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Lists containing North Germanic personal names from the 12th century
Lists containing North Germanic personal names from the 12th century (to the left and right) in the Codex of Fraternisation from the Reichnau Abbey (Germany).
Photo: Photographer/Illustrator: Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms. Rh. hist. 27: Codex of Fraternisation (http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/zbz/Ms-Rh-hist0027)
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Variation and contact in medieval personal names

Research project

Short description

This project investigates which strategies are employed when North Germanic personal names are adapted to medieval German, French and Latin in multilingual contexts. It aims at surveying the variation patterns evident in the adaptations and seeks to develop a theoretical model that explains why different strategies were used. In previous research on names in historical language contact, the focus has been on place-names, whereas personal names are still underexplored. This project seeks to fill this gap.
The corpus, consisting of ca. 1000 North Germanic names recorded during the 1000-1300s, will be edited in an openly accessible online-database. In this regard, the project aims also at improving philological principles for digital edition of historical personal names by taking into account both spelling variation and language contact.

Purpose and aims

The overall objective of this project is to deepen our understanding of how personal names behave in historical language contact situations. It investigates how North Germanic personal names are adapted to medieval German, French and Latin and how the variation in these name adaptations can be explained. In current theoretical and empirical accounts on names in language contact, the main emphasis lies on place-names. Personal names have so far been neglected and are still underexplored, particularly with regard to historical contexts. This project seeks to fill this research gap and to advance theory and method in historical name studies with an emphasis on personal names.
In this study, the North Germanic names in Continental manuscripts will be comprehensively documented for the first time and edited digitally in the database NordiCon which is developed in collaboration with Språkbanken. The database combines formally interpreted and richly interlinked onomastic data with digitized versions of the medieval manuscripts and information on the name tokens' context.
In this regard, the project also aims to improve philological principles for digital edition historical personal names by taking into account both spelling variation and language contact. These principles will be transferable to other historical name corpora and contribute to the broader field of historical onomastic lexicography.

Research questions

The specific research questions in focus are:

  1. On what linguistic levels (graphemic, phonetic, morphologic, lexical) and how are historical personal names adapted?
  2. What are the factors behind the variation and stability in adaptation strategies and contact outcomes in the social context of language contact?
  3. What are the similarities and differences between adaptations of place-names studied in previous research and of the here investigated personal names?

Research topic and data

Adaptations in personal names are common in modern times: Fredrik from Sweden might call himself Federico in an Italian speaking context, the Swedish name Ola would be pronounced [o:la] by a German speaking person reading the name or written <Ula> when writing it down from hearing it. Similar processes can be observed in names from medieval manuscripts:

(1)    Phonological adaptation: Old Norse Þórðr -> Zurder in a German manuscript
(2)    Phonological and morphological adaptation: Old Norse Þórkel -> Turquillus in a French manuscript
(3)    Lexical adaptation (translation of cognate words): Old Norse Karlshǫfuð ->Karleshoubit in a German manuscript.

The three examples show some of the variation in the adaptation strategies, (1) and (3) being similar to the above-named modern strategies.
In contrast to how foreign names can be written in modern languages with standardised writing systems, the historical material shows a wide variety in spelling practices. In example (4), the different forms of one Old Norse name are given as they appear in one and the same German manuscript.

(4)    Old Norse Þórkel/Þórketil -> Durchgetil, Dorchil, Durchil, Thorkil, Trucul, Drukil, Drukel, Druchil, Drochil, Truggel

All forms are phonological adaptations to German hence the same adaptation strategy was used in all the cases. The variation therefore has to be the result of other, to date unknown factors which are to be investigated in this project.

The empirical data analysed in the project consists of ca. 1000 North Germanic personal names recorded by German and French speaking scribes in Continental manuscripts during the 11th to the 14th century.

Project outline

The project is devided into four work packages.

Work package 1: Corpus edition

The main aims of the project’s first phase are to collect the ca. 1000 name entries in a database and describe them philologically. The outcome will be a digital corpus with highly interlinked data that is integrated into Språkbanken Text, an infrastructure containing modern and historical written data.

Work package 2: Linguistic adaptation strategies

The outcome of the project’s second work package is a “contact grammar” where the linguistic adaptations of the North Germanic names will be categorised and described. The principal question is: On what linguistic levels (graphemic, phonetic, morphologic, lexical) and how are the names adapted? The analysis is based on the data collected in the database and the contact linguistic method applied is a contrastive analysis of the linguistic structure of the name entries in the manuscripts to the Old Norse name lemma. Every single linguistic level will be addressed in more detail and the name adaptations will be analysed in the light of the current knowledge about the source and target languages’ grammar.

Work package 3: Factors for variation and stability in the name adaptations

The aim of the third work package is to explain the variation in the adapted name forms. The general question is: What are the factors behind similar and different name adaptation strategies and contact outcomes? Since single scribes proved to be a crucial factor for variation in historical writing, the analysis will be divided into micro-studies concentrating on the adaption and scripting practices of single scribes (intra-individual variation), and a macro-study across the different scribes (inter-individual variation).
The evidence of this project is furthermore highly valuable for research on the graphemics and phonology of both Middle High German and the medieval North Germanic languages due to the involvement of spoken language in the contact situation. Therefore, this study will include the investigation of selected graphemic and phonological features that will enhance our knowledge about these historical languages.

Work package 4: Synthesis

In the project’s last part, an explanatory model for the linguistic variation in adaptations of historical personal names will be presented. The model will be compared to previous models for the adaptation of place-names on the one hand and to the state-of-the-art about spelling variation in historical languages. The two hypotheses that personal names show specific linguistic adaptation strategies compared to place-names and that the variation mainly relies on historical spelling practices will be evaluated.

Collaboration

The collaborating partners of this project are Språkbanken (Lars Borin, Dana Dannélls, Jonatan Uppström) at GU, Dr. Peter Erhard (Monastery Archive St. Gallen), Dr Katharina Leibring (University of Uppsala), Dr Michael Lerche Nielsen (University of Copenhagen), Prof. Dr. Andreas Nievergelt (University of Zurich, Monastery Archive St. Gallen, University of Bonn), Prof. Dr. Damaris Nübling (Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz), and Prof em. Ingmar Söhrman (GU).

Publications

The NordiCon database of Medieval Nordic Personal Names in Continental Sources (Språkbanken Text)
https://www.gu.se/forskning/publikation/?publicationId=293332
https://www.gu.se/forskning/publikation/?publicationId=273278

 

Lists containing North Germanic personal names from the 12th century
Lists containing North Germanic personal names from the 12th century (on the top left and right corners) in the Codex of Fraternisation from the Reichnau Abbey (Germany).
Photo: Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms. Rh. hist. 27: Codex of Fraternisation (http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/zbz/Ms-Rh-hist0027)