Sunday, June 18, 2006

Old Germanic Sound Gallery & the Languages of the Franks

So I finally got myself to record something in six of the old Germanic languages that we have documents in (sorry, I didn't get to Old Frisian this time around) for a little event at AncientWorlds called the Thousand Years Faire. There's a thread there called the Gallery of Germanic Languages, and for each language I put together a little description, together with at least one audio resource. I'm the most confident about my pronunciation of the Old English since I've studied it the longest, then of the Gothic (just because I love its sound so much), down to the three Old High German dialects, which I'm the least confident about my pronunciation of. (Dangling preposition alert: deal with it.) :-)

Here are the posts for each (my persona on AW is Eirikr Knudsson, a nice Old English-Norse combo-name). Those of you who are actual current students or teachers of these languages are very welcome to correct my pronunciation (please). [Note: it's not supposed to work this way, but if you navigate to these links with Firefox, the embedded sound files of my readings start automatically (except for the OHG one).]

Gothic

Old Saxon

Old High German

Old English

Old Norse

Old Frankish

I called "Old Frankish" any language/dialect associated with the Franks, which as you'll learn when you read the last post, were a span of dialects mostly mutually intelligible, but which fall into what are today classified as two separate "languages": Old Low Franconian and Old High German. (Old Low German is the same as Old Saxon.) Funny how much human knowledge tries to chop up into measurable units realities that are in fact fluid and stretch across spectrums.

I've been especially interested in Old Low Franconian and the Franconian dialects of Old High German recently--an interest sparked several months ago by my musing at the Frankish tribe's switch from a Germanic to a Romance language, and wondering what language Charlemagne spoke. Does anyone know anything solid about when this change took place? It seems to me that the Franks moving into Gaul would have meant a lot more contact with native Latin (and even Celtic?) speakers. But surely it takes a while for an entire nation to switch languages. I imagined Charlemagne would have done much to effect this change himself, both by his promotion of schools and learning, and his (family's) close relationship with the Catholic Church. (My namesake in the kingdom of Wessex had similar interests in both regards, but found himself so frustrated at the state of Latin education in his land that he had scribes translate important texts into his native English until such time as people's knowledge of Latin good enough to render translations unnecessary.)

Back to the language of the Franks, then: the earliest example of Old French is the Strassburg Oaths of A.D. 842. This Wikipedia article has a great description plus the original Latin/Old French/Old High German text. (Notice the German dialect used by Louis the German's troops is Rhenish Franconian: politically it's Frankish, but linguistically it's High German.)

So sometime between the arrival of the Germanic Franks into Gaul in the 3rd century, their conversion to Catholicism in the 4th, and the Strasburg Oaths in the 9th, this wholesale language change took place. My sources list the Old Low Franconian dialect I recorded as being "east", associated with Limburg and Aachen. Obviously these areas retain Germanic dialects today (Dutch and German respectively). Moreover, not only was Aachen Charlemagne's palace-home, but the Eastern section of the Frankish kingdom (Austrasia), covering roughly northern Germany and the Low Countries, was the home of Charlemagne's line of Mayors of the Palace (pre-Pippin) / Frankish Kings (post-Pippin). Thus my conclusion that Charlemagne's line would still have spoken Germanic dialects--something between Rhenish Franconian (=Old High German) and Old East Low Franconian.

Feedback is welcome!! (Must ... refrain from ... obvious ... pun about ... being frank ...)

3 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

Those soundfiles are interesting. I've to figure out how it's done, then I can treat you with a few lines from the Anglornorman Song of Roland - just for the fun of it. :)

I have registered with AncientWorlds but somehow never went back after my first posts; I should explore the site a bit more.

King Alfred said...

Yes! Please treat us to Anglo-Norman! :-) And you should definitely wander back to AncientWorlds more often, it's a fun place.

Cantor Exiguus said...

What a great treat to listen to your pronunciations. Can you suggest a reliable source on pronunciation of Old Low (East) Franconian? I need help with some proper names (specifically "Theuto") in a ninth-century Latin poem by Frankish author, lest I embarrass myself at a conference.