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79 posts categorized "Language"

13 April 2018

Esperanto – not what you thought?

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Today is the opening day of the British and Pan-Celtic Esperanto Conference in Aberystwyth.

EsperantoBlogoceltic-dragonLogo of the Conference

Esperanto speakers? You’re probably thinking there can’t be many of them – and moreover that the few who do exist are probably crazy as well. Yes, you’re right that they are far fewer in number than the people who are learning English or, these days, Chinese. But how many are there? The truth is that nobody knows. If the figure of “more than 100,000” is good enough for Encyclopaedia Britannica, far be it from me to contradict it by giving my own estimate.

In any case, we can confidently say that there are a few million Esperanto speakers scattered throughout the world. If there weren’t, the Esperanto Wikipedia would not now be the 32nd largest in terms of the number of articles (as recorded in June 2016). Not to mention the 1.6 million learners who have signed up for the Esperanto courses with the language-learning site Duolingo

Esperanto speakers are everywhere. The World Esperanto Association has members in over 120 countries. Esperanto speakers can also be found in the sort of places where you would never think of looking, such as East Timor and New Caledonia, and there are fascinating stories about the development of Esperanto in various countries, from China to the Czech Republic. The British Library’s Esperanto Collections reflect the history and diversity of the Esperanto movement and its publications.

EsperantoBlogHistoriesMontage
 Books from the British Library Esperanto Collection on the Esperanto movement in different countries and regions

Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, belonged to those 19th-century visionaries who dreamt of universal brotherhood, peace and understanding. But during the very first World Congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1905, a more practical group came to the fore, asserting that Esperanto was just a language, a means of facilitating international communication, and had nothing to do with airy-fairy dreams of a better world.

These are not the only divisions among Esperanto speakers. There are those who are working for it to become the world’s universal second language, and those who are happy for it to remain a niche interest and prefer to concentrate on developing its cultural potential. This second approach has a name: Raŭmismo, the Rauma movement, after the Finnish town where the World Esperanto Youth Congress  was held in 1980.

As a world-wide phenomenon the Esperanto community is exposed to many influences. During the last century numerous special-interest groups were founded, contributing to a truly colourful panorama. One of the earliest was the International Union of Catholic Esperantists. But unsurprisingly the Catholics were followed by the Protestants, then by the Orthodox Christians, to say nothing of Buddhists, Ōmoto (a Japanese religion), Muslims, Bahá’í and Mormons. Naturally, in response to all this religious activity the atheists could not fail to put in an appearance – but oddly enough, there is no Jewish association at the moment, although there is no lack of Jews in the movement as a whole. All these diverse groups have found common ground between the Esperanto movement and their own ideals.

EsperantoBlogoKoranoCxapitro1Opening ot the Koran in Esperanto translation: La Nobla Korano, translated by Italo Chiussi (Copenhagen, 1970). YF.2009.a.5354

Afterwards came the Communist Esperanto speakers, the Socialists, Anarchists and other splinter groups who even fought in the Spanish Civil War, but now are more likely to fight amongst themselves. At the same time professional associations came into being, who used Esperanto as their working language and published specialist periodicals. You may be surprised to learn that there are doctors who discuss surgery in Esperanto.

MedicinaInternaciaRevuo1974
Cover of  Medicina Internacia Revuo. (July 1974)  5533.51000

 Then there are the railway workers, the journalists, the ecologists, the feminists and numerous others. Teachers are particularly important in a movement whose aim is to teach a language. Their association is the International League of Esperantist Teachers.

EsperantoBlogoKunvojagxuCover of Paul Gubbins, Kunvojaĝu: Internacia kurso de Esperanto (Pisa, 2006). YF.2008.a.23702

You might well ask yourself what all these diverse groups have in common. In fact, there is something.

The first general trait is being interested in “the other”. Esperanto was born with the aim of facilitating communication between people speaking different languages, and so curiosity about other cultures is part of its DNA.

EsperantoBlogoIntervjuoj Books of interviews with Esperantists wordwide about their reasons for learning Esperanto

The second trait is tolerance. No one cares if you support some cranky fringe movement; you will be accepted anyway. The Esperanto-speaking world is open to groups who may be subject to some rather odd looks in the rest of society. Nobody in the UK now finds anything remarkable about being a vegetarian, but that was not the case as recently as the 1960s. The British Esperanto movement contains a higher proportion of vegetarians than society as a whole, as was shown in Peter G. Forster’s study The Esperanto Movement (The Hague, 1982; X.0900/323(32)). Homosexuals were welcome in the Esperanto movement at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in many countries.

In the 130 years since the first book in Esperanto was published, Esperanto speakers have been creating their own culture of novels, poetry, songs and jokes. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, both translated and original. Many Esperanto authors are known for their writing in their own languages as well as Esperanto, for instance the British writer Marjorie Boulton

  EsperantoBlogBeletraAlmanako

Literary serial Beletra almanako (New York, 2006-). ZF.9.a.7847

Musicians singing in Esperanto can be heard online (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27BP5sXwuTs), and many of the thousands who have started learning with Duolingo create videos for YouTube. You will also find many Esperantists on social media platforms.

EsperantoBlogoKajtoKajto (Ankie van der Meer and Nanne Kalma from Netherlands) singing at the London Esperanto Club (Photo by Olga Kerziouk).

And finally, the last trait that all Esperanto speakers share, whatever their backgrounds or beliefs, is their love for the language itself and for the Esperanto-speaking community. For many couples Esperanto has even become their family language, particularly when they belong to different nationalities. They chat in Esperanto over the dinner table and use it to talk to their children.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto / Anna Lowenstein,  Esperanto author and journalist

Further reading

Esperanto in the New York Times: 1887-1922, edited by Ulrich Becker. (New York, 2010).YD.2010.a.12499

Roberto Garvía Soto. Esperanto and its rivals: the struggle for an international language. (Philadelphia, 2015) m15/.11262

Esther H. Schor, Bridge of words: Esperanto and the dream of a universal language (New York, 2015). Waiting for shelfmark.

Geoffrey  Sutton, Concise encyclopedia of the original literature of Esperanto, 1887-2007  (New York, 2008). YC.2008.a.12495

07 March 2018

Amid a thousand and one stars: the Crimean Tatar language

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One of the most momentous historical events in Crimean Tatar history was when the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Djemilev addressed his people in the Crimean Tatar language at the opening of the first Crimean Tatar Mejlis (Parliament) in 1991 after his return to Crimea. Although giving a speech in one’s mother tongue might be considered as the most natural thing, in this case it proves the significance of preserving that mother tongue despite the Soviet Union’s efforts to destroy the Crimean Tatar language. In 2009 Crimean Tatar was categorised as ‘severely endangered’ in the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.  

CrimeanTatarMustafaDzhemilevCover of Mustafa Dzhemilev: “Na protiazhenii desiatiletiĭ golos krymskikh tatar ne byl uslyshan...",  edited by G.Bekirova (Kyiv, 2014). YF.2014.a.27330

The early history of the Crimean Tatars and the development of their language is naturally complex. The Mongols called themselves ‘Tatars’ and it was only after the death of Chingiz Khan that they were called ‘Mongols’. Crimean Tatars are the descendants of Kipchak Turks who took a big part of the Mongol army, under the command of Batu Khan, grandson of Chingiz, to the doorstep of Europe. This western division of the Mongol Empire is called the Golden Horde; the Crimean Tatars belonging to this division settled in the Crimean Peninsula in the 12th century and consequently the Crimean Khanate was founded.

