SLT historical linguistics seminar 13.5 – Winding through the dusty deserts of a lush philology, pt 2

World map from the Polychronicon. Wikimedia Commons, Bodleian Library.
The seminar continued with the Department of Finnish and Finno-Ugric languages revealing its onomastic side, as we heard presentations from Kirsi-Maria Nummila and Regina Bűdi. Nummila studies medieval street names in Turku and the credit that is their due to Baltic Sea region city plans or the so called German city plan. This city plan seems to have been variously implemented by some big East-European cities like Stockholm, Turku, and Tallinn, and these cities, interestingly, share street names. In her research, Nummila has questioned the traditional view that medieval street names were formed quite spontaneously drawing from the functions and situation of the street, and suggests that they might rather have been borrowed along with the city plan. Bűdi studies the proper names in the Turku bishop Ericus Erici Sorolainen’s sermon collection (Postilla 1621/1625), and more precisely in its gospel text passages. She compares these proper names to the ones found in corresponding passages in Mikael Agricola’s New Testament (1548) and the first Finnish whole Bible (1642), as well as in mainly sixteenth-century German, Latin, Greek, and Swedish translations of the Bible. Her aim is to study the similarities and differences between the proper names from these sources, the degree to which Sorolainen’s proper names were impacted by foreign languages and historical language development, and the gradual assimilation of foreign personal names into Finnish. She also wants to specify the definition of some nouns that could be seen as both common and proper nouns.

Asta Rauhala from the Department of Scandinavian Languages presented her doctoral research that concerns early, thirteenth- to seventeenth-century, Swedish loans into Finnish. Rauhala’s goal is to discover the scope and semantic categories of especially the medieval borrowed vocabulary, the speed of the borrowing process, and the length of time the loans were used in written language. Perhaps this could even lead to new etymologies or to new perspectives on language contacts and life in medieval Eastern Scandinavia! Likewise related to Scandinavian languages is Kendra Willson’s (TIAS) study that examines the possibility of Finnish and Sami names and words appearing in Scandinavian runes, especially ones that we have not been able to decipher thus far. One tricky rune that Willson presented at the seminar reads ”MINVLESIÖMEPVRVANTA” that seems to include at least the words “to me” (minvle), and “eat” or “food” (siöme), and “porridge” (pvrv) in Finnish. It was a good brainteaser to have a guess at the meaning of this passage at the seminar.

Other researchers doing detective work similar to Willson are doctoral candidates Harri Uusitalo and Reko Tikka. Uusitalo from the Department of Finnish studies the Finnish translation from Swedish of a seventeenth-century land law document, the Aitolahti land law. Uusitalo will edit the document that is still in manuscript form and investigate its sources and its possible author based on for example handwriting and vocabulary. Two sources that are previous translations are already known, but there still are passages in the document that are from neither of these. One possible writer is Hartvig Speitz, who may have written the text while sitting a punishment in jail! Uusitalo also wishes to study the development of Finnish legal language. Tikka from the Department of Classics researches games of chance in ancient Rome and the early Middle Ages. Using written and archeological sources, he aims to find out what kinds of games of chance were played and what their significance and functions were to the players. For instance, their possible use in gambling is investigated. Tikka suspects the absence from many European languages of a verb denoting especially the play of children, that exists in Finnish and Swedish (‘leikkiä’, ‘leka’), may up to recent times have discouraged the study of games as a less dignified pursuit. This kind of research is to my mind great proof of how the knowledge of and research in languages can aid cultural and historical study. The dusty deserts of philology do not seem so barren after all.
Find out more about the historical linguistic research of each department on the UTU departmental websites under “Research and doctoral studies”.

Wishing everyone a creative, sunny, and relaxing summer!
On behalf of the seminar presenters,
Aino Haataja, MA, English

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