LINGUIST List 29.3484

Tue Sep 11 2018

Review: English, Old; Historical Linguistics; Linguistic Theories: Studer-Joho (2017)

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Date: 04-Mar-2018
From: Bev Thurber <>
Subject: A Catalogue of Manuscripts Known to Contain Old English Dry-Point Glosses
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Dieter Studer-Joho
TITLE: A Catalogue of Manuscripts Known to Contain Old English Dry-Point Glosses
SERIES TITLE: Schweizer Anglistische Arbeiten (SAA), vol. 142
PUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Bev Thurber


This book is a detailed study of Old English (OE) dry-point glosses that sets them into the general context of manuscript (MS) studies. Studer-Joho describes the study of dry-point glosses as “one of the last frontiers of OE studies, as the domain of dry-point glossing is the most likely candidate for the discovery of as yet unknown sizable quantities of OE material” (249). Dry-point glosses are defined as “additions that are themselves made up of linguistic material” (17) made “by deforming or bruising the parchment by means of a stylus or some other non-colouring hand-held device, such as an awl or a knife” (26) rather than by depositing ink. This definition excludes doodles and other non-linguistic additions made without ink. The book consists of seven chapters plus an eighth comprising the back matter (list of abbreviations, references, and two indexes, one of manuscripts and the other general).

The first chapter is a very short introduction that leads the reader into the book by describing how the author became interested in dry-point glosses. His interest was piqued in 2006 by the seemingly magical appearance of Old High German (OHG) dry-point glosses in a 9th century manuscript under suitable lighting conditions (13).

The second chapter, ''Terminology and Scope,'' is among the longest in the book. It explains what dry-point glosses are and are not for the purposes of this study and connects dry-point writing with other forms of deformational writing, such as texts on wax tablets and inscriptions, including those in runes, carved on objects, to show that although it was not the norm, dry-point writing was certainly less uncommon in the past than it is now. The chapter ends with a discussion of dry-point glosses in languages other than OE, most notably OHG, that ranges as far as Old Slavonic and East Asian languages.

Chapter Three summarizes previous scholarship on dry-point glosses. The contributions of Humphrey Wanley, Arthur Napier, Herbert Meritt, Bernhard Bischoff and Josef Hofmann, Ray Page, and the Dictionary of Old English Corpus rate individual sections in this rather short chapter; an additional section is devoted to miscellaneous other contributions. The chapter ends with a brief section describing the inclusion of dry-point glosses in the Dictionary of Old English.

The catalogue of the title is described and presented in Chapters Four and Five, respectively. To compile it, Studer-Joho worked tirelessly through the relevant literature, most notably Ker (1957) and later updates (most recently Blockley (1994)) and Gneuss (2001), for mentions of dry-point glosses, including ones relegated to footnotes. This process yielded 33 of the 34 manuscripts included in the catalogue. The exception is London, British Library, Royal 15.B.xix, in which the author observed undocumented dry-point glosses while working on the catalogue (163).

At 106 pages, or an average of about three pages per manuscript, the catalogue itself forms the bulk of the book. Each manuscript is identified by its shelfmark and Ker number as well as any common names. Each entry comprises two parts: information on the manuscript as a physical document and information on the glosses. The manuscript section includes the following information: Its type (e.g., vellum codex), dimensions, and numbering system; any codicological information; descriptions of its layout, ornamentation (if any), and the script, including its date; a table of contents; information on the manuscript's origin and provenance; and references to secondary literature dealing with the manuscript and facsimiles, if any exist.

The second section of each entry, which describes the glosses, is organized according to the table of contents. Each text in the manuscript with glosses of any type (dry-point or ink, OE or another language) is the subject of a section. Within that section, any editions and translations of the text are listed, then a few references to the secondary literature are provided, if any are available. This is followed by descriptions of the glosses, arranged by language. Each section includes a description of the glosses, references to any editions, palaeographical information on the script and its date, references to any secondary literature, and for OE glosses, information on the glosses' inclusion in the Dictionary of Old English Corpus (2009).

Although, as Studer-Joho notes, the amount of information on each manuscript and its glosses in the literature varies widely (94), the catalogue entries are fairly similar in length. The range is from just under two pages for number 30 (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale lat. 9561), which contains approximately 77 OE dry-point glosses to Gregorius’s Regula pastoralis, to approximately five pages for numbers 5 (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 223) and 29 (Oxford, St. John’s College 154), which each contain four different texts with ink or dry-point glosses in OE and/or Latin. As might be expected from the title, OE glosses receive preferential treatment in the catalog. Sections on glosses in other languages are less detailed (see, e.g., the descriptions of Latin and OE glosses on p. 132). The lists of secondary literature included in the catalogue are not comprehensive; Studer-Joho's goal is ''to pave the way for the reader's first steps into the literature available on that specific MS'' (92).

