If you happen to be an etymologist - even just a keen amateur one - who knows anything about the early Celtic Brittonic languages, and/or Old Norse then please give me a shout.
If you happen to be an etymologist - even just a keen amateur one - who knows anything about the early Celtic Brittonic languages, and/or Old Norse then please give me a shout.
I'm an amateur linguist, or a 'language freak' to put it plainly. What exactly do you want to know about those languages? I have a lot of knowledge on Germanic languages, and a little about Celtic languages.
I think you'd need to have specific, and probably pretty in-depth, knowledge of Old Norse and about pre-Viking Orkney as well. To cut a VERY long story short, I'm trying to solve a very old mystery about somewhere in the Orkney isles of Scotland. I had an idea which could solve this old mystery, and have contacted several leading experts in Celtic studies, archaeology and etymology. They largely agree with me, and think I could be on to something. I was just looking for other experts, so I could get as broad a range of opinion as possible before possibly publishing.
Well, could you share that research? I mean, I'd love to be able to help, and given the fact that I have hundreds of books on language and language history, besides knowing people, it's not entirely impossible that I might be able to help.
I now have what I consider the final verdict on the matter, from probably the world's top expert on the exact subject. He says I might be right, and I might be wrong - and there's no way to conclusively prove either.Originally Posted by mopc
Thanks for the offer, though.
Let's hear it!Originally Posted by Lianachan
There is alot of danish reseach documenting the influence of olddansk - or the danish viking language - upon english. This has had my interest because I am an English-danish bilingual.
Classical articles in the field are:
-Scandinavian Influence on English Syntax, by Max S. Kirch, PMLA, Vol. 74, No. 5. (Dec., 1959), pp. 503-510.
-Names of Scandinavians in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, by Ilse Lehiste
PMLA © 1958 PMLA, Vol. 73, No. 1. (Mar., 1958), pp. 6-22.
You can find these fulltext-online at jstor but it is a paysite
How about something more modern:
-Matthew Townsend: Language and history in Viking Age England linguistic relations between speakers of Old Norse and Old English; Turnhout : Brepols , 2002
(you can get this at amazon)
The other books I know are all in danish - do you read danish?
All the best
Cheers for all that. It's totally irrelevant to the question at hand, as the Danes concerned themselves more with England than up here. The main point of interest for my idea would be the ?Pictish language, whether it's P-Celtic or Q-Celtic, and Old Norse. The Norse were by far the dominant Scandinavians in this part of the world.Originally Posted by trob
Totally irrelevant for this thing - but very interesting nonetheless. Many thanks.
Oh, come now. You can't pique our curiosity and then tell us nothing about what you've actually been exploring!Originally Posted by Lianachan
I used to have contact with a Russian amateur linguist who studied the Pictish language in some detail, his name was Cyrill Babaev, but his e-mail desappeared, I can't find him.
Very true, sorry. The correspondence I have about it is almost all at work, and I am now at home. I'll post details tomorrow.Originally Posted by Grey
Well, as far as I know old norse is split into old west norse and old east norse. Orkney should be influenced by old west norse, which spread from norway and not, as you point out, from denmark! Why don't you contact somebody from the university of Oslo who work with this. The subjects available at the department of linguistics is here: http://www.uio.no/studier/emner/enheter/iln.html (which include old norse and the original celtic languages of Ireland and scotland)
the researchers are here:
perhaps you ought to contact somebody who study "norint" which I believe is old norse. It is also called "norrønt".
all the best
Those are excellent links, Trob - thank you. I've not contacted any academics in Norway, but I have contacted the very best of experts in Celtic language in Scotland, and the very best of experts in pre-"Viking" Orcadian history (probably anywhere in the world). Hopefully, once I get back to work and post some of the corresepondence and a bit of background, it will all be a bit clearer.Originally Posted by trob
I know of Norint, but am unsure if any of my experts know it well (if they do, it's a pure coincidence). I know that some of them are very well versed in Norn, the Norse-derived language that became native to the people of Orkney and Caithness (there are still bits of it in everyday use, in fact).
Thanks again for your interesting links.
I didn't think there'd be anybody on this board who'd be that interested, which is why I didn't go into full detail initially. I will do.
