>>Date:         Thu, 26 Oct 2000 16:51:58 -0400
>>From:         Robert Hailman <[log in to unmask]>
>>Spoken languages are trouble in that regard, yes. I've heard
>>Icelandic cited as an example of this, as it hasn't changed
>>gramatically very much over the last 1000 years or so, and
>>Icelandic schoolchildren can study the Sagas and such in the
>>original language without explanation of words and such (as we
>>have when studying Shakespeare), but if an Icelandic scientist
>>were to invent a time machine and go back to that time, they
>>wouldn't understand a word of the language.

Lars Mathiesen:

>What the Icelanders read when they think they read the Sagas
>has been respelled in modern orthography. The differences are
>small, but they're there. And the modern orthography has some
>quite strange conventions to keep the differences to the old
>language _visually_ small.

There is also the normalized spelling of scholarly text editions which are
different from modern orthography **and** a wholly different thing from
manuscripts' spelling.  Most modern people can certainly **not** make
anything of a manuscript as it is, where you will find a lot of long vowels
not marked at all, some marked with an acute and some marked with doubled
vowel.  The glyphs  and e-with-tail interchange with each other and are
sometimes used where modern orthography wouldn't use them, many manuscripts
don't distinguish  and  from au and so on.  On top of that there are
prolific and not very well systematized abbreviations.

>[Cue BPJ's rant on  vs  vs d].

It was/is Oskar who wants  abolished.  I just keep pointing out that these
letters are essentially in complementary distribution postvocalically, or
would be if compound boundaries were marked.

>The point about lexical continuity is valid, however.
>But AFAIR, the pronunciation didn't change _fundamentally_
>since the twelfth century when the sagas were first written
>down. Like the difference between RP and Ray's Sussex
>dialects, perhaps --- would take a few days or so to get used
>On the other hand, taking the time machine back to the ninth
>century when the sagas purport to have happened would be a
>whole other kettle of salt herring.

On the contrary the great changes in vowel pronunciation (essentially
diphthongization of old long vowels) are thought to have taken place after
the 13th century but before the 17th.  Due to the conservative orthography
we have no idea exactly when what happened, only that people around 1600
were complaining about the "vulgar" pronunciation of  as je; apparently it
underwent the shift from [e] to [je] at about that time.  The old short was
[E] then as now.  OTOH [je] was established enough in the second half of
the 16th century to be reflected in the spellings of the Bible, so maybe
the complainers were just antiquarians influenced by the spelling of older
manuscripts which had fe instead of fie.

As to how much 13th century pronunciation differed from 9th century
pronunciation on Iceland that is very hard to say for much the same
reasons.  Spellings like hvi for hi suggest that /v/ was still [w], but
then that may have been carry-over from runic spelling conventions.

/ B.Philip Jonsson B^)>
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