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Linguistic Methodology in Editing Old English Laws

Friday, November 12, 2010
12:00 AM
2001 LSA Building

Lisi Oliver, LSU This presentation might be subtitled: “Applied Historical Linguistics”. It examines how various fields of linguistic analysis must be applied to a text before beginning an edition and/or translation. Another possible subtitle might be: “Language Detective Deciphers Laws!” More dramatic, but equally appropriate, as the search to understand the meaning of ‘dead’ languages is, in fact, a process of detection. The talk will present examples of how morphology, syntax, and dialectology inform our understanding of the laws of Alfred the Great, whose code was written in Old English in the last part of the ninth century. I consider how morphology can help ferret out the meaning of hapax legomena: words that appear only once in the corpus. I also discuss the difficulty of defining monomorphemic words, drawing on both linguistic and extra-linguistic clues. On a larger scale, I look at the use of syntactic analysis to establish the stemmata (that is, the family tree) of the various manuscripts of Alfred’s laws. I also discuss the principles of breaking a continuously-written manuscript into individual legal stipulations or rulings. Finally, I look at what dialectology and comparative law can tell us about the sources from which Alfred drew to create his own collocation.