Chapter Six, “Characterization of the Known Corpus of Old English Dry-Point Gloss Manuscripts,” stands with Chapter Two as the longest of the book aside from the catalogue itself. In this chapter, the manuscripts in the catalogue are divided into groups based on different attributes, including origin, date, contents, and the presence of other glosses (OE ink glosses and dry-point glosses in other languages) and construe marks. The resulting groups are used as the basis for an attempt to find patterns that provide information about the practice of dry-point glossing. Canterbury emerges as a possible “centre of dry-point glossing” during the 10th century (213).

Studer-Joho also addresses the question of whether the corpus of dry-point glosses is sufficient to draw conclusions in this chapter (233). He discusses Bernhard Bischoff’s significant role in discovering dry-point glosses in Continental manuscripts and concludes that “Anglo-Saxon MSS prior to the 9th c. preserved in British libraries ought to be revisited specifically with dry-point glossing in mind. Perhaps the restricted visibility of dry-point glosses causes a misbalance in our corpus” (234). He goes on to note that it is impossible to know whether all the dry-point glosses in a manuscript have been discovered (239).

This is one major theme of the final chapter, “Summary and Outlook,” which focuses on the future of OE dry-point gloss studies. Two directions for future research are discussed: Finding more glosses and cataloging the ones that are known. Studer-Joho pays particular attention to technological methods that may be used to identify new glosses, such as lighting techniques, the possibility of three-dimensional scanning, and methods used in digital humanities projects. As for cataloging, desiderata include a corpus of OE glosses in both printed and online form to take advantage of the benefits of both styles, a new update to Ker (1957), and an indexed bibliography of the relevant literature. Studer-Joho proposes a system that presents “OE glosses in such a fashion that the editions pave the way for a continuous accumulation of knowledge about OE glosses and OE glossing by supplying as much detailed information about the glosses in their MS context as possible” (262).


This book should help increase the visibility of dry-point glosses both literally (researchers will be more likely to find them in manuscripts) and figuratively (researchers will be more familiar with the concept). One thread that runs through it is how difficult it is to observe dry-point glosses because of the need for lighting conditions that are frequently unavailable in modern reading rooms. Studer-Joho provides a vivid anecdote to highlight the difficulty of viewing dry-point glosses: at a conference, he added a dry-point gloss to a handout he distributed and invited attendees to look for it. Nobody was able to see it, although, he notes, it was “plainly visible to the naked natural daylight” (34). He also describes glosses in London, British Library Royal 15.B.xix that are “next to invisible in ambient reading room lighting” and therefore went unnoticed by previous researchers (163).

The section of the book describing OHG dry-point glosses (52–58) is particularly effective at showing how quickly this field is evolving now that more people have begun to look for such glosses carefully. A graph on page 55 shows how the number of manuscripts known to contain OHG dry-point glosses increased from 70 in 1996 to 179 in October 2013. This graph provides a strong justification for this book and encouragement to OE scholars, who Studer-Joho quotes Ray Page as considering less ''adventurous'' than their OHG counterparts (75). Still, OE gloss scholars have made significant inroads into their corpus; Studer-Joho calculates that “OE dry-point gloss MSS still constitute a larger fraction within the corpus of OE gloss MSS (≈16.3%) than OHG dry-point gloss MSS do within the corpus of OHG gloss MSS (≈11–13%)” (205). Studer-Joho estimates that roughly 3850 OE dry-point glosses have been edited to date (269).

The book makes it clear that there is significantly more research to be done in this field, much of it painstaking labor that may have little reward. Chapters Six and Seven are particularly full of ideas for future research, from specific manuscripts that should be evaluated carefully to suggestions for technological projects. Overall, Studer-Joho's book provides a welcome summary of the state of research on dry-point glosses and a point of entry into this field.


Blockley, Mary. 1994. “Further Addenda and Corrigenda to N. R. Ker’s Catalogue.” In: Mary P. Richards (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: Basic Readings. London: Garland Publishing, 79–85.

Ker, N. R. 1957. Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Gneuss, Helmut. 2001. Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: A List of Manuscripts and Manuscript Fragments Written or Owned in England up to 1100. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Di Paolo Healey, Antonette, John Holland, David McDougall, Ian McDougall and Xin Xiang. 2009. The Dictionary of Old English Corpus in Electronic Form, TEI-P5 conformant version, 2009 release. Toronto: DOE Project [CD-ROM].


Bev Thurber is an independent scholar interested in historical linguistics and the history of ice skating.

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