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Review of  Altnordische Philologie (Old Norse Philology)

Reviewer: Brendan N. Wolfe
Book Title: Altnordische Philologie (Old Norse Philology)
Book Author: Odd Einar Haugen Astrid van Nahl
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Ling & Literature
Subject Language(s): Icelandic
Norwegian Bokmål
Issue Number: 19.2106

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EDITOR: Haugen, Odd Einar
TRANSLATOR: Astrid van Nahl
TITLE: Altnordische Philologie (Old Norse Philology)
SUBTITLE: Norwegen und Island
SERIES TITLE: de Gruyter Lexikon
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2007

Brendan N. Wolfe, Wolfson College, University of Oxford

Altnordische Philologie is the German translation of _Handbok i norrøn
filologi_, published in Norwegian in 2004. As a collection of interdependent
articles which combine to cover a subject fully it is a ''handbook''; ''philology''
is used to denote the complete set of disciplines needed to interpret the
writings of a given language, including palaeography, historical linguistics,
and textual criticism. The editor, Odd Einar Haugen, is Professor of Norse
Philology at the University of Bergen, and the Director of the Medieval Nordic
Text Archive (; all of the other
contributors hold similar positions in different universities throughout Norway.

The introduction, by Odd Einar Haugen (pp. 13-31), sets out (p 15) the
intentions of the book, including the way in which the chapters are meant to
work together: Each stands alone as a presentation of its subject, in size and
detail somewhere between an article and a monograph, while all use the same
terminology and address the same level of readership. Haugen also offers a
useful few pages (pp. 20-24; 29-30) on important resources, and how to find
them, as well as discussion of what could not be included in the volume (pp.
26-28). A concisely scientific outline of the use of terms such as ''Nordic'',
''Scandinavian'' or ''Viking'' completes the prolegomena (pp. 24-26).

''Manuscripts and Archival Science'' (pp. 33-98) by Jon Gunnar Jørgensen describes
the creation, preservation history, and current location and designation of
major Old Norse manuscripts. This section will be particularly useful to
linguistic students of Old Norse, who often desire to get beyond the regularized
forms and homogenized spellings of edited texts back to what is actually read in
the sources, but are daunted by sigla such as ''Holm perg 6 fol'' or ''AM 619°''.
The rediscovery, archiving, and collecting of the manuscripts is outlined, down
to the 20th-century return of some major codices from Denmark to Iceland. Of
particular note is the text example on pages 94-96, where the same content is
given in a strict transcription, a normalized version, and a German translation.

The aforementioned theme of the steps taken to bring the content of a manuscript
to the page of an edition is resumed even more strongly in the next chapter, ''
Textual Criticism and Textual Philology'' (pp. 99-145) by Odd Einar Haugen. It
includes discussion of the process of editing a text (along with the
text-critical method), ''old'' and ''new'' (since c. 1990) philology, and the
burgeoning potential of digital texts. ''New'' philology is meant to be
exemplified by an attitude to texts less concerned with reconstructing the
earliest possible stage of development, and more interested in what a given
manuscript can convey on its own (pp. 107-8). A guide on how to use apparatus
critici (pp. 119-128) and a chart of commonly used editorial symbols make for
handy reference (p118).

While Haugen's point about old and new philology is well taken, it is perhaps
overstated, and some discussion of how traditional, reconstruction-oriented
philology was shaped by the pursuit of the autographs of the New Testament,
understood as divinely inspired, would have been welcome.

In Karin Fjellhammer Seim's ''Runology'' (pp. 147-222), the reading of runic
inscriptions is taught, the development of the runic alphabet into its Old Norse
form is delineated, and the nature of the inscriptions themselves is treated.
The earliest monuments of the Old Norse (indeed of any of the Germanic
languages) are found in the runic alphabet (c. AD 150-200). Most of the
mainstays of runology are touched upon (for an exception see the next
paragraph), including the alphabet's origin and distribution throughout Europe.
Seim illustrates the nonsense that infects this field with a reference to a
purported Semitic hieroglyphic inspiration for the runes (p 157). The locations
and types of inscriptions are exemplified and treated.

