Yes, It’s Saint Patrick’s Day

Image of Saint Patrick's Bell, Armagh, Ireland

Saint Patrick’s Bell

As a Celticist, I have an abiding interest in Irish culture, and around March 17, so, apparently, does most of the United States. I’ve written a rant about Irish cultural myths, I’ve written about the true place of corned beef in terms of Irish culture, genuinely Irish food, like Irish Soda Bread, colcannon, Guinness, and Irish Whisky, and even Irish loan words in English, and the real nature of Leprechauns.

All of that said St. Patrick seems to have been a fifth century Romano-Britain, a speaker of a language closely related to Welsh, before he became the national saint of Ireland.

The Perfect Corpse: Nova on Bog Bodies

Yes, it’s tonight, and no, I hadn’t heard about it before. But PBS’s science show Nova is airing a documentary on bog bodies, featuring Tollund man, described on the program’s web site as “the most famous bog body of all” (he isn’t). The Nova shows usually repeat so I expect there will be other opportunities.

Philological Public Service Announcement

Beowulf is in Old English. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is in Middle English.

Every fall, and then again every spring, as various colleges and universities begin their semesters, I see a dramatic increase in the number of people visiting my site after using search phrases like:

  • canterbury tales in old english
  • general prologue old english
  • chaucer old english
  • chaucer angled saxon
  • chaucer anglo-saxon

Old English requires some special effort to read and understand; it really is a different language. Middle English is much closer to our own Modern English, albeit with funny spelling. You can get a good idea of how different Old and Middle English are by looking at the Lord’s Prayer in Middle and Old English. You can hear some Chaucer read in Middle English here, and some Beowulf in Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) here. If you’re curious about learning Old English, take a look at Michael Drout’s nicely done King Alfred’s Grammar Book, and Catherine Ball’s Old English Pages. For those interested in learning more about Middle English and Chaucer, take a look at Larry Benson’s site.

But remember: Chaucer wrote in Middle English.

Beunans Ke Update

If Sara Zettle sent you, I’m especially pleased that I can tell you there’s more news about the medieval Cornish mystery play fragment rediscovered in 2000. Thanks to Alan Hawke, I can tell you that the National Library of Wales has added high quality digital images of both the Beunans Ke manuscript NLW MS 23849D and the Beunans Meriasek manuscript Peniarth 105B, to their Digital Mirror collection. Andrew Hawke adds that Michael Polkinhorn has provided a collaborative translation online here.

Medieval Unicode and Word Processing

I’ve been using Mellel for about a month now for the dreaded dissertation. Mellel is a different kind of word processor; the theoretical model seems to be of text in “streams” rather than in an endless scrolling page. So far Mellel has been quite easy to use, and has super support for scholarly writing and Unicode, including yoghs, thorns, and even medieval Irish and Welsh. I’ve yet to see if Mellel supports the very specific dissertation layout requirements, particularly in terms of footnotes and headers. Mellel also supports Bookends a bibliographic database that “hooks” into various word processors. I’m not very interested in the bibliography/footnote generation features of Bookends, but I’m trying it out as a bibliographic database.

Meanwhile, Nisus Writer Express promises to have footnote and endnote support in its next major update. Nisus Writer Express has a nifty language palette, which makes using multiple languages in one document dead easy, and I quite like the interface (one of the best Cocoa implementations of Apple’s HIG I’ve seen). But much as I like Nisus Writer Express, it strikes me as more appropriate for non-academic writing, as least thus far.

More on the Yogh

You’d be amazed at how hard it is to find information about the yogh. First, I’ve managed to learn that Unicode 4.0 Latin Extended B does indeed have both an upper and a lower case yogh, a yogh is that not an ezh. Take a look, if your browser supports Unicode 4.0 characters: an uppercase yogh Ȝ or U+021C and a lower case yogh ȝ or U+021D. And there are even Mac OS X fonts that support yogh as part of the Unicode character set (I particularly like Junicode). That’s the good news.

The problem is that the only word processor (versus text editor) for Mac OS X that supports the complete Unicode character set, and by “supports” I mean I can use Insert from the Character Palette, or hex encode the character, is Nisus Writer Express. Microsoft Word X does not, since the character is a Unicode character; neither MarinerWrite nor AppleWorks 6.x support Unicode only characters. The problem with Nisus Writer Express is that it doesn’t support footnotes, and the more esoteric formatting dissertations require. Mellel looks promising though, and I have hopes for true Unicode support in Microsoft Word 11. My ultimate plan is to create a custom keyboard layout, so I can easily access the characters I need. But I’m still going to check out LaTex.

Proto-Celtic and the 15th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference

The paper topics, and some .pdf abstracts, for the November 7-8 2003 15th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference are up here. I always try to attend, even though I only understand about 5% (on a good day) of the presentations. This year I’m especially looking forward to Professor Joseph Eska’s “The New Look of Proto-Celtic.” You can read a .pdf abstract of Eska’s talk here. Looks like I better start reading . . .