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Linguistics Fridays Colloquium – Somers
October 25, 2019 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Orality, Literacy and the Syntax of Ninth-Century German
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of German, Nordic, & Slavic
This talk investigates how two diametrically different traditions—Germanic’s oral heritage and a Latin-based literacy—shape the clause structure of German’s first written attestations and are the main source of the puzzlingly divergent patterns attested across the corpus. The project draws on a database of clauses from three ninth-century works: the German translation of Tatian’s Evangelienharmonie, Otfrid von Weissenburg’s Evangelienbuch and the Old Saxon Hêliand. Each text tells the same story of the life of Jesus and is an innovative attempt at vernacular writing during a time when monks’ attention was focused on writing and understanding Latin. However, these texts also represent different genres and, thus, are more or less influenced by the spoken vernacular or Latinate prescriptions of the day. The analysis demonstrates how syntactic features of contemporary spoken language are present in the most oral of these texts and how the more literate texts exhibit a syntactic coherence that comes to define modern prose.