Crimean Tatar is linguistically a part of the Kipchak branch of the Turkic family. Edward Lazzerini points out that “a semi-nomadic eastern Kipchak people who settled eventually in the north-east of the peninsula, the Nogays enriched Tatar vocabulary with respect to natural objects, the concerns of daily life and certain forms of economic activity.” He adds that these elements “were of limited though significant influence, affecting the lexicon primarily and providing the literary language with an unusual array of synonyms”. As the Crimean Tatars are followers of Islam, Arabic and Persian served to broaden the Crimean Tatar language.

CrimeanTatars1872
Crimean Tatars in traditional costumes from Th. de Pauly,  Description ethnographique des Peuples de la Russie (St Petersburg, 1862). Tab.435.a.14

In the 19th century, Ismail Bey Gaspirali/Ismail Gasprinski realised the need for reform in education for the Turco-Muslim peoples of tsarist Russia, recognising the resolution of the language question as the first condition. Gaspirali wanted to create a pure Turkic lexicon of Crimean Tatar and simplify its syntax. Following these changes, he tried to modify the Arabic script by including vowel symbols and eliminating redundant letters as well as introducing punctuation. In 1883 Gaspirali, whose dream was “unity in thought, unity in language, unity in action”, founded the newspaper Tercuman/Perevodchik, which lasted until 1918. The language Gaspirali used in Tercuman was simplified in form that it would be understood by Turkic readers not only in Crimea but in Ottoman lands, Central Asia, and the Volga regions. Gaspirali was interested in one simple common literary language that would bring all the Turkic people in Russia together.

 After October Revolution in 1917, Crimean Tatar’s fate followed that of other minority languages in the USSR.

CrimeantatarGrammar1925 cropped
Above: Cover of Bekir Choban-Zade. Qırım Tatar ilmi sarfı (Simferopol, 1925), a grammar of the Crimean Tatar language in Perso-Arabic script:    14499.s.84. Below: Cover of the journal İleri: Ayda bir kere çıqar siyasi, ictima'i, 'ilmi ve edebi jurnaldır (Simferopol, 1926-[1927?]. 14499.tt26

CrimeanTatarIleri

 The new language policy of the Soviet Union replaced the Arabic script with a 31-letter Latin alphabet in 1929, only be replaced by Cyrillic as it was for all other nations in 1938.The changes of script have meant that not only the Crimean Tatars but the Central Asians and other nations lost the whole of their pre-revolutionary written culture as well as the first hand sources regarding the formative first decades of Soviet rule.

The Crimean Tatar people were deported on the orders of Stalin on 18 May 1944 to Central Asia, the Urals and Siberia where they were forced to live in ‘special settlements’ for more than a decade, stripped of all the rights they had enjoyed as Soviet citizens – including that of calling themselves Crimean Tatars. Schooling for the Crimean Tatars was either in Russian, or in the national language of the region where they had been settled. The national literature was destroyed and the Crimean Tatar language reduced to a pre-literate state. Esher Shemizade, Crimean Tatar poet, rightfully voiced what all the Crimean Tatars were feeling “a nation can exist only under the condition that it has its own literary language.”

With the lift of the ban by the Soviet Authorities, the Crimean Tatars managed to publish their first newspaper Lenin Bayragi (‘The Banner of Lenin’) in Uzbekistan in 1957. It appeared three times a week, with an initial circulation of 23,000. It used to be four pages and only the last page gave a glimpse of the language, the meaning of words and explanations for preserving the Crimean Tatar language and teaching it to the younger generation. This newspaper was published until 1990, when the Crimean Tatars started to return home. At this time its title was changed to Yani Bunya (‘New World’) and publication moved to Simferopol in Crimea.

CrimeanTatarNewAcquisitionsRecent acquisitions: Bi-lingual (Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian) anthologies of Crimean Tatar poetry and prose: Molytva lastivok: antolohia krymsʹkotatarsʹkoï prozy XIV-XX st.  (Kyïv,  2005-2006) ZF.9.a.6651 and Kuneshten bir parcha = Okrushyna sontsia (Kyiv, 2003). YF.2006.a.11779 

The Crimean Tatars regard their native language as a treasure worth preserving for its own sake. The poet Remzi Burnish captured this essence in his poem ‘Ana tilim’ (‘My Mother Tongue’):

Each nation has its own tongue
in which lovers confide,
To it, that tongue is sweeter than honey,
It will never be forgotten.
My nation is kinsmen, too.
Has its own tongue that sings,
Amid a thousand and one stars
This tongue, in my cradle,
Raised me with its lullaby,
It pulled forward from my youth
Holding me by the hand…

(translated by Edward Allworth with S Ahmet Kirimca)

Melek Maksudoglu, independent researcher

Further reading:

Gulʹnara Bekirova, Piv stolittia oporu: krymsʹki tatary vid vyhnannia do povernennia (1941-1991 roky): narys politychnoï istoriï (Half century of resistance: Crimean Tatars from deportation to return (1941-1991)) (Kyïv, 2017). YF.2017.a.20021

Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars: from Soviet genocide to Putin’s conquest (London, 2015). YC.2017.a.6553

V.E.Vozgrin, Istoriia krymskikh tatar. Ocherki etnicheskoi istorii korennogo naroda Kryma v chetyrekh tomakh. (Simferopol', 2014). YF.2015.a.3442

Mehmet Maksudoglu, Kırım Türkleri (Istanbul, 2009) 

E Allworth (ed), The Tatars of Crimea: return to the homeland: studies and documents (Durham N.C., 1998) 98/11840

Edward Lazzerini, ‘Crimean Tatar: the Fate of a Severed Tongue’ in: Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Soviet National Languages: their past, present and future, edited by Isabelle T. Kreindler. Contributions to the Sociology of Language; 40 (Berlin, 1985) X.0900/323(40) pp. 109-124

M. Ülküsal, ‘Colonialism and the Soviet Russia’ Emel İki Aylık Kültür Dergisi (EMEL JOURNAL) issue 2, Cilt 1, 1961 14498.c.20 

R. H. Hanoglu “Kırım Edebiyatı” Emel Iki Aylık Kültür Dergisi (EMEL JOURNAL) issue 13, Istanbul, 1962 14498.c.20 

Şevki Bektorë , Tatarça sarf, nahiv: Tatar oku işleri, ilmi heyeti tarafɪndan tasdik boldu (Sevastopol, 1923). ITA.1986.a.1063

 

21 February 2018

The first grammar of modern Ukrainian: 200 years ago

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“The year 1818 […] turned out to be crucial for Ukrainian national development”, says prominent Ukrainian historian Serhiy Plokhy in his book The Cossack Myth: History and Nationhood in the Age of Empires (Cambridge, 2012, p.353; YC.2012.a.16183). And the first important book amongst three “major literary works” of this year quoted by him is the first grammar of the modern Ukrainian language. Published in St Petersburg in 1818 with the title Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia... (The Grammar of the Little Russian dialect), it was the first book which described the basic phonetics and morphology of the Ukrainian language of the time. The British Library’s copy is now digitised.

PavlovskyGrammar1818Title-page of Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia (St Petersburg, 1818)  1332.e.5.(1.)

