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Review of  Altsächsisches Handwörterbuch / A Concise Old Saxon Dictionary

Reviewer: Tonya Kim Dewey
Book Title: Altsächsisches Handwörterbuch / A Concise Old Saxon Dictionary
Book Author: Heinrich Tiefenbach
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Saxon, Old
Issue Number: 22.3390

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AUTHOR: Heinrich Tiefenbach
TITLE: Altsächsisches Handwörterbuch / A Concise Old Saxon Dictionary
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Tonya Kim Dewey, Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies,
University of Bergen, Norway

This dictionary provides dual-language (German and English) glosses for the
vocabulary of the entire attested Old Saxon corpus. Unlike previous dictionaries
of Old Saxon (e.g., Sehrt 1925, curiously absent from Tiefenbach's
bibliography), the author includes vocabulary from the Old Saxon glosses of
Latin texts and various legal documents, as well as from Old High German and Old
English texts that are in some way related to Old Saxon, either in that they
show features of both dialects (e.g., the Hildebrandslied for Old High German)
or in that there is evidence of textual transmission between the two dialects
(e.g., the Old English Genesis). This means that a wider range of vocabulary is
included than in previous dictionaries, since the complete corpus of Old Saxon
is considered.

The lexicon itself (pp. 1-484) makes up the majority of the volume. In addition
to glosses in both German and English, each entry includes a list of
attestations for the lexical item in question. The introductory material
includes an introduction (pp. vii-ix), a list of abbreviations (pp. xi-xii), a
list of texts (pp. xiii-xli), and a selected bibliography (pp. xlii-xlv), all of
which are provided in both German and English. Additionally, lists of personal
names (pp. 485-490) and place names (pp. 490-497) are included, along with the
attestations of all these proper nouns. Finally, the volume concludes with a
rhyming index (pp. 499-547, including personal names and place names) and a
Latin-to-Old Saxon index (pp. 549-599).

This volume is a much-needed update of and addition to Sehrt (1925) and
Holthausen (1954), until now really the only dictionaries of Old Saxon. Since
the glosses are provided in both German and English, the volume is accessible to
a wider audience than either Sehrt or Holthausen, both of which only provide
glosses in German. The inclusion of Old High German and Old English vocabulary
also makes the volume of interest to comparative Germanicists.

There are also several organizational features that make the volume extremely
useful. First, while the primary entries for prefixed verbs are according to
their stems, each prefix also has an entry with a list of stems with which it
can occur. Second, if variant spellings (which are quite common in the Old Saxon
corpus) are not alphabetically contiguous, each variant spelling has a
cross-listing with the primary spelling. Both these features make the dictionary
very well suited to beginning students of Old Saxon, who may not be quite sure
what the lexical headword is. Finally, the lists of attestations for each
lexical item means that the volume functions as a concordance as well as a
dictionary. The reader is thus able to use the dictionary to determine the
distributional properties and frequencies of various lexemes (including by text
type), which makes the volume convenient for corpus-based studies of Old Saxon.

The drawbacks to the volume are very few. The primary failing, in my view, is
that the lack of punctuation in the abbreviations (e.g., '3 singular indicative
preterite' is abbreviated '3sipt' rather than '') can make the
morphological information provided with the attestations difficult for the
reader to parse. However, this is a rather minor point.

A further, even more minor, point is that the English glosses provided are on
occasion odd, for example 'spinsterhood' for Old Saxon ''magathhêd'', which really
has a meaning closer to 'maidenhood' or 'virginity'. There are very few
(approximately twenty-five) cases in which this happens; in all these examples,
it seems the author is not sensitive to the connotations of the English gloss
provided, since the German and Old Saxon connotations are consistent with each
other, but inconsistent with the English.

A final quibble with the volume is that while the author lists the dual pronouns
separately from the plural pronouns, neither the German nor the English glosses
make the difference between dual and plural clear. While the abbreviation ''du''
for ''dual'' is listed in the abbreviations (p. xi), it does not appear in the
entries for any of the 1st or 2nd person dual personal or possessive pronouns.
Since the retention of the dual in Old Saxon is one of the features that sets it
apart from the closely related Old High German, this omission seems strange.

The useful features of this Old Saxon dictionary far outweigh the drawbacks and
omissions. This is an impressive work, and should be in the library of anyone
interested in comparative Germanic or the medieval languages of Western Europe.
Finally, it is good to see the Old Saxon language, often neglected by
Germanicists, receiving the attention it deserves.

Holthausen, Ferdinand. 1954. Altsächsisches Wörterbuch. Münster: Böhlau.

Sehrt, Edward H. 1925. Vollständiges Wörterbuch zum Heliand und zur
altsächsischen Genesis. Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht.

Tonya Kim Dewey works primarily in the historical syntax of Germanic, including prosodic factors in linearization of word order, and argument structure and case assignment. She recently published a new English translation of the Old Saxon Heliand.