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Author Topic: A riddle in itself  (Read 5079 times)

Linden

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A riddle in itself
« on: November 08, 2013, 11:36:48 AM »
 As some of you will already know, I am making a detailed study of the Exeter Book MS riddles.  That is, I am going back to the pre-edited forms of the riddles to ascertain what additional information might be gleaned from the way in which the scribed penned the texts.  The exercise is proving fruitful but lengthy.  One thing that surely must have been noticed is the following puzzle.
There a three forms of the letter 'y' within the Exeter Book
Type 1 (y1) is composed of straight lines and has a dot above it.
Type 2 (y2) is a curvaceous y.
Type 3 (y3) is a curvaceous y with its head rotated clockwise 90 degrees.
Their use appears to be random.  For example the 'y' in 'ymb' is of type 3 in riddle 20 but of type 1 in all other (eleven) instances except for just one of the seven instances in riddle 40 where it is of type 2.
This mixing of the forms of 'y' is common within the riddles.Has anyone noticed this?
Has anything been written on the subject?
I have found that many of the other 'oddities' in the written text of the MS itself can be explained and suspect that this separation into types of 'y' is an assist to the reader on exactly what 'quality' of 'y' should be read/spoken. (For example - from the variety of spellings outside the field of the riddles, we know that 'y' is sometimes replaceable with an 'i' and sometimes with a 'u'.)
Whatever the reason for this variety in forms of 'y', there is no doubt that it exists within the Exeter Book MS.  Does anyone know whether this same variety occurs in other MS?
« Last Edit: November 08, 2013, 12:18:44 PM by Linden »
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Deoran

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Re: A riddle in itself
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2013, 07:31:13 PM »
Might the form chosen reflect personal preference or simple whimsy? I've heard that cited as an explanation for the choice of eth or thorn for the letter ðæt.

When you hypothesise that the different forms may denote oral variations, are you thinking of stressed / unstressed syllables? Or just whether, for example in ymb, the sound is an i or u (or e, which I've also seen used in place of y in ymbe)?

I haven't studied manuscripts in as much detail as you, but I just had a quick look at what I assume is the genuine first page of Beowulf, and the ymb on the 9th line down has a different form (Type 2 with a dot?) from all the other y's that I can see (Type 1?). So I would suggest the answer to your last question is a tentative yes?

Linden

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Re: A riddle in itself
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2013, 02:29:59 PM »
Might the form chosen reflect personal preference or simple whimsy? I've heard that cited as an explanation for the choice of eth or thorn for the letter ðæt.

When you hypothesise that the different forms may denote oral variations, are you thinking of stressed / unstressed syllables? Or just whether, for example in ymb, the sound is an i or u (or e, which I've also seen used in place of y in ymbe)?
I haven't studied manuscripts in as much detail as you, but I just had a quick look at what I assume is the genuine first page of Beowulf, and the ymb on the 9th line down h
as a different form (Type 2 with a dot?) from all the other y's that I can see (Type 1?). So I would suggest the answer to your last question is a tentative yes?



 
Many thanks for the information on the Beowulf MS - it does seem that the scribes were attempting to get over some additional information with the forms of 'y'.  The same is - in my opinion - true of the apparently random use of 'ð' and 'þ'. 
 
For example:-
 There are 15 'oþþe' s within the riddles
 13 are spelt 'oþþe' - riddles 1, 3(twice), 7(twice),40(five of them), 60, 73 & 95 - the 'normal' spelling
 1 is spelt 'oððe' - riddle 40 again - I have not yet tackled riddle 40.
 Just one is very peculiar  (riddle 4) - not only is it spelt 'oðþe' but it also appears in the MS split between the end of one line - 'oð' and the start of the next - 'þe' although there was room for the scribe to include the whole word on one line. 
 
As for whether the form of 'y' indicates length or 'i/u/e' tendencies - it is the latter.
  Vowel length is not indicated in the Exeter Book MS nor generally in other MSS. 
 

 
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David

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Re: A riddle in itself
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2013, 03:42:31 PM »

 
  Vowel length is not indicated in the Exeter Book MS nor generally in other MSS. 
 
 

I just wanted to pass on something that I read yesterday in Campbell’s “Old English Grammar”.
 
 
Campbell says that in Beowulf acute accents were used to indicate long vowels. The use of these accents was then extended to indicate other things such as stressed short vowels.
 
 
Campbell also says that in some early manuscripts, e.g.- the Corpus glossary, long vowels were shown by doubling the vowels. I believe that this idea was resurrected by some middle English writers.
 
« Last Edit: November 11, 2013, 03:47:12 PM by David »

Linden

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Re: A riddle in itself
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2013, 04:10:53 PM »
Hi David
Thanks for your thoughts.
Yes - I have a copy of Campbell.  I assume that you are referring to Chapter 1 paragraph 26?
In the note to that para he does say 'In some MSS eg.Beowulf the accents are practically limited to long vowels' but he goes on to say that 'this is not a general tendency'.  He also does not say that all long vowels are indicated by these 'acute accents', he admits that the accents appear over short vowels and posits that here they may indicate stress; he also claims that some accents are 'mistakes' being neither over long or stressed vowels.  In other words he has no overall explanation of the accents over vowels in the MSS unless the scribes were very careless AND the same symbol had more than one meaning.  A systematic explanation of vowels with acute accents in the Exeter Book Riddles is, inter alia, what I am working on in the interpretation of the riddles from the original texts.  That is just one of the reasons why my analysis is taking so much longer than I at first expected.
The doubling of vowels to indicate length is quite a different matter and probably does indicate length in all cases where it is used - but I haven't come across it in the Exeter Book yet. 
« Last Edit: November 11, 2013, 04:12:25 PM by Linden »
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