Not much is known about its author, Oleksiy (Aleksey) Pavlovich Pavlovsky (1773-1822?). He was born in the Ukrainian-Russian borderland (now the village of Sosnivka, Sumy Region in modern Ukraine), and after studies in Kyiv moved to St Petersburg where he continued his education at the Teachers’ Seminary. He spent almost 30 years working on the grammar (it was ready by 1805, but published only years later) and was the first to use phonetic principles in describing the contemporary spoken Ukrainian language.

In 1822 Pavlovsky published a brochure called Pribavlenie k Grammatikie malorossiiskago nariechiia (Additions to Grammar of the Little Russian dialect) as an answer to the review of his first book by prince Nikolai Tsertelev  in the influential Russian journal Syn Otechestva in 1818 (PP.4840 and Mic.B.994). This 34-page brochure is also digitised.

PavlovskyAddition1822Title-page of Pribavlenie k Grammatikie malorossiiskago nariechiia (St Petersburg, 1822) 1332.e.5.(2)

“The author’s attitude toward the Ukrainian language was ambivalent, for although he wished to refine it, he still regarded it as a dialect of Russian”, notes Orest Subtelny in Ukraine: A History (Toronto, 1994, p.230; YA.1995.b.7319). “But Pavlovsky’s achievement, like that of Ivan Voitsekhovych, who in 1823 compiled a small dictionary of Ukrainian, was significant”, he continues. Modern linguists agree about the importance of this first grammar. The short Ukrainian dictionary with Russian translations (pp. 24-78) still evokes a lot of interest.

PavlovskyLetterVLetter B (V) from: Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia

The book of 1818 gives also Ukrainian proverbs with their Russian equivalents and a few examples of spoken Ukrainian language.

PavlovskyProverbsUkrainian proverbs and maxims from: Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia


The Ukrainian language had a very difficult time in the 19th century. Two infamous tsarist ukazes in the second part of the century – the Valuev Circular of 1863 and Ems Ukaz  - prohibited the use of the Ukrainian language in print. Yet it survived the persecutions of the tsarist regime and later the limitations on its use during Soviet times. As we are celebrating International Mother Language Day today we pay our tribute to the first grammarians of all languages, especially of those which were prohibited and persecuted.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator, Ukrainian Collections

Further reading:

V.V. Nimchuk, Z istoriï ukraïnsʹkoï movy. Do 150-richchia “Hrammatyky” O. Pavlovs’koho. (Kyiv, 1972). X.908/28597.

Ivan Dziuba, Internationalism or Russification?: a study in the Soviet nationalities problem. 3rd ed. (New York, 1974). X.709/30122

Ilarion, Metropolitan of Winnipeg and All Canada. Istoriia ukraïnsʹkoï literaturnoï movy (Kyiv, 1995). YA.2000.a.13453

Istoriia ukraïnsʹkoï movy: khrestomatiia, compiled by S. Yermolenko, A.K. Moĭsiienko. (Kyiv, 1996). YA.1999.a.168

The battle for Ukrainian: a comparative perspective, edited by Michael S. Flier and Andrea Graziosi. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, [2017]) On order.

Article about the Ukrainian language from online Encyclopedia of Ukraine 

 

16 February 2018

Silent Witnesses: Two Manuals of the Sart Language

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We’ve all heard of dead languages: the Latins, Ottomans, Manchus and Arawaks that dot the pages of historical texts. These are languages that have ceased to be spoken, whether as first languages or taught ones, by anything more than a handful of scholars. Some dialect groupings disappear altogether for reasons of politics (consider Ottoman and Manchu); social change (Gaulish and Messina Greek); or simple brutality and terror (Arawak and Beothuk). For many others, their “death” is merely a fudge: Latin developed into Italian, French, Spanish and other Romance languages by the same process that brought us contemporary English from Old English, although the latter grouping was never considered to have died. But what of languages that have disappeared through bureaucratic measures? The Sart language might be considered one such example.

Sart is, or was, a Turkic language spoken by the Sart people of Central Asia. Although ethnic identity in pre-Soviet Central Asia is an exceptionally thorny issue, consensus seems to be that the Sarts were a sedentarized Turkophone population in various urban centres throughout the region. They were assumed to be Iranic by descent, but a quick look at two works in the British Library’s collections confirm that their speech, as recorded by Russian officials and travellers at the end of the 19th century, was very much Turkic. This was a basis for their distinction from the neighbouring Tajik peoples of the Pamir range, a community with whom 19th and early 20th century ethnographers assumed they shared a common ancestry, as Maria Subtelny explores in ‘Symbiosis of Turk and Tajik’.

RB23b6250 Sayid Kerim Sayid Azimbaev Portrait

 Portraits of Sayid Azimbaev (above) and Palvan Tapylbaev (below), two Sarts whose lives and genealogies are studied in N.P. Ostroumov’s 19th-century ethnographic work on Sart communities, Sarty: etnograficheskie materialy (Tashkent, 1896) RB.23.b.6250. 


RB23b6250 Palvan Akhmad Tapylbaev

The first of the two works in question is a phrasebook entitled Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie (‘Phrases in the Sart Language’), authored by Z. A. Aleksieev in 1884 and published in Tashkent. It was intended to be of “useful benefit for landlords and landladies, buyers and farmers, and [with] a good chrestomathy for Russians learning literacy in Sart and for Sarts beginning to read in Russian.” This was only 19 years after the city of Tashkent had fallen into Russian hands, and five years before the arrival of the Trans-Caspian Railway. It is a good indication of the pressure Russian officials felt to cement their interests among the mercantile classes of a sensitive part of the Empire abutting British interests in the Sub-Continent.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke Cover PageCover of Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie … (Tashkent, 1884) 14489.d.15

Although the work was advertised as being a learning resource for Sarts, it was clearly aimed at Russians: it is organized into three columns, with a Sart phrase on the far right; its Russian translation on the far left of the page; and a Cyrillic transliteration of the Sart in the middle. No Arabic transliteration of the Russian exists.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke Sample page A page from Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie, dealing with tree planting

The table of contents shows just how heavily it was geared towards functional interactions: while there is no section on small talk, there are stock phrases about buying birds or carpets; teacher-student interaction; farming; and the repair of telegraphic lines.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke TOC
Table of contents from Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie showing the diversity of commercial topics covered by the book

It is difficult to compare Sart to contemporary Turkic languages from the region. These reflect heavy state intervention on the part of the Soviet authorities and bear the scars of often traumatic social disruption, such as the collectivization and sedentarization campaigns of the 1930s. Nonetheless, what we can say about it is that it resembles considerably contemporary Uzbek, as well as certain features of Kazakh and Kyrgyz, all of which are spoken today in the regions where the Sarts lived.

12975l21 RusskoSartovskii Slovar Cover Page

 Cover  of V.P. Nalivkin, Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’ (Kazan, 1884) 12975.l.21.

The second work is a dictionary and short grammar of the language compiled by Vladimir Nalivkin. Published in 1884 as well, this time in Kazan’, it focuses on the dialect of the Namanganskii Uezd, in contemporary eastern Uzbekistan. Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’ is not, unfortunately, as telling of the social relations between Russians and Sarts as is Frazy, but it does reveal many important features of the language. Much of the vocabulary is not far from that of the Turkic languages of today’s Central Asia, although there are some remarkable departures, including in the names of months. The grammar is far from systematic, and provides only a sketch of the most important morphological structures of the language. Nevertheless, it is easy to see that Sart behaved very much like other Karluk Turkic languages;  it would not have been hard for anyone versed in Chagatai or even contemporary Uyghur or Uzbek to pick up.

