30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Jonathan Adams, "Unmixing Mixture with Statistics: Analyzing the Language of a Medieval Birgittine Manuscript"

There are a number of both external and internal reasons for the influence of Swedish on Norwegian in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscripts: the dialect continuum in Norway and Sweden; political causes, including royal unions