As requested, here's some background. I'm not naming my contacts because I'm posting this without their knowledge, let alone consent.
I had been looking through the index of W.J. Watson's The History of the Celtic Placenames of Scotland (as you do), when I noticed that the element "maes-" was defined as meaning a plain or field, derived from the early Celtic "mages-", and related to similar words in Cornish ("mes") and Breton ("meaz") - "maes" is also used in Welsh, described to me by a Welsh speaking friend as a "formal way" to refer to a field.
I recalled that there is some confusion about the origin of the name "Maeshowe", because no good meaning of the "maes-" element can be found in Old Norse. A number of explanations have been put forward, "Maiden's Howe" etc.., and all of these sound reasonable enough to me if this site was the only one that featured the "maes-" element. But it isn't, there are a few in Orkney.
I think it's reasonable enough to assume that the pre-Viking inhabitants of Orkney probably spoke a varient of the "Pictish" language of almost certain Celtic origin. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to assume that the "maes-" element in Orkney placenames could indeed be of Celtic origin, and means "field" or "plain". This would certainly fit most of the places where it is found, from a physical description of the surrounding geography. I decided to email a few experts, to see what they thought.
This first response was from an amateur, but a highly respected and published one:
(actually, it does fit Mount Maesry too - we've had further correspondence about that)"A Celtic origin for the Maes- element is possible but
there is one sticking point. Maeshowe is a later name
for the site, which supplanted Orkahaugr during the
earldom or later.
So, although I've thought about this long and hard
over the years, it makes no sense for a Celtic name to
supplant a Norse name, in an area where the language
was a derivative of Old Norse and particularly given
the fact that practically all our placenames have a
Norse origin (although there are a few badly corrupted
elements that could, and probably, have a pre-Norse
It doesn't fit the other Maes- placenames either.
Mount Maesry, for example is on the seashore."
This second response is from an academic, a Dr of Celtic studies:
I do agree that it would be most unusual for a Celtic name to replace a Norse one, especially given that Orkney is an area where the locals would have been speaking a language closely related to Old Norse at the time. However, I do feel that the Celtic definition of the name seems to be too neat a physical description of the sites to be a pure coincidence. My own thoughts are that an older Celtic based name persisted in oral use among the locals throughout the "viking" period (probably while the site was referred to in writing, and "officially" as Orkahaugr) and eventually came to outright replace (or merge with) the Norse name, or maybe even that the Norse on the island for some reason just started to use an older Celtic element in their own name for the places."I cannot pretend to be a place-name expert, but fortunately my colleague <name removed> is an expert on Norse place-names. I've taken the liberty of copying this to him. When I hear the name Maeshowe I do think automatically of Brittonic 'maes', but Orkahaugr pretty much convinces me that the -howe part of the name is Norse -haugr. On top of that the place-name evidence from Orkney in general tells fairly emphatically against the idea of pre-Norse survivals: it would be strange for one element, maes, to survive alone.
My instinct would therefore be that maes- has a Norse origin, and has for some
reason come to replace orka- as the 'specific' element denoting this particular
'haugr'. It would be interesting to know when maes- is first attested there."
I don't like the general "it's not Norse so it can't be right" argument.
I then received the following reply, from a senior archaeologist:
I checked the 1865 Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and found the document he references. It's by Ralph Carr, and his main problem with this derivation was that the use of "maes" is not spread across the Scottish mainland - assuming the pre-Viking Orcadians spoke an early Gaelic language, he rejected the idea."Tradition has it that Mae was the personal name of a giant – this of course is the usual way of explaining unknown elements in Norse and other placenames.
From my limited knowledge of such matters, I would say that your suggestion is not an unreasonable one, given that the pre Norse ?Pictish language is now believed by some leading scholars to have been an early Celtic tongue akin to a primitive form of Welsh; rather than to Gaelic. This might help with the objections to the idea of your preferred derivation on the grounds of it not being a widespread one throughout Scotland, raised by the person who so far as I know first published the idea of this derivation, in the 1860s in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Pre-Norse name survivals in the Northern Isles are scarce and all are much debated – for example some island names (such as Unst, Yell) don't fit obvious known Norse derivations but are plainly very ancient. But it seems to me that there would not be anything inherently unacceptable about a very prominent ancient landmark acquiring a placename which mixed an old local name with an incoming Norse element – the Howe bit is, of course, from Old Norse haugr, a mound (especially a burial mound). The main problem we have is that the name Maes Howe in any form does not appear in documents until very late, so we have no idea of any earlier name forms – if only we knew how it was spelled around 1000 AD, it would be much more likely that your idea could be supported or denied conclusively.