12975l21 RusskoSartovskii Slovar Grammar

Sketch of Sart grammar, from Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’

As an important vehicle of commercial communication, it would be easy to assume that Sart would function as a crucial tool in extending Moscow’s authority over Central Asia in the 20th century. Such was not the case. In the 1920s and 30s, the Soviet government sent out teams of ethnographers and anthropologists in order to determine the region’s ethno-linguistic make-up; a key step towards the division of the territory into national republics. As Francine Hirsh has explored in Empire of Nations, this was a fraught process, occasionally led by political fiat rather than evidence. Throughout it, the Sarts fared badly. It was assumed that, in the march towards Socialism, they would be absorbed into the Uzbek nation. As a result, their language was not provided official recognition, and their culture ignored in favour of a Socialist Uzbek one. Sarts disappeared from the 1926 census and official discourse. The Sart language, along with dozens of other dialects that were no longer deemed to be expedient in the march towards Communism, was expunged from the historical record. These two items in the British Library’s collections, however, remain as testimonies to the vibrancy and importance of the language in the pre-Soviet period, and the people who spoke it.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections

References/Further reading

Sergeĭ Abashin, Natsionalizmy v Sredneĭ Azii: v poiskakh identichnosti (St Petersburg, 2007) YF.2009.a.901 

Maria Subtelny, ‘The Symbiosis of Turk and Tajik’, in Central Asia in historical perspective, edited by Beatrice F. Manz (Boulder, 1994) ORW.1996.a.1330

Frances Hirsch, Empire of nations: ethnographic knowledge & the making of the Soviet Union (Ithaca, N.Y., 2005) YC.2005.a.7999

Polveka v Turkestane : V.P. Nalivkin biografiia, dokumenty, trudy = Half a century in Turkestan : Vladimir Petrovich Nalivkin : biography, documents and works, Redaktory-sostaviteli: S.N. Abashin [and five others] (Moscow, 2015) YF.2017.a.4115

31 January 2018

Tolkien’s ‘Secret Vice’

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J.R.R. Tolkien had a ‘secret vice’, which ceased to be secret from the moment he let the cat out of the bag in an essay of the same title, which has been reprinted many times.

Tolkien’s vice was inventing languages. He was introduced to this pleasure at an early age by his cousins Mary and Marjorie Incledon, who taught him the language Animalic which they had created themselves. He quotes a fragment of it in his 1936 essay ‘The Monsters and the Critics’: “Dog nightingale woodpecker forty = You are an ass”.

When the elder of the two girls lost interest, Tolkien, who was already learning Latin and French at school, collaborated with her younger sister to create a second and more sophisticated language called Nevbosh or ‘New Nonsense’. “I was a member of the Nevbosh-speaking world,” Tolkien proudly recalls. He even quotes part of a poem in the language, which begins with the lines: Dar fys ma vel gom co palt ‘hoc / Pys go iskili far maino woc? (There was an old man who said ‘how / can I possibly carry my cow?’)

During this time Tolkien also learnt Esperanto. Esperanto was still a new language, only five years older than Tolkien himself. (The first book of Esperanto  was published in 1887, while Tolkien was born in 1892.) When he was 17 years old he used Esperanto in a manuscript with the title The Book of the Foxrook, consisting of 16 pages in a a secret code using rune-like phonetic symbols and ideograms. The name of the code was Privata Kodo Skaŭta – ‘Private Scout Code’ (The correct word for ‘scout’ in modern Esperanto is skolta.)

A teenager with a passion for learning and creating languages could hardly fail to discover Esperanto, although the criteria which Tolkien followed for his own constructed languages were quite different from those which inspired Esperanto’s creator Zamenhof. The grammar of Esperanto aims to be as simple as possible, in contrast to the complex grammars of Tolkien’s languages. Tolkien was aiming to create word forms which would be aesthetically pleasing, and harmonize with their meanings. In accordance with these principles he invented at least 15 languages in the course of his lifetime. He also gave them different dialects and background histories showing how they had evolved over time,  and imagined the peoples who spoke them His grammars were very elaborate, making use of his linguistic knowledge of Finnish, Welsh, Ancient Greek and other languages. It might be difficult to learn to speak his languages fluently – but ease of learning was never his primary object in creating them.

Tolkien montage
A selection of books about Tolkien’s invented languages from the British Library’s collections

In the first period up to 1930 he worked on Primitive Quendian, from which the entire family of Elvish languages evolved. He followed this up with Common Eldarin, Quenya and Goldorin, which later became Noldorin. To these languages he later added Telerin, Ilkorin, Doriathrin and Avarin.

In the final stage, Noldorin evolved into Sindarin, which along with Quenya is one of his best known languages. Sindarin makes use of the same phonological system as Welsh, which was one of Tolkien’s favourite languages. The grammar is also inspired by Welsh, and the result is notably complex. For example some nouns form the plural with an ending (usually -in), e.g. Drû, pl. Drúin, ‘wild men’. Others do so through vowel change, e.g. golodh and gelydh, ‘lore master, sage.. Still others use some combination of the two, and a few do not change in the plural: Belair, ‘Beleriandic-Elf/Elves’ is singular and plural.

Tolkien Quenya
An example of Tolkien’s Quenya script and language (Image by TigerTjäder from Wikimedia Commons)

Compare this with Esperanto, which has only one plural ending for nouns, with no exceptions. Of course, the aim of Esperanto is that it should be easy to learn for speakers of all languages.

In spite of this, Tolkien recognized the poetic qualities of Esperanto, stating in ‘A Secret Vice’: “Also I particularly like Esperanto, not least because it is the creation ultimately of one man, not a philologist, and is therefore something like a ‘human language bereft of the inconveniences due to too many successive cooks[...];” .

At the phonological level, too, Tolkien’s languages stand in complete contrast to the simplicity of Esperanto. Sindarin is based on Welsh, but with elements of Old English and Old Icelandic, resulting in a rich abundance of vowels and consonants. Esperanto’s phonological system on the other hand is closer to that of Modern Hebrew, which consists of a simplified version of the phonology of European languages.

Tolkien’s connection with the British Esperanto movement continued in later years. In 1930 the World Esperanto Congress was held in Oxford, and the following year Tolkien was appointed to the Board of Honorary Advisers of the British Esperanto Association’s Education Committee.

TolkienBritishEsperantist1932

Letter from Tolkien to the Secretary of the Committee of the British Esperanto Association, printed in The British Esperantist,  2 May 1932.  PP.4939.ka.

In his letter of acceptance, Tolkien wrote that Esperanto was “in the position of an orthodox church facing not only unbelievers but schismatics and heretics.” The letter concludes with the well-known sentence: “My advice to all who have the time or inclination to concern themselves with the international language movement would be: ‘Back Esperanto loyally.’”

In 1933 he was one of the patrons of the British Esperanto Congress in Oxford, and signed a declaration about the educational value of Esperanto in schools.

