Centre for Medieval Studies Lectures

Seán Vrieland

Manuscript variation in a multilingual corpus

The case of Guta Saga

Thursday, January 24, 2019, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Seán Vrieland

The criteria for selecting which textual variants in medieval texts preserved in manuscripts can be used for determining the relationships between these texts are rarely well defined and often more subjective than one might desire in a research context. Frequently the criteria for selecting (or deselecting) variants is language-specific; for example, the reversal of subject and verb in Old Icelandic (hann fór vs. fór hann) is considered minor variation and cannot be used as a main criterion for grouping manuscripts.

This matter becomes even more complicated when dealing with a text preserved in translation alongside the original language, for which the direct exemplar of the translated text is not always preserved.

Such is the case of Guta Saga, the thirteenth-century pseudohistorical narrative from Gotland best known from the manuscript Stockholm, National Library, B 64, the only complete copy in the original Old Gutnish language. However, the text is also preserved in translation in four manuscripts: one in German, one in Swedish, and two in Danish. Despite representing different branches of the text than that found in B 64, these manuscripts are rarely included in editions or discussions of Guta Saga.

This paper discusses the variation found in Chapter 2 of Guta Saga (the only chapter present in every manuscript) as an example of how to determine what types of variants can be considered significant when working with a multilingual corpus. It will be shown that much variation can be considered language-specific, and therefore not significant when building a corpus. On the other hand, some forms of variation – especially lexical – can be used in determining whether a translation was made directly from the original language of the text (in this case, Old Gutnish) or via a third language.

Finally, it will be show that, in order to understand the life of a medieval text, one must also take translations into account.

Seán Vrieland is a post-doc at the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen, where he received his PhD in 2018. His current project focuses on the language and paleography of Old Danish charters, while his broader research interests include linguistics and philology of the Nordic languages, especially Old East Norse.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.