Norway has been bilingual since the Middle Ages

September 9th, 2020 by The fact that Norwegians wrote with runes in the Viking Age and Middle Ages is well known. But how did it go when alphabetic writing arrived and we switched from runes to the letters we know today? New research on inscriptions with letters shows that the transition was far slower than many believe. “We find inscriptions with letters and runes from the same time, on the same kind of artefacts,” says Elise Kleivane. “Here, the writing is in both Old Norse and Latin, and we see that runes and letters could be used for the same thing. What is interesting to see is what people chose to write in what language, and with what kind of alphabet,” she says. Kleivane is an Old Norse philologist and associate professor at the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies (ILN) at the University of Oslo. Together with doctoral fellow Johan Bollaert, she has done research on precisely these inscriptions. The written culture flourishes The first written language culture in Norway begins with the runes in the 100s AD. Researchers assume that an oral culture mainly prevailed at this time, but inscriptions have been found on stone, metal and wooden sticks. “Based on what has been preserved, it looks as though there has been limited use of runic writing. Memorial stones have been found along with jewellery and precious artefacts, usually with names or other relatively short inscriptions. They probably wrote on more things than we have found – on birch bark, in the sand or on wood,” says Kleivane. In the early written sources of writing from the Viking Age, the texts are often short and there are not many of them – preserved at least. A common example is gravestones, with standard formulations about the person buried underneath. When the Latin language and writing system came to Norway with Christianity around the year 1000 AD, this changed. Read more: Mirage

The Unknown Story of the Greeks Who Shaped the Latin Alphabet

February 3rd, 2020 by The Latin alphabet is undoubtedly the world’s most recognizable form of written language, whose history goes back in time to the eras of ancient Greek and Roman dominance of the entire Western world. In its modern form, with its many variations and alterations, the Latin alphabet is officially used by an amazing 131 sovereign nations, and it is also a co-official script form in twelve other countries. Even in the countries which do not use it officially, most of their people not only recognize it, but they can also read it, mainly due to the global influence of the English language in our time. However, the exact origins of the Latin alphabet now used by billions of people are relatively unknown, and very few people are actually aware that the Latin alphabet itself finds its roots in an older form of Greek writing. The Origins of the Latin alphabet It is widely accepted in the linguistic community that the Latin alphabet is a product of a long and complicated journey which ultimately has its roots back in the hieroglyphic tradition of ancient Egypt. However, its most obvious and prominent influence derived from the Greek alphabet itself. It was no other than the Euboean variation of the Greek alphabet, used on the island of Euboea (Evia) in Greece, which ultimately created what we now call the ”Western Greek alphabets.” The western Greek alphabets shaped, in their turn, the Etruscan alphabet, the direct predecessor of the alphabet used by the Romans to write the Latin language. The Euboean alphabet was used by the Greeks who lived in the cities of Chalkis and Eretria beginning in the early years of Greek antiquity. Read more: Greek Reporter

The Highbrow Struggles of Translating Modern Children’s Books Into Latin

July 3rd, 2017 by According to conventional wisdom, Latin is a dead language. But a simple Amazon search shows that it still has a surprisingly active life—not just in medical and law terminology, but also in children’s books. After serving as the chief language of ancient Rome, and then as the language of scholars and holy men, Latin mostly faded out of modern usage. Even its study is becoming increasingly rare, but there are still some publishers and scholars who are taking modern works, mainly kids’ books, and translating them from modern English into what can best be described as a kind of modern Latin. From picture books such as Walter the Farting Dog, to longer works such as Winnie the Pooh, and the first two books in the “Harry Potter” series, a wide variety of titles have made the jump to Latin over the years. Children’s books make good candidates for such translation work due to their simplified language and short length, and in turn can give the study of Latin a more contemporary feel. But this doesn’t mean that turning these books into Latin in the first place is any small feat. “Green Eggs and Ham was very difficult,” says Terence Tunberg, who has been teaching Latin for over 30 years. Along with his wife, Jennifer, he has translated a number of children’s books into Latin. In addition to Green Eggs and Ham (Latin title: Virent Ova! Viret Perna!!), the Tunbergs have also translated Dr. Seuss classics How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Quomodo Invidiosulus nomine Grinchus Christi natalem Abrogaverit) and The Cat in the Hat (Cattus Petasatus), as well as Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree (Arbor Alma). “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][They’re] a good teaching tool, there’s no doubt about that. We did not try to write simple Latin,” says Tunberg. “We tried to translate it the best we could given the resources of the Latin language without dumbing it down.” Read more: Atlas Obscura[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

A Rare Public Display of a 17th-Century Mayan Manuscript

May 21st, 2017 by When you take a close look at the flowery but meticulous lettering in the 17th-century book, you can see that many people wrote the script, at different times. The book includes everything from sermons to poems, and there’s a dedication to Pope Urban IV. The Libro de Sermones Varios en Lengua Quiche, from 1690, is the oldest manuscript in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives. It provides not only a fascinating look at the evolution of the Maya K’iche’ language, but it also tells a stark tale of religious history. “When I see a document like this it just blows me away to see the care with which the language was put on paper by so many different people,” says Gabriela Pérez-Báez, curator of linguistics in the anthropology department at the National Museum of Natural History. She says the book is written in four different languages, including K’iche’, Latin, Spanish and Kaqchikel. “The paper is thicker, the book smells differently, it is really amazing to see the care with which it was written,” Pérez-Báez marvels. The Libro de Sermones is part of the Objects of Wonder exhibition now on view at the National Museum of Natural History. The book has also been digitized so that scholars can peruse the book both to answer questions about history, but also to document the changes in the K’iche’ language as the Spanish were taking over the Maya empire in the 16th century. The text in the Libro de Sermones is very similar to the K’iche’ language that was spoken before contact with the Spanish. The book was given to one Felipe Silva by Pablo Agurdia of Guatemala in 1907, and Silva apparently donated it to the Smithsonian Institution sometime after that, but there are no documents explaining exactly how that happened. Today, Pérez-Báez says the book is quite relevant and important to scholars. Read more: Smithsonian

From world language to analytical instrument

March 30th, 2017 by For a long time, Latin was considered the language of the powerful and learned. Not only was it the administrative language of Ancient Rome, but it also spread across the entire Mediterranean region all the way to Northern and Eastern Europe during the Roman Empire. Today, people still encounter Latin at grammar schools or in the field of humanities. But it is only ever used for reading and writing. Nobody speaks Latin as their native language anymore. Prof Dr Reinhold Glei from the Institute of Latin Philology studies how Latin has evolved over centuries and in which contexts it emerged after it ceased to be a world language. Latin originated in the metropolis of Rome in the Latium region. During the Roman Empire, the language had its golden age between 753 BC and 476 AD. However, as early as 400 AD, Romans started to lose their control over some regions, and their empire began to shrink. In terms of spoken language, local dialects gradually replaced classical Latin. Still, most texts were written in Latin until the Early Modern Period. “Latin remained the language used by the educated elite in the Western world, and everyone who wanted to be part of the education systems had to study it,” says Glei. It wasn’t until the 16th century that vernacular languages became more widespread in the field of education. However, Latin did not disappear wholly in the following centuries, and it stood its ground next to vernacular languages. But why was Latin still in use? Read more: Ruhr-Universität Bochum