TolkienLaMastroJ.R.R.Tolkien, La mastro de l'Ringoj (Kaliningrado, 2007). YF.2008.a.11686 

Two of Tolkien’s most popular works have been translated into Esperanto. The Lord of the Rings was translated by the major Esperanto writer and poet William Auld (1924-2006) as La mastro de l’ ringoj (first published 1995-1997). The Hobbit was first published in Esperanto in 2000 as La hobito: aŭ tien kaj reen, translated by Christopher Gledhill and William Auld.

TolkienLaHobito La Hobito: aŭ tien kaj reen (Ekaterinburg,2000). YF.2008.a.10159

Tolkien’s writings show that for him one of the most important qualities of invented languages was beauty of form. Sindarin achieves that ideal, possessing both educational and aesthetic value. Remembering his support for Esperanto, Esperanto speakers owe it to him to declare, “Ĝuu Sindarin plene” - Enjoy Sindarin to the full.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, and former President of the World Esperanto Association.

References/Further reading

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins (London, 2016) YC.2017.a.9899.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics, and other essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien (London, 1983) X.950/22397.

22 January 2018

Three Alphabets of the Belarusian Language

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The written culture of Belarus is over 11 centuries old. Many of us correctly associate the Belarusian language with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, many texts, in both Old Belarusian and the modern literary language (1850s onwards) were originally written and published in Latin characters. The existence of these two graphic systems in the Belarusian written tradition reflects the rich and complex cultural influences the country experienced at different periods. Many people may be surprised to learn that the Arabic alphabet was also used for writing in Belarusian. For that we should be grateful to the Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

For centuries, Cyrillic script (kirylica) was the most commonly used graphic system of the Old Belarusian language both for religious and secular literature. The oldest Belarusian book known to us is the Turaŭ [Turov] Gospel. Its only fragment, consisting of ten sheets, was discovered in 1865 in Turaŭ, a town in the south of contemporary Belarus. It is preserved in the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences  in Vilnius. The manuscript is written in the Church Slavonic language, in uncial script (ustav) - the oldest type of Cyrillic writing.

Starting from the 14th century, a more economical half-uncial script was widely used in East Slavonic manuscripts. When the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna, established his press in the early 16th century, he chose a font based on handwritten half-uncial Cyrillic script.

All three versions (1529, 1566 and 1588) of the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were written in Cyrillic too. There is no academic consensus regarding their language. Most Belarusian scholars call it Old Belarusian, but others refer to it as Ruthenian or Chancery Slavonic. In any case, the texts of the Statutes became important precursors of the modern Belarusian language. Unlike the first two Statutes, the version of 1588 was printed; a Cyrillic font imitating an italic script (skoropis) of that time was used. This script was used for civil publications, while religious books continued to be printed in a more elaborate half-uncial script.

BelarusianAlphabetsStatute1588(2)
Title-page of the facsimile edition of the Statute of 1588 in : Statuty Velykoho Kniazivstva Lytovs'koho (Odessa, 2002-2004), Vol. 3, book 1,  ZF.9.a.951

The organic development of the Cyrillic form of the Belarusian language was interrupted by the increased use of the Polish language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 17th-18th centuries. Polish was replaced by Russian in official use after the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Poland were partitioned by their stronger neighbours at the end of the 18th century.

A civil script, grazhdanka, developed for the Russian alphabet under Tsar Peter the Great’s supervision, was adopted by newspaper and book publishers after publishing in Belarusian became legal in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. After a short period of experimentation, the Belarusian alphabet settled into its current form. It is very close to the Russian and Ukrainian alphabets, but has its own particularities, e.g. the letter ў (ŭ) which recently acquired a mascot status for the whole Belarusian language.

BelarusianAlphabetsПомнік_літары__Ў_

A monument celebrating the character in Polack, the oldest Belarusian city and the birthplace of the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna. (Photo by Pasacern7 CC BY-SA 4.0  from Wikimedia Commons)

The Latin script (lacinka) was used widely in Belarus for writing in Latin and Polish. From the 16th century, we also have examples of Belarusian texts, usually written in Latin script using the Polish alphabet.

19th-century publications in Belarusian are dominated by lacinka: the folklorist Jan Čačot, the author Jan Barščeŭski, the poet and publisher Alexander Rypinski, the first major Belarusian playwright Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič, and the first major national poet, Francišak Bahuševič – all wrote and published their works in the Latin script. In 1862-63, the first – illegal then – Belarusian newspaper, Mužyckaja praŭda, was published by Kastuś Kalinoŭski, also using Latin script.

BelarusianAlphabetsRypinskiTitlepageCover of Alexander Rypinski, Niaczyścik, Ballada Białoruska ... Wydanie trzecie Akcentowane ([Tottenham, 1856?]). 11585.a.56.(7)


BelarusianAlphabetsDudka Cover of the facsimile edition of Frantsishak Bahushėvich, Dudka białaruskaja (Minsk, 1990). YA.1999.a.4633

The earliest Belarusian newspapers and books published legally under the Russian Empire used both Cyrillic and Latin scripts, which they referred to as “Russian and Polish characters”. Cyrillic was used to address the Orthodox Christian population and the Latin alphabet – for Roman Catholics. The Naša Niva weekly, the main voice of the Belarusian national revival, dropped its lacinka version for the kirylica one due to costs.

BelarusianAlphabetsNashaNivaPage from a facsimile edition of Nasha Niva (Minsk, 1992). ZA.9.d.379

The Latin script continued to be widely used in the western part of Belarus, which from 1919-1939 was under Polish rule. Here, the outstanding linguist Branislaŭ Taraškievič proposed a version of the Belarusian Latin alphabet which broke away from the earlier conventions; for example, instead of digraphs common in Polish (cz, sz), letters with diacritics (č, š) were introduced. This version was quickly and widely adopted by publishers in western Belarus.

In Soviet Belarus, the possibility of adopting the Latin script was discussed only once, during the Academic Conference for Reform of the Belarusian Grammar and Alphabet in 1926. The conference agreed that such a change would be the best solution, but premature at that time. Three years later, the Bolsheviks described such views as sabotage and tearing Belarusian culture away from that of Russia. Mass purges of the Belarusian intelligentsia followed soon after.

A slightly modified version of Branislaŭ Taraškievič’s lacinka has recently been adopted by the Belarusian government for transliterating Belarusian geographic names into Latin script and recommended for use by the United Nations.

From the 14th century, Tatars from Crimea, the Volga region and the Caucasus settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – some were invited to join the Duchy’s army, while others were refugees or prisoners of war. Many of their settlements survived until very recently in contemporary Belarus, and even now the small town of Iŭje is primarily known for its Tatar community. In literature, they are referred to as Lipka Tatars.

 The Tatars adopted the vernaculars of the peoples they lived among, and used them in their own manuscripts – translations of and commentaries on the Quran, prayer books and books of religious instruction. Belarusian dialects predominate in Lipka Tatar manuscripts, particularly in the oldest known to us, dating from the 17th-18th centuries. The Tatars preserved the Arabic script for writing and recorded phonetics of the language they – and people among whom they lived – spoke. These manuscripts are an important source about the development of the Belarusian language: many characteristics of the contemporary Belarusian language can be seen in Lipka Tatar writings from centuries ago.

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.

References / Further reading:

Peter J. Mayo, ‘The Alphabet and Orthography of Byelorussian in the 20th Century’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 4/1 (1977), pp. 28-47. ZC.9.a.9127 .