The chapter is written soberly, avoiding the mystical excesses that bedevil much
runology (in fact, more discussion of the religious uses of runes, after all
from a word meaning ''secret'', would have been welcome). The chapter's initial
theme is describing what a runologist does; while this can give the feel of ''a
day in the life of a rune-scholar'', it is a useful way of pointing out the
typical skills and risks to be expected in this field.

The other and more common alphabet in which Old Norse comes down to us, the
Roman, is treated in ''Palaeography'' (pp. 223-274) by Odd Einar Haugen. The
evolution of the alphabet is treated before a detailed discussion of important
individual letters and their formation. The chapter also contains a section on
abbreviations, which are pervasive in medieval documents, including in Old
Norse. Numerous examples are given throughout, manuscript facsimiles with
transcriptions. These illustrate the main text, and also serve to demystify the
process of reading original documents.

Else Mundal: Eddaic and Skaldic Poetry (pp. 275-340)

Else Mundal, in ''Eddaic and Skaldic Poetry'' (pp. 275-340), discusses Eddaic and
Skaldic poetry. Eddaic poetry is the verse of the anonymous Elder Edda, which
recounts the doings of the Germanic gods and heroes. This chapter offers the
background to the Edda, a chart of the subject, metre, and manuscript of
attestation of each of the poems contained therein; metre and transmission are
discussed in detail. The Skaldic section discusses who the skalds were, both in
general terms and with prosopographical examples, and the nature of the poems
they produced, which included homage verses, short, topical stanzas, love poems,
and mockery. Transmission and metre are discussed, before a more in-depth look
at dróttkvætt, the main type of strophe, beginning with eleven pages of
annotated and translated examples (pp. 301-312). Heiti (poetic synonyms) and
kenningar (fixed poetic metaphors, often of great allusive complexity) receive
useful, diagrammed treatment, and also considered are the quaestiones vexatae of
the artistic value and the origin of this unique style of poetics.

The next chapter, ''Saga Literature'' (pp. 341-390) is also by Else Mundal. This
is a quick-moving chapter, which because of the magnitude of the subject matter
can only highlight interesting topics and make important first distinctions.
Sagas are divided into a number of genres (including knightly, bishops' and
family stories), all flowing out of the original kingly and heroic tales.
Discussion of the overarching genre begins only on page 381, and attempts to
define style and composition, as well as treat the dispute about whether sagas
originated as spoken or written accounts. As everywhere in this book, a
well-chosen selection of examples is scattered throughout.

Marit Nielsen: Syntactic Development (pp. 391-431)

In ''Syntactic Development'' (pp. 391-431) by Marit Nielsen, the principal
syntactic developments from Proto-Norse to Modern Norwegian are treated, with
the focus upon the nature of the subject. While early Norse allows subjects to
be omitted or oblique (i.e. set in cases other than the nominative), Modern
Norwegian does not. Similarly, the verb may take the first position in Old
Norse, but is barred from doing so except in questions in Modern Norwegian. In
keeping with the wide intended audience of the book, this chapter is written
without an excess of syntax idiom, and carefully explains the terms and
processes it does employ. The examples include the earliest attested Germanic
inscriptions, as well as later Norse texts, and are often glossed in Norwegian
as well as German, to make clear the diachronic changes.