If you would like to discuss this idea with someone much more learned than <his organisation> on these matters, I would suggest you contact Dr <name and email address removed>. I suspect he has thought more deeply about this matter than anyone else currently living. Please feel free to say that I recommended you to him."
The last reply I've had about it so far, is the one below - from the person recommended to me above.
Anyway, that's about all there is on it just now. Apologies for the very long, and mind-numbingly tedious post!"The "maes" element always has been rather puzzling, it doesn't seem to be Norse. I can't recollect what Hugh Marwick made of it. He strongly believed in a P-Celtic substratum to Orkney names, and yet he had difficulty producing immediately convincing examples. Interestingly, Jakob Jakobsen, the Faeroese scholar who studied the place-names of Shetland, equally well convinved himself - if no-one else - that the Celtic substratum was a Q-Celtic one. For many years the standard opinion on the pre-Norse language of the North was that promulgated by Prof Kenneth Jackson in his essay "The Pictish Language" in the seminal F T Wainwright volume "The Problem of the Picts" 1955 - that whereas the Picts of Fife, Angus, Perthshire spoke a P-Celtic language (with hints that this may have been slightly closer to Gaulish than to welsh), those north of the Highlands spoke a non-Indo-European language. You can't of course look for traces of a language you don't know. Jacksons view still seems to me to make good sense but the non-IE Pictish has now been challenged by K Forsyth who thinks that P-Celtic was spoken throughout the Pictish region. I can't help thinking though that if it had been so very general, the place-name traces would be obvious - as they are in the southern Pictish area, with "lin" instead of "loch", "lan" for an enclosure around a church, and abundant instances of "aber". If Welsh place-name elements (like the river names "Pant" and "Cam") can survive in East Anglia - a region heavily Anglo-Saxonised - surely some would be apparent in Orkney?
Anyway, obscure elements like "maes" could be non-IE, but no-one can prove they are. It isn't unique to Maeshowe. There is a chambered tomb, as it happens of Maeshowe type, on Start Point in Sanday - its name has been corrupted in recent times to "Mount Misery" but the older form is "Maesry". I don't think anyone can make any more of it than this."
Very intriguing. Thanks for illuminating us!Originally Posted by Lianachan
Thanks for explaining your research, Lianacham. Indeed, these toponyms wil always contain weird, unexplained words, and if that word isnt even Indo European, forget buddy, people can't even figure out whether Pictish was IE.
As I told you, my former friend Cyrill Babaev from Moscou has a few webpages dedicated tp Pitctish, but they seem to be gone, like him.
And thank you for reminding me of the Pictish language, I'm writing a book on the languages of the world, and since I almost automatically think most mysteries lie outside western Europe, I totally forgot about Pictish!
No problems. There isn't any such language as Pictish though, so be careful how you refer to the language spoken by the Picts. Nobody knows for sure what language they spoke, and pretty much all of the clues come from placenames - and they suggest a Celtic origin. P-Celtic or Q-Celtic is still up for debate.Originally Posted by mopc
I've found that if you call it "Pictish" in quotes, or ?Pictish, then you can generally get away with that.
EDITED AFTERTHOUGHT: Hey! Western europe is full of mysteries, and Scotland is particularly interesting for students of language. The area around Beauly, in the Scottish Highlands, has placename elements from more languages (six) than anywhere else in Europe!
In the unlikely event that anybody is interested, here's an update.
I've not been posting about it, but I've been continuing my research into the etymology of Maeshowe. I've changed my position in the light of evidence I've seen, and am now pretty sure the true etymology is purely Old Norse, and is mest(r) haug(r) (meaning "biggest mound")
(mest-r being superlative of mikil-l, with comparative meiri). There's still no "official" right answer, though, but I think this solution best fits both from a descriptive and linguistic point of view.
Thoughts, if any?
