Friday, January 20, 2006

Some Saxon for your Saturday (early ed.)

Today's link isn't about Anglo-Saxon (Old English), but Old Saxon, the language of the Saxons that stayed behind on the continent, also known as Low German. (The modern descendent of Old Low German is Plattdeutsch, or Plattdüütsch.)

Among the many interesting features of the Northvegr site is this Latin to Old Saxon dictionary.

If you're enough like me that you're still reading my blog, you may enjoy browsing random pages and seeing what words you can recognize from modern English. For example, take the entry:

sermo quidi, mahal, spel, sprâca, vvord.

How many of these words have English relatives? Answer: All but one (and I'm pretty sure the one has an Old English cognate). First, let's take the easiest: the last word is, in fact, "word", with the Old Saxon spelling convention of using two separate v's instead of a 'w'. So if the words are all related to speech, can you guess the rest? (Don't worry about mahal for now.)

sermo > sermon
quidi > quoth
spel > [go]spel (< godspell, 'good news')
sprâca > speak (cf. German sprechen)

Without looking anything up at the moment, I'm guessing mahal is related to Old Norse mál (as in the Hávamál) and Old English maðelian. (Beowulf's speeches usually begin with Beowulf maðelode ... "Beowulf matheled")

Here's an even easier one:

mare meri, geban, lagu; sêo, flôd, strom, vvatar.

Once again, all but one (geban) of the Saxon words have cousins several times removed in modern English. To wit: mere/mer[maid], lake; sea, flood, stream, water.

A little more challenging:

dux folc-togo, heri-togo, lêdo, lêdor.

Dux yields "duke" in English, hence the last two Saxon entries being obviously related to "leader". Any ideas on the first two? Yes, folc is "folk". No, togo does not mean Saxon leaders wore togas. Heri-togo is a direct cognate of German herzog, which also means "duke". Heri, like Heer in modern German, means "army". The togo is related to the German verb ziehen, to draw, pull, 'tug', and its inflected form, -zog-. (Der Herzog hat seinen Anzug angezogen. The duke put on his suit.) Anyway, a duke was someone who led (togo) his people (folc) and army (heri).

As you may notice, Low German, along with Dutch and Frisian, occupies linguistically a middle-position between English and German. (Just like Old English occupied a middle position between all of the above and Old Norse.)

Now one for you Tolkien fans:

legio eorid, ierid.

The Rohirrim in Tolkien's books speak Old English (the Mercian dialect), which has eored, from eoh horse and râd > ride/rode. Tolkien's idea for Rohan was to imagine what an Anglo-Saxon kingdom might have been like if horses had played a bigger part in their society, as they did on the continent. Along with eoh, Old English also has mearh, mare, and hros, hors, horse. Ironic that they inherited so many words for an animal that has comparatively little role in their history compared to the continent. (I think Tolkien thought the Battle of Hastings might have gone better if Harald had had more mounted units.)

...Ok, one more:

margarita mere-griota, mere-grita.

Margarita is Latin for pearl. This entry almost sounds like the Latin term was once a loan-word from Germanic. Saxon mere-grita is just what it looks like: "mere-grit", or "lake-sand", or even "water-pebble" (it's only a coincidence that the drink is served in a glass encrusted with salt). Then again, it could be that when a Roman said "margarita", what a Saxon heard in his head was "mere-grita". The Old English would be mere-greot. According to Liddel and Scott, the Latin source, the Greek margaritês, is itself a loan-word from Persian. Beyond this, the Indo-European entry for mori- doesn't suggest any connection. Oh well.

Incidentally, the Perseus Digital Library is a very handy tool for inquiries like this.


Derek the Ænglican said...

Very cool. I find the Northvegr site entertaining on many levels... ;-)

I wonder, though--of your regualr readers are there some who *don't* know both Latin and some Dead Germanic language??

Mikaela D'eigh said...

*raises hand*. :o) Just a little Latin and no Dead Germanic ~ although I am catching on to Gothic pretty well now. ;o)

Derek the Ænglican said...

Aw, Gothic won't be any problem... just have plenty of this and you'll catch right on... :-D