George Meredith Owens/Alexander Nadson, ‘The Byelorussian Tartars and their Writings’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 2/2 (1970), pp. 141-176.

Paul Wexler, ‘Jewish, Tatar and Karaite Communal Dialects and their Importance for Byelorussian Historical Linguistics’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 41-54.

Shirin Akiner, ‘The Vocabulary of a Byelorussian Tatar Kitab in the British Museum’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 55-84.

Shirin Akiner, Religious language of a Belarusian Tatar Kitab: a cultural monument of Islam in Europe (Wiesbaden, 2009). EDM.2009.a.41

Barys Sachanka, Belaruskaia mova: ėntsyklapedyia (Minsk, 1994). YA.1999.b.2123

A. Susha, ‘Turauskae Evanhelle – samaia starazhytnaia kniha Belarusi’, Belaruski histarychny chasopis, no. 8 (2015), pp. 22–32. ZF.9.b.69

 

30 November 2017

‘The Gospels are as good in Danish or German as in Latin…’: the earliest Nordic vernacular Bibles

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Many factors contributed to the spread of the Reformation in the Nordic region from the 16th century onwards. The developing ‘national’ monarchies, with ever more centralized rule, gradually saw the Catholic Church as the main obstacle to the consolidation of wealth and power. This disillusionment with the Catholic Church was also of course a result of the dissemination of new Lutheran teachings, by German preachers who had moved north, by Scandinavian preachers who had been taught in Lutheran contexts, or often by Hansa merchants spreading the faith.

In the process of reforming the North, as elsewhere, vernacular translations of scripture were significant. As Bent Noack writes, ‘it is not sufficiently emphasized that the printing of vernacular texts long preceded the Reformation in many countries’ (The Cambridge History of the Bible, p. 423): there are mediaeval Danish and Swedish biblical manuscripts based on the Vulgate and, as early as 1514, Christiern Pedersen (c.1480-1554) had translated parts of the New Testament. In a preface to his 1515 translated Book of Homilies, Pedersen makes plain the richness of vernacular translations: ‘Nobody ought to think that the Gospels are more sacred in one tongue than in another: they are as good in Danish or in German as they are in Latin, if only they are rightly interpreted’. Soon after Luther’s 1522 translation of the New Testament there followed Danish (1524) and Swedish (1526) versions. So, Noack writes, these New Testaments ‘were called forth by the Reformation in Germany and served to prepare the soil for it in Scandinavia’, showing how vernacular translations preceded and then pushed forward the Reformation in the North, which was only made official by the establishment of a Lutheran State Church from 1536 (in Denmark and Sweden).

With state-sponsored Lutheranism came the means for producing complete Bible translations. The British Library holds examples of most of the earliest printed Bibles from the Nordic region. The earliest complete one was produced in Sweden. The ‘Gustav Vasa Bible’ (1541), named after the king who commissioned it, was translated by the brothers Laurentius and Olaus Petri and was heavily based on Luther’s translations. The German influence spread to the book’s production, style and typography, as the printer Georg Richolff of Lübeck was invited to Uppsala to print it. Richolff brought with him new type material and a range of woodblocks, including some by Lucas Cranach. In the image below, we see an elaborate architectural title frame for the New Testament and the German Fraktur type used for the title itself.

Swedish Bible title page
Title-page for the New Testament from Biblia, thet är, All then Helgha Scrifft, på Swensko (Uppsala, 1541) 1109.kk.5, the ‘Gustav Vasa Bible’

The British Library has another copy of this 1541 New Testament (1.b.3.), bound separately, which contains copious  manuscript annotations, some dated 1639, about which we know very little (below).

Swedish Bible annotated Epistles

What scholars consistently emphasise with this, and every other, early vernacular Bible is how the language and style of the translation influenced the standard modern languages and, in the case of Swedish, ‘the orthography and use of accents made its difference from Danish more distinctive’ (A History of the Book in 100 Books, p. 125). The first complete Danish Bible, known as the ‘Christian III Bible’, after the King of Denmark-Norway, was printed in 1550. The publisher of the Low German Luther edition, Ludwig Dietz, printed it in Copenhagen and the translation is generally ascribed to Christiern Pedersen, though it remains uncertain.  

Danish Bible title page

Danish Bible Christian III portrait

Danish Bible armourial bearings

Top to bottom: title page, King Christian III’s portrait and armorial bearings, from the ‘Christian III Bible’, Biblia, Det er den gantske Hellige Scrifft, vdsæt paa Danske (Copenhagen, 1550) 2.e.11

In Iceland, under the rule of Denmark at the time, book production begun with a press established by the last Roman Catholic bishop, Jón Arason, at Hólar. Noack describes the Reformation Bible as ‘its most outstanding specimen’ (Cambridge History, p. 140). It is known as the Guðbrandsbiblía (Gudbrand’s Bible), after Guðbrandur Þorláksson, the Bishop of Hólar at the time of its publication in 1584, who executed the translation and designed and engraved most of the woodcuts. A laborious project, it took 2 years to print 500 copies. Our copy is one of the 121 printed books donated to the British Museum by Joseph Banks in 1773, following an exploratory trip to south-eastern Iceland in the previous September.

Icelandic Bible title page
Titlepage (above) and note of  presentation by Joseph Banks (below) from the ‘Guðbrandsbiblía’, Biblia, þad er, Øll Heilög Ritning, vtlögd a Norrænu (Hólar, 1584), 692.i.1

Icelandic Bible presentation note Joseph Banks

Like the Swedish and Danish translations before it, the Icelandic Bible is said to have contributed enormously to the development of the modern standard language. Yet, even more emphatic is the influence of the vernacular Bible translation on the Finnish language, as it represents the first ever appearance of the language in print. Mikael Agricola (c.1510-1557) began translating Scripture following a period of study in Wittenberg and we hold a 1931 facsimile edition of his 1548 New Testament (Se Wsi Testamenti, Helsinki, 1931; 3706.cc.10). The first complete Finnish Bible dates back to 1642 and was printed in Stockholm in an edition of 1200 copies. The task of the printer, Henrik Keyser, was made more difficult by the fact that none of the compositors knew any Finnish! The BL also holds the first Finnish Bible printed in Finland itself (Turku, 1685, BL 219.h.13).

Finnish Bible Genesis
Genesis, chapter 1 (above) and an illustration of David and Goliath (below) from the first complete Bible in Finnish, Biblia, se on: Coco Pyhä Ramattu, Suomexi (Stockholm, 1642), C.108.aaa.12

Finnish Bible David and Goliath

The first New Testaments in the Greenlandic Inuit language, Testamente Nutak, (Copenhagen, 1766; 217.e.23) and in Saami , Ådde Testament, (Stockholm, 1755; 3040.a.29) can also be found in our collections.