'' Person- and Place-names'' (pp. 433-482), by Inge Særheim, discusses names, an
important feature of Old Norse literature. In common with other early Germanic
literatures, the concern for memorializing individuals leads to relatively minor
characters in most stories being carefully named. On top of this, the settler
experience that informs many of the Icelandic sagas involved the naming of new
places. This chapter elucidates the principles and practice (e.g. baptism) of
name-giving, and lists (pp. 440-441) common formants of proper names. A tour is
taken through Norway, explaining place-names along the way, and attention is
paid to Old Norse names in Iceland, the Orkneys and even North America (e.g.
Markland for Labrador, from Old Norse mork, 'forest'). Theories of
pre-Indo-European toponyms persisting in Europe are rightly dismissed (p 458),
while the possibility of Early Indo-European hydronyms is properly considered (p

Jan Ragnar Hagland in ''Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian'' (pp. 483-525), sets out
to differentiate Icelandic from Norwegian in Old Norse, to provide a basic
description of each dialect, and to illustrate with examples the differences
between attested and normalized texts. Many Old Norse sources tell Norwegian
stories in Icelandic manuscripts. Furthermore, much of what passes for Old Norse
is in fact Old West Norse (which also includes the Atlantic isles and Britain):
Other dialects are known in Sweden and Denmark. Diachronic change within the
medieval period is given some space, but the bulk of the chapter is devoted to
synchronic phonological statements. The only development earlier than Old Norse
that is mentioned is Verner's Law.

The pages of ''Middle Norwegian'' (pp. 527-580), by Endre Mørck, are filled with
charts: of phonemes, of inflectional paradigms, of pronouns. It is a classic
language description, offering also a brief historical situation of Middle
Norwegian, and alluding to influence from Danish, Swedish and German sources.
Syntax is also well represented.

Since no grammar or dictionary of Middle Norwegian has been published to the
reviewer's knowledge, this is a useful service. Middle Norwegian has
historically often been treated as an unstable and short interlude between Old
Norse and Modern Norwegian, but this can be true only if one pretends that
Norwegian had ceased to exist during the Danish pre-eminence, only to be reborn
in the 19th century. While a chapter such as this is necessarily dependent upon
writings, it is worth bearing in mind that its contents must also be the
approximation of hundreds of years of Norwegian speech.

This book is to be recommended to those looking for a general introduction to
the field of Old Norse studies, as well as to students of particular aspects of
that field who would like to know what others in closely related disciplines do.
It is clearly and concisely presented, does not espouse theories outlandish or
otherwise inappropriate for beginners, and never strays far from the original
sources, which are, after all, the point. The one discipline that is omitted is
Comparative Historical Linguistics, by which I mean the study that shows the
development of Proto-Germanic into Old Norse (and perhaps, at the most basic
level, Proto-Indo-European into Proto Germanic), a discipline that has been
vital to the development of the field overall, and which implicitly informs many
of the chapters. Such minor criticism notwithstanding, one may hope that an
English translation will appear in due course, to give the book an even wider

Some of the changes between editions are worth noting: All proper names, which
had been unfortunately modernized, are restored to their Old Norse forms, by
which they are likely to be known to English (and German) speakers. This means
that Audun frå Vestfjordane returns to Auðunn inn vestfirzki (i.e. Auðun from
the West-Fjords). This change means that the ''Namneformer'' section of the
Norwegian edition is no longer necessary. The German edition also makes use
throughout of 'Andron', a new, single, unified font system for all of the
alphabets required (including runes), an improvement over the 15 used in the
original. Sadly, the map of the Nordic world printed on the inside cover of the
Norwegian edition is nowhere to be found in the German.

The bibliography has been significantly expanded. Not only have many titles
published since the Norwegian edition been included, but items more useful to a
non-Norwegian audience, such as Zoega's ''Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic''
have been added. Furthermore, there has been major expansion of the German
section on web-pages, which is also helpfully categorized. This is particularly
valuable in a subject such as this, in which the internet is more and more
important for editions of source texts, comparison of research, and general
interaction between distant scholars.

Brendan N. Wolfe is a D.Phil. candidate in the Faculty of Theology at Wolfson
College of the University of Oxford. His thesis is on Christianity of the Late
Antique Germanic peoples, notably the Arianism of the Goths and the Gothic New
Testament. He holds an M.Phil. in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology
from Oxford, and a B. A. in Classics, Modern Languages, and Great Books from
Brock University.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 3110184869
ISBN-13: 9783110184860
Pages: 653
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