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Medieval Libri vitæ as a source for historical sociolinguistic research. Questions and methodological issues

Conference contribution
Authors Michelle Waldispühl
Christine Wallis
Published in HiSoN conference. "Making Waves in Historical Sociolinguistics", 30 May–1 June 2018, Leiden
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Language en
Subject categories German language, English language, Germanic languages, Other Germanic languages, General Language Studies and Linguistics, Historical cultures


Libri vitæ are series of lists recording the names of living and dead people which became popular in the Carolingian ninth century, having mainly liturgical and memorial function: if your name was in the book, you would be included in the convent’s prayers (Erhart & Kuratli 2010). So far, these lists have been of interest mainly in historical and onomastic studies, here with a focus on name etymology and personal naming practices. Both the linguistics of the names and sociolinguistic perspectives remain to date underexplored. Our paper is explorative in nature, outlining possible sociolinguistic research questions and raising methodological issues and challenges based on two examples, the Libri vitæ of Thorney Abbey (London, British Library Add. MS 40,000) and Reichenau (Zürich, Central Library Ms. Rh. hist. 27). The former contains c. 3200 names of individuals living between the early-eleventh and early-thirteenth centuries, and is contained at the beginning of a Gospel. The latter was planned and executed as a Liber vitae in the ninth century and in use for over 400 years, and contains more than 38,000 name entries. Both manuscripts show remarkable variation not only regarding trends in personal naming, but also in the layout and presentation of the name lists, letter forms, spelling practices, and name forms. It is this variation we want to address: On what linguistic levels do we find variation in the names and how can we model it? What factors can be identified for variation in the names? Which conclusions can be drawn about writing traditions in general and scribal training and practices in particular, both synchronically and diachronically? What are the methodological challenges for a historical sociolinguistic analysis of Libri vitæ and how can they be addressed? References Erhart, P., & Kuratli, J. (2010). Bücher des Lebens - Lebendige Bücher. St. Gallen: Stiftsarchiv.

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