This have anything to do with Arthur, et al? :-k
Various aspects of the Arthur legends have many, quite diverse, possible origins - there are, of course, a couple of different versions which place events in the geographical area of what is now the country of Scotland. There are links between the pre-Norse peoples of Orkney, and their comtemporary people of Lothain - including references to people who are mentioned in the very first written down Arthur legends. No link to Maeshowe, though.Originally Posted by Maksutov
Or, to put it into two words: aye, maybe.
The link below has some information about the Orkney connection to the Arthur legends, as well as links to sites where more detail can be found. The main site itself, by the way, is an excellent source for information on the history of Orkney.
It seems scholarship in this area has regressed since the middle of the last century, when the preponderant opinion concerning the "Pictish Question" was that Pictish was a P-Celtic dialect. Place names and personal names recorded by Classical writers are clearly P-Celtic.Originally Posted by Lianachan
Pictish was a language, although only fragments of it remain today. The theories that it was Q-Celtic or non-Indo-European have surely now been refuted.
Concerning the indecipherable names of Pictish kings, O'Rahilly makes a number of relevant points:Originally Posted by T F O'Rahilly, in [i
It should also be pointed out that the native name of the Picts, Priteni, is clearly P-Celtic, cognate with the Welsh pryd and the Gaelic cruth, both meaning "shape" or "create". Celtic tribes often named themselves after a deity, who was regarded as the ancestor of their tribe. In this case, the Picts obviously referred to their alleged ancestor as "the Shaper" or "the Creator".The Pictish Chronicle ... is based on a list in which the personal names were written in their Pictish forms. The original redactor ... of probably the tenth century, appears ... not to have interfered very much with the spelling of these Pictish names. Unfortunately, however, later transcribers have played havoc with the names, with the result that we can rarely, if ever, determine the true Pictish forms ... The total number of these Pictish personal names is small. Their true forms are nearly always doubtful. The names are liable on the one hand to hibernicization, on the other hand to scribal corruption. It is not easy to distinguish borrowed Pictish names from native. In view of these difficulties it is not to be expected that these Pictish names can throw much light upon the Pictish language. Still the evidence they afford, such as it is, points to Pictish having been a Celtic dialect, more akin to British than to Goidelic, and thus reinforces the conclusion drawn from earlier documents and from the place-names of Pictland.
Finally, as for a few place-names of possibly non-Indo-European origin, I don't see how they necessarily have any bearing on the origins of the Picts, any more than they have any bearing on the origins of the Welsh or the Irish. Needless to remark, the Celts were not the first inhabitants of these islands, and we should not be surprised if some relics of the pre-Indo-European inhabitants' languages have survived.
Until it is proven otherwise, I will continue to regard Pictish as a P-Celtic dialect.
I never said it wasn't. All I said was that nobody knows its origins for sure, which entitles you yo look at all the available evidence and make up your own mind - which you've clearly done. I've not made up my mind, as I am yet to be fully convinced it's as simple as being a P-Celtic language. I'm entitled to do that too.Originally Posted by Eroica
Jumping ahead to the 21st Century, while reading Euro newspapers, the word 'supergrass' seems to be a noun for 'paid police informant' of some sort. Any ideas how this definition came to be?
"...the American supergrass David Rupert was asked in 1999 to undergo hypnosis by his spy handlers in London..."
GrassOriginally Posted by sarongsong
The term supergrass was used in Northern Ireland for informants who were paid to testify against paramilitaries in a series of high-profile trials. The tactic was discontinued when several trials collapsed because the trial judges did not find the witnesses reliable.Origin: Cockney rhyming slang - grasshopper = copper.
Blast from the past, I'd forgotten about this thread. I've been spending a lot of time over the months researching the Pictish language and am in full agreement with the suggestions made by Dr Katherine Forsyth, with whomn I have exchanged emails, in her 1997 book Language in Pictland where she argues convincingly against non-Indo-European origins (but with some nIE word remnants, like most languages do). If you haven't read it, you can download it (freely and legally) here:Originally Posted by Eroica
Thanks for the link. I look forward to reading it.
You're welcome. If it's not too much trouble, would you mind posting (or PM'ing) your thoughts on it? I'd be interested to hear (umm...read) them.Originally Posted by Eroica
Thanks, Eroica---would never have figured that one out.Originally Posted by Eroica