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Reviewed by:
  • Old Saxon by James E. Cathey
  • Joseph F. Eska
Old Saxon. By James E. Cathey. (Languages of the world/materials 252.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2000. Pp. 70. ISBN 3895865141. $34.50.

Old Saxon is a West Germanic language that was spoken from the sixth to the eleventh century in the northwest of what is present-day Germany. The corpus includes documents of various types, but the principal testimony of the language comes from the Heliand, an alliterative poem that concerns the life of Christ consisting of 5983 lines probably composed in the second quarter of the ninth century in language appropriate to Saxon society, and a 337-line fragment of a translation of Genesis.

Before turning to the grammar itself, Cathey places Old Saxon into its historical context, sets out the composition of the corpus, provides an enlightening synopsis of the Christianization of the Saxons, discusses the difficulties the language presented to the conversion process owing to the very different worldview of its speakers, sets out the writing system, and describes influence on the language from East Franconian and Frisian betrayed by orthography. Turning next to the Heliand, C discusses the extant manuscripts, meter and poetic ornamentation, and the date of composition of the poem.

The grammar itself provides a rich range of detail, considering its brevity. The section on phonology traces diachronic developments from proto-Germanic to Old Saxon and also addresses what one can surmise from the extensive graphemic variation found in the manuscripts. The section on morphology, aside from setting out the inflectional patterns for the various classes of word categories, also describes the syntactic usage of the nominal cases. Further sections focus on stress assignment, derivational morphology, and nominal compounding and outline the case usage and semantics of prepositions. The section on syntax examines unmarked and marked clausal configurations, subordination, attributive and predicative constructions, and comparative and superlative constructions. C follows Irmengard Rauch (The Old Saxon language: Grammar, epic narrative, linguistic interference, New York: Peter Lang, 1994, 24–31) in viewing Old Saxon as a V1 language that allowed preposing for topicalization, but the examples cited appear to me to be more consistent with a V2 analysis —like many older and contemporary Germanic languages—in which surface V1 configurations are the product of narrative inversion. The volume closes with a brief discussion of loanwords from Latin, Greek, and other Germanic languages and a sample text of five lines.

C’s presentation of Old Saxon packs copious information into few pages and will serve those with either diachronic or synchronic interests very well.

Joseph F. Eska
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


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