"Between past and present, word and deed: dictionaries at the margins" (Dr Roderick McDonald)
Dictionaries are social constructs, and they occupy a problematic zone between the static and the dynamic: on the one hand freezing language in time, yet paradoxically asserting stolid authority over the fundamental dynamism of actual language use. Often they succeed in doing neither, and yet, for endangered languages a lexicon can also offer a lifeline, however fraught.
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Using Old Norse loanwords in the Gaelic languages as a case study, this seminar will explore the social spaces that dictionaries occupy, and how word-lists influence our understanding of languages and the people who spoke, and still speak, them. I am currently in the process of preparing a lexicon of Old Norse loanwords in the Gaelic languages, derived from my Doctoral research. I will discuss methodological challenges, and geographic, social and political issues; and what these challenges and issues might mean for how we think about the Gaelic languages, both then and now. How can we construct a history from these pieces, and what would that history look like? How permeable are language boundaries? How do we deal with language change and lexical variation, both over time and geographically? Importantly, what (if anything) do the presence of these Norse words in the Gaelic languages mean for the people who adopted them and, ultimately, for the people who inherited them?
Dr Roderick McDonald, Independent Scholar (PhD, University of Sydney, 2009)
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