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Review of  Old Lithuanian Etymological Dictionary/Altlitauisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (ALEW)

Reviewer: David Elton Gay
Book Title: Old Lithuanian Etymological Dictionary/Altlitauisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (ALEW)
Book Author: Wolfgang Hock
Publisher: Baar-Verlag
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 27.4152

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Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote


The “Altlitauisches etymologisches Wörterbuch” (hereafter ALEW) by Wolfgang Hock, Elvira-Julia Bukevičiūtė, Rainer Fecht, Anna Helene Feulner, Eugen Hill, Christiane Schiller, and Dagmar S. Wodtko is an etymological dictionary and complete lexicon for pre-1700 Lithuanian. It is organized in three volumes: the first two are the dictionary, the third is the bibliography and word indices.


Using ALEW is straightforward although it does require an extra step that most dictionaries do not have. Rather than using one of the Old Lithuanian forms of a word for its headwords, ALEW instead uses the modern Lithuanian form of the words for the headwords. A scholar working through an Old Lithuanian text must thus first look up the Old Lithuanian forms of words in the word indices, where the relevant Modern Lithuanian forms are given. Once the modern form of the word is found, the scholar then turns to the two main volumes of the dictionary to find the appropriate entry, where the scholar will then find a wealth of Old Lithuanian forms cited. The Old Lithuanian forms listed in the entries include all of the variant orthographic forms, all of their attested inflectional forms, and their contexts. Although I initially questioned the decision of the editors to arrange the dictionary this way, I found as I worked my way through several Old Lithuanian texts that this arrangement in fact made ALEW easier to use.

The etymologies in ALEW that I have checked are consistently well written and will be useful for both Indo-Europeanists and Lithuanianists doing research on the history of the Lithuanian language and lexicon.

I tested ALEW using two editions of Old Lithuanian texts; Jonas Palionis (ed.) “Mikalojaus Daukšos 1595 metų katekizmas” (Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidykla, 1995) and Dinora Pociūtė-Abukevičienė and Mikas Vaicekauskas (ed.) “Giesmės dangaus miestui: XVI-XVIII amžiaus lietuvių bažnytinių giesmių antologija” (Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 1998). The first is mentioned in the bibliography of the works used to compile ALEW, the second is not. Although some words in “Giesmės dangaus miestui” used grammatical forms that ALEW does not seem to include, I had no problem finding the correct headword and definition for the words. Thus far, in fact, I have found ALEW consistently accurate and easy to use.

There are two things to be noted about ALEW. The first is that because the definitions include all of the orthographic variants and the various grammatical forms - information that is invaluable to the scholar who wants to read Old Lithuanian texts, to the historian of Lithuanian, and to Indo-Europeanists - a user who does not have at least a basic knowledge of Lithuanian may find the wealth of detail difficult to wade through. Secondly, although the Baar-Verlag website lists the title in both English and German, ALEW is entirely in German and Lithuanian.

ALEW is an excellent addition to the tools available for the study of Old Lithuanian and the history of Lithuanian. Indeed, before ALEW there was no complete etymological dictionary or lexicon focused solely on the lexicon of early Lithuanian, which makes this dictionary especially welcome.
David Elton Gay is an independent scholar with research interests in historical linguistics (Indo-European, Semitic, and Finno-Ugrian), dialectology, and folk narrative.