Thursday, January 12, 2006

In Which I Finally Address Medieval Studies

I've been blogging around for several months now, discussing everything from my grad student angst to the modern Chinese legal code. I have not yet discussed medieval studies, which is an odd choice when one considers the name of this blog. Much of this reluctance to write about things medieval comes directly from grad student angst, actually. I have much yet to learn, and I know it. Eventually, I may even come up with an original idea, which would be fabulous. (It doesn't help that certain medievalists keep publishing well thought-out articles about my ideas before I have them. I'm looking at you, John D. Niles, Sassypants Professor of English at University With Better Weather Than Mine. Go camping for a second, would ya? Give a person a chance to think. Geez!) Ahem, anyone wondering why this blog is pseudonymous should now fully understand. Anyway, in celebration of my 50th post, I have decided to take the advice I have so often given and make the title match the content to some extent.

An Anglo-Saxonist's Complaint:
As you may have guessed from the blogname, my primary area of interest is literature from Pre-Norman England. It's the absolutely perfect mix of literature, language, history and general cultural anthropology for me. I especially enjoy the decoding language portion of the exercise. This area of specialization occasionally causes confusion between me and people from other (sub-)disciplines, because I classify many things as "a little modern for me" that others consider not-so-modern. Like November, 1066, for example. I'm being slightly hyperbolic, of course, but it does twist my knickers a little when people learn that I study Old English, and respond by sharing their thoughts about Shakespeare. Shakespeare's plays are both old and English, and many of them are very good, but they are not written in Old English.

A demonstration:
Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum, Si þin nama gehalgod. to becume þin rice, gewurþe ðin willa, on eorðan swa swa on heofonum. urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg, and forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum. and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele. soþlice. <---- Old English (Lord's Prayer)

If I could have remembered a gilt counterfeit, thou wouldst not have slipped out of my contemplation: but it is no matter; thyself upon thyself! The common curse of mankind, folly and ignorance, be thine in great revenue! heaven bless thee from a tutor, and discipline come not near thee! Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death! then, if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corpse, I’ll be sworn and sworn upon’t she never shrouded any but lazars. Amen.
(Troilus and Cressida, Act II, sc. iii, l.5 ff.)

See? There's a bit of difference there; Shakespeare is way snarkier. Also, I defy you to find a linguistic expression cuter than "swa swa" (aka 'so' or 'as') anywhere!


Anonymous said...

I know that international de-lurker-day is probably over and done with, but I thought I'd delurk for a second even so, on account of us both having been adopted by Ancrene's mom. This technically makes us sisters, a great thing indeed, and especially since I do read your blog regularly. When I go to Ireland and people outside the academia hears that I study Old Irish, one very common reply (almost as common as the "Why in god's name do you do that for", which indeed is a change from the reply I get in my own country which invariably is:"What is that?") is: "Oh, my mother spoke that". Not wanting to point out that it seems very unlikely that their mothers were born and bread in the 6th to 12th century, I quickly change the subject. What they mean, of course, is that their mothers (for some reason its always mothers) spoke Irish as it was before the several spelling reforms at the beginning of the century. That is as much Old Irish as Shakespeare is Old English.
In any case, nice to talk to you new sis, and take care

Jennie said...

I agree, 'swa swa' is very cool.

I take it Chaucer wasn't written in old English either, eh?

Interesting to read the Lord's Prayer in Old English. Made me really think of the words.

(Dharma's friend)

HeoCwaeth said...

Hi Kicki,
You know, I could hear the accent reading the Irish national comments. Brought a big smile to my face, too. I guess part of the joy of studying the arcane is that it's arcane, but sometimes the feeling that you're the only person in the room who knows what you're talking about can be rather humbling. Anyway, I raise a glass to Irish mothers who have clearly found the secret of eternal life. Thanks for de-lurking, and nice talking to you, new sis.

Hi Jennie (friend of Dharma),
I had the same experience reading The Lord's Prayer in Old English for the first time. Some of the most fun texts are really the ones we know in our own version of the language; heightens the whole linguistic peek in grandma's attic aspect. As for Chaucer, you take it correctly, he was late Middle English. Still lots of fun, though.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

Oh, I love "swa swa."

Sometime, I should send you my Old English re-write of "I'm Too Sexy." I think you'd like it.

And hi there, Kicki! /waving/

You know, I always wanted sisters . . . .

Dr. Virago said...

Yes, swa swa rox the house!

On that note, must practice that Lord's prayer to read to my students tomorrow, coincidentally!

King Alfred said...

Not only is Old English swa cool, so is Gothic with swaswe, and even Old High German sort of, with its own version, swie. The Gothic one almost put me to sleep (the good way).

'Sway cool, isn't it, studying old languages? ;-)

charles edwards said...

The study of old languages and especially dead ones is facinating and the relations to modern tonques is suprising. I have studied many including Akkadian and find the whole subject enthralling. said...

For my part everyone ought to glance at it.