To bring this brief survey of the earliest vernacular Bibles to a close, then, we should emphasize that these Bibles are not only the literary foundations of the Reformation but also the foundations of standard modern languages in the Nordic region. Thanks in part to the (mostly) consistent presence of a Lutheran State Church over the last four centuries, in the words of T.K. Derry, ‘the view of religion which was shaped in Germany still receives an ampler recognition in Scandinavia than in its homeland’ (A History of Scandinavia, p. 95).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

T.K. Derry, A History of Scandinavia (London, 1979), X.800/29298

S.L. Greenslade (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Bible. The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge, 1963/1987), YC.1988.a.9888

James L. Larson, Reforming the North: the Kingdoms and Churches of Scandinavia, 1520-1545 (Cambridge, 2010), YC.2011.a.5047

Ole Peter Grell (ed.), The Scandinavian Reformation: from evangelical movement to institutionalisation of reform (Cambridge, 1995), YC.1995.b.214

Charlotte Appel & Morten Fink-Jensen (eds.), Religious Reading in the Lutheran North: Studies in Early Modern Scandinavian Book Culture (Cambridge, 2011), YC.2011.a.14186

Roderick Cave & Sara Ayad, A History of the Book in 100 Books (London, 2014),  YC.2016.b.1783

 

02 October 2017

Luther the translator

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In 1521, having been excommunicated by the Pope and declared an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor, Martin Luther was given refuge at the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach by Elector Friedrich III of Saxony, one of the first German princes to support the ideas of the Protestant Reformation. While in hiding there Luther set about translating the New Testament into German, as first part of a proposed translation of the whole Bible.

Luther Junker Jörg 4888.bb.8.
Luther disguised as ‘Junker Jörg’ while in hiding at the Wartburg. Engraving by Lucas Cranach, reproduced in Alfred von Sallet, Luther als Junker Georg ... Separatabdruch aus dem 52 Bande des “Neuen Lausitzischen Magazins.” (Berlin, 1883) 4888.bb.8.

Luther chose to tackle the New Testament first as it was the less difficult task. He was not the first to translate the Bible into German: 18 translations had appeared in print between 1466 and the early 1520s. But unlike these, which were based heavily on the Latin ‘Vulgate’, the canonical Bible text for the Catholic Church of the day, Luther went back to the original Biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. For the New Testament he worked mainly from Erasmus’s Greek edition.

Bible IC.506
The first Bible printed in German (Strasbourg, 1466) IC.506

The work was finished in 11 months and the first edition of Luther’s New Testament appeared in September 1522. It was a great success: the first edition of 3,000 copies sold out within 3 months, and a new edition appeared in December, by which time Luther had already made many changes and corrections to his translation (he would continue to revise and amend his translations throughout his life).

Luther Septembertestament C36g7
Title-page of the ‘September Testament’, the first edition of Luther’s New Testament translation (Wittenberg, 1522)  C.36.g.7.

The first part of Luther’s Old Testament translation appeared in 1523. Over the next 12 years, working with a group of associates, he completed the translation of the whole Bible, which was published in 1534. In that time at least 22 new editions of the already-published translations had appeared, and it is reckoned that around a third of all literate Germans would have owned a copy of one or more parts.

Luther Bible 1534 tp
Title-page of the first complete edition of Luther’s Bible (Wittenberg, 1534) 1.b.9.

An important aspect of Luther’s translation was that he wanted it to reflect the cadences not of Latin, or of Greek and Hebrew, but of contemporary spoken German. He set out  this idea in the Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, published in 1530 in response to critics such as Hieronymus Emser, who in 1523 had produced a book arguing that Luther’s Bible should be ‘forbidden to the common man’ and identifying 1400 alleged errors and heresies in Luther’s text.

Luther Sendbrieff 3905.cc.61.
Martin Luther, Ein Sendbrieff. Von Dolmetschen... (Wittenberg, 1530)

A particular target of Luther’s critics was his use of the term ‘allein durch Glauben’ – ‘only by faith’ – to translate Romans 3.28 in which neither the Vulgate nor the Greek text has any equivalent of the word ‘only’. Although the concept of justification by faith alone was in fact of great theological importance for Luther, here he defended his use of ‘allein’ on purely linguisitic grounds, claiming that it was so natural in the context of a spoken German sentence that not to use it would sound foolish. He famously stated that:

We do not have to ask the literal Latin how we are to speak German, as these donkeys do. Rather we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace. We must be guided by their language, by the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly. Then they will understand it and recognise that we are speaking German to them.

Luther also points out in the Sendbrief that Emser himself made heavy use of Luther’s German New Testament when commissioned by the Catholic Duke Georg of Saxony to provide a heresy-free Catholic alternative to Luther’s translation. Emser’s reliance on Luther’s text meant that Luther’s Biblical language became familiar and popular among Catholic as well as Protestant Germans.

As the Sendbrief suggested, Luther had found a way to make the Bible speak to ordinary Germans. His translation would greatly influence the German language – as the King James Bible later would English – so that today’s German speakers of all confessions and religions, and those of none, owe a debt going back to the fugitive monk who devoted his days in hiding to translation.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

18 September 2017

Bertillons and others: some language textbooks of the past

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Back in 1979 my introduction to the French language – and indeed to learning any foreign language – came via a textbook entitled Le français d’aujourd’hui (‘Today’s French’) and its central protagonists, the Bertillon family, whose adventures were generally recounted in picture stories, with commentary and vocabulary, opposite a page explaining new grammar points with related exercises.

Bertillons 1
‘Voici la famille Bertillon...’, from P.J.Downes [and others] Le français d’aujourd’hui (London, 1966) Cup.1254.w.31.

La famille Bertillon consisted of Papa, Maman and three children: Philippe, Marie-Claude and Alain. They lived in the – presumably fictional – town of Villeneuve, complete with Miquet the cat and, a little later, Kiki the dog, a stray adopted by Alain in an early adventure. M Bertillon (Jean) was a customs officer at Orly airport while Mme Bertillon (Annette) was a stay-at-home mum.

Bertillons 2
Alain acquires a dog

After M Bertillon caught a smuggler at work – leaping athletically over his desk and crying ‘Au voleur!’ – he was rewarded with a bonus, enabling the family to move closer to Paris and the authors of the textbook to introduce the future tense: ‘When we are living in Sceaux I will…’. The imperfect tense was introduced in a rather less obvious way, with Philippe, inspired by a history lesson, falling asleep and dreaming of the life he would have led at various periods in the past. Our French teacher actually apologised to us for this chapter.

Bertillons 3

M. Bertillon springs into action

After the move the Bertillons also acquired a car, which Mme Bertillon (who already had one cycling accident under her belt) managed to crash while taking Marie-Claude and Alain for a day out. On seeing the damaged car, M Bertillon, who had been at a rugby match with Philippe, exclaimed ‘Sacrebleu!’, translated by the book as the surprisingly mild ‘tut-tut’. Our teacher had another translation: ‘Never say this,’ she warned us, ‘It is the French equivalent of “Gadzooks.”’

Bertillons 4    Bertillons 5

Mme Bertillon’s transport misfortunes: a cycling accident and a damaged car

Although not usually so mediaeval, Le français d’aujourd’hui, was certainly outdated by the time it fell into my generation’s teenaged hands, having been first published shortly before we were born. One of the chapters not featuring the Bertillons was a plug for ‘Concorde – l’avion de l’avenir’ and the lesson when we studied it was almost certainly interrupted by ‘the aeroplane of the future’ passing over us on its regular daily flight, its sonic boom rendering audible speech briefly impossible.

For German we had something rather more up-to-date, illustrated for additional verisimilitude with photographs taken in the city of Göttingen where the stories were set – although the wing collars and flared trousers of its mid-1970s characters seemed as hopelessly outmoded to our mid-1980s sensibilities as the Bertillons’ badly-drawn 1960s outfits.

