Deze volkeren zagen zich in hun overtuiging gesterkt door wat de
apostel Paulus in ‘ad Philippenses’ geschreven
had: et omnis lingua confiteatur quia
Dominus Iesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris
[en elke taal zal bekennen
dat Jezus Christus de Heer is tot de glorie van God de Vader]. Zo ontstaat er
in Angelsaksisch Brittannië een bloeiende volkstalige schriftcultuur, die door
koning Alfred met veel enthousiasme bevorderd werd. Ook het Oostfrankische rijk
timmerde schuchter aan een eigen volkstalige literatuur. Otfrid van Weissenburg
schreef in de negende eeuw een eindrijmend evangeliënboek in de Oostfrankische
taal en verdedigde deze beslissing als volgt: Uuánana sculun Fráncon, éinon thaz biuuánkon, ni sie in frénkisgon
bigínnen, sie gótes lób singen
[waarom zullen de Franken, als enigen dat
vermijden, zij niet in het Frankisch beginnen, Gods lof te zingen].


Samenvattend kan men stellen dat de middeleeuwse kijk
op taal voor een gedeelte geërfd was van laatantieke grammatici en stoïcijnse
filosofen, en voor een gedeelte door de middeleeuwers zelf was ingevuld en aan
de christelijke theologie was aangepast. Taal was voor de middeleeuwer
belangrijk omdat het direct verband hield met het woord Gods. Naast dit
elitaire vertoog rond het fenomeen taal, bestonden er natuurlijk ook andere,
voor de historicus, minder toegankelijke vertogen. Zo lijken de
vroegmiddeleeuwse Germaanssprekende volkeren een goed besef van de gelijkenis
van hun talen gehad te hebben en werden deze talen (door Paulus Diaconus
bijvoorbeeld) als één taal gezien. Ook hadden de Keltisch- en Germaanssprekende
volkeren waarschijnlijk in hun taalcultuur een Indo-Europese dichotomie van
verheven (Allvíssmál) en alledaagse
taal bewaard, die van wezenlijk belang was in hun poëtische registers. Maar dan
verlaten we de mediëvistiek en betreden we de studie van de Indo-Europese
dichtcultuur, een vakgebied waar velen (zoniet iedereen) een stuk bedrevener in
zijn dan ik. Veel zaken met betrekking tot middeleeuwse mentaliteiten blijven
nog steeds duister, zo ook met de middeleeuwse houding tegenover het fenomeen
taal. En ik vrees dat ook hier alleen een seance uitkomst zou kunnen bieden…


Peter Alexander Kerkhof


MA-student in Comparative Indo-European Linguistics



Braune, Althochdeutsches Lesebuch (Tübingen

Hiëronymus, Biblia
Sacra iuxta vulgata versionum
, Roger Gryson ed., (Deutsche Buchgesellschaft

Paul Russel, “What
was best of every language; the early history of the Irish language”, in: a
new history of Ireland
Dáibhi Ó Cróinín ed. (Oxford 2005).

Isidorus Hyspaniensis episcopus, Etymologiarum Sive Originum Libri XX
(Oxford 1911).

Dr. H. L. W. Nelson, Etymologiae
van Isidorus van Sevilia ; een boek op de grens van de antieke en de
middeleeuwse wereld
(Leiden 1954).

Julia M. H. Smith, Europe after Rome; a new cultural history 500-1000
(Oxford 2005).

Calvert Watkins, “Language of Gods and Language of Men: Remarks on Some
Indo-European Metalinguistic traditions” in: Myth and Law among the
, Jaan Puhvel ed., (1970).


(Dit artikel verschijnt april 2010 in TWISTER, het mededelingenblad voor de studievereging van de Algemene en Vergelijkende Taalwetenschap)