Tuesday, August 17, 2010

1066 and All That

One thing leads to another. Having added a section on Special English Letters, I thought I had better put in an example that uses a few of them. There is now a script sample and paleography exercise for a set of manumissions of serfs from the 12th century. The only trouble is, it is in Old English, and I am totally pig ignorant about Old English.
As it is a pretty famous example, I thought it was bound to have been published in translation, but two major sources of published Anglo-Saxon documents that I consulted didn't have it because it dates from after the Norman Conquest. So there is no translation on the website, although the general sense of it can be muddled out, and you will just have to approach it as a letter reading exercise unless I find the Rosetta Stone for it somewhere. (Any suggestions gratefully received.)
Meanwhile, there is just something to ponder there about how we divide history into little chronological boxes and ascribe drastic points of change to the timeline. Yes, the Norman Conquest was a drastic point of change, but Anglo-Saxon language, writing and culture didn't just go POOF! off the map when Harold got that pesky little arrow in his eye. Just like the ancient Britons didn't all get massacred or go and hide in Wales centuries before. Sometimes I think the structures we build to help order our thoughts develop a life of their own. Then we trot off to conferences and seminars to debate the structures, rather than trying to understand the realities of life.

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