Audio-lingual German 1
C.C.B. Wightwick and H, Strubelt, Longman Audio-Lingual German. Stage 1 (London, 1974) X.0900/404. The cover features, clockwise from top, regular characters Herr Körner, Dieter Kollwitz, Jürgen Starnberger and Frau Schütze 

As the title (surely one of the dullest for a textbook ever) implies, Longman Audio-Lingual German was also more up-to-date in its use of audio material. Listening to stories and dialogues, following the spoken narrative of wordless picture stories, and repeating phrases and sentences, all using reel-to-reel tapes in the classroom, were an integral part of the course.

Audio-lingual German picture story
A picture story from Audio-Lingual German, designed to make more sense when you heard the accompanying tape

Unlike the nuclear Bertillon family of Le français d’aujourd’hui, Audio-Lingual German featured a wide cast of characters. There was teenager Dieter Kollwitz and his friends, but the main focus was actually on adult characters, notably journalist Herr Körner and his landlady Frau Schütze.

Audio-lingual German Dieter
1970s teenager Dieter, in his 1970s bedroom, with his 1970s mother: ‘hopelessly outmoded to our mid-1980s sensibilities’

Most of these characters’ adventures, like those of the Bertillons, were fairly humdrum, except on the occasions when the writers introduced the two bizarrely useless petty criminals, Adolf and Hermann, who were presumably meant to add comic relief. In a particularly ridiculous episode, Hermann was smuggled into Herr Körner’s rooms inside a new sofa, in order to raid the premises. When this plan failed, he and Adolf, having no money for food, broke into a car to steal a sausage, only to discover that it was a plastic theatre prop. Like Philippe’s dream, this whole story triggered an apology in advance from the teacher.

We all rather assumed that Herr Körner and the widowed Frau Schütze would eventually get together, but it was not to be. At the end of Book 2, Herr Körner got a publishing deal and left Göttingen for Berlin, although his departure was inevitably hampered by Adolf and Hermann stealing his motorbike at a motorway service station, where several key characters from the books had conveniently converged.

Audio-lingual German Bike theft
Adolf (pillion) and Hermann (driving) make their final getaway, pursued by Herr Körner and friends

Looking back at these two textbook series, published approximately ten years apart, it is clear how much the approach to language learning, and indeed to the kind of material likely to engage the interest of secondary school children, had changed between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. With modern language studies sadly declining in UK schools, it is to be hoped that today’s textbook writers and selectors are finding ways to engage modern schoolchildren in new ways with the pleasure of learning a language.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

04 September 2017

No mean achievement: the first Basque New Testament

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The British Library possesses a fine copy of the New Testament in Basque, printed at La Rochelle in 1571. The principal translator was Joanes Leizarraga (1506-1601). Born at Briscous in the French Basque province of Labourd, he trained as a Catholic priest. However, by 1560 he had converted to Protestantism, later taking refuge in the territory of Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre. She herself had converted to Calvinism in 1559 and was the leading promoter of the Huguenot cause.

Leizarraga undertook the translation in 1563 at the behest of the Synod of Pau of the Reformed Church of Navarre-Béarn. The work is dedicated to Jeanne d’Albret, who financed the translation, and her coat of arms appears on the title page. Subsequently, in 1567, she appointed Leizarraga minister of the church of Labastide in Lower Navarre in 1567.

427px-Jeanne-albret-navarre
Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre-Béarn, by François Clouet (1570) (Image from the Gallica Digital Library via Wikimedia Commons)

As elsewhere in Reformation Europe, making the Bible available to the laity in the vernacular was a priority. Leizarraga, however, faced particular difficulties. The earliest surviving book in Basque was printed in Bordeaux as late as 1545. No copy has survived of a reported second book, a Spanish-Basque catechism, printed in Spanish Navarre in 1561. He was thus unable to draw on an established form of written Basque in producing his translation. Moreover, at this period Basque was spoken in a number of dialects and varied noticeably from village to village, ‘almost from house to house’ as Leizarraga himself remarks in the preliminaries addressed to ‘Heuscalduney’, the speakers of Basque. He resolved to create a generalized form of the language, based on three dialects: largely that of Labourd, plus Lower Navarrese and Souletin.

He was assisted in this by four other Basque ministers, of whom at least two came from Soule. Leizarraga and his collaborators based their text on a version of the French Geneva Bible but with regard also to the Vulgate and to the Greek. In so doing they effectively created a Basque literary language, although one that took many words directly from Latin. This is evident in a comparison between the opening verses of the Lord’s Prayer in Leizarraga’s version (L) and one in modern Basque (B). The borrowings from Latin are in bold:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew VI: 9-10).
L: Gure Aita ceruëtã aicena, sanctifica bedi hire icena. Ethor bedi hire resumá. Eguin bedi hire vorondatea ceruän beçala lurrean-ere.
B: Gure Aita zeruetan zaudena, santu izan bedi zure izena. Etor bedi zure erreinua, egin bedi zure nahia, zeruan bezala lurrean ere.

Subsequently, Basque developed in a less learned, more popular direction. Nonetheless, the work is of considerable value to grammarians and philologists when studying the language of Leizarraga’s day and its subsequent evolution.

The 1571 volume contains a number of additional texts. These include glossaries (e.g. of Hebrew and Greek proper names); a topical index to the New Testament; instructions on conducting various religious ceremonies, e.g. marriage; and a catechism for children. Two smaller works by Leizarraga were also published by the same press in La Rochelle in 1571: a religious calendar, including Easter Tables, and a Protestant catechism.

Basque NT
The Basque New Testament, Testamentu berria (La Rochelle: Pierre Hautin, 1571) 217.d.2.

It has been estimated that some 25 copies of the 1571 Basque New Testament survive. Four are in the UK: at the British Library, Bodleian Library, John Rylands Library and Cambridge University Library (from the collection of the British and Foreign Bible Society, presented by Louis Lucien Bonaparte). The BL copy is in the King’s Library and was thus acquired for George III’s collection and then donated to the British Museum in 1823. Its earlier history is unknown. In recent years, two copies have been auctioned in London and acquired by institutions in the Spanish Basque Country. The copy that belonged to the Marquis of Bute was sold at Sotheby’s in 1995 and bought by a Spanish bank, the Caja de Ahorros de Navarra. Since 2014 it has been deposited in the Biblioteca Nacional de Navarra. In 2007 another copy was purchased at Christie’s by Euskaltzaindia, the Basque Language Academy. The high prices paid for these copies at auction, particularly in 1995, indicate the iconic status that Leizarraga’s translation now has for the Basque people.

Geoff West, former Curator Hispanic Collections

References/Further reading

Historia de la literatura vasca. Ed. Patrizio Urquiz Sarasua. (Madrid, 2000) HLR. 899.92

Lafon, René, Le système du verbe basque au XVIe siècle. (Bordeaux, 1943) X.902/3245

Leizarraga, Ioannes, Iesus Christ gure iaunaren Testamentu berria… ed. Th. Linschmann & Hugo Schuchardt. (Bilbao, 1990) [A reprint of the 1900 Strasburg edition] YA.2003.a.33511

Olaizola Iguiñiz, Juan María de, El Reino de Navarra en la encrucijada de su historia: el protestantismo en el País Vasco. 2nd ed. (Pamplona, 2011) YF.2011.a.26524

Villasante, Luis, Historia de la literatura vasca, 2nd ed. ([Oñate?], 1979) YA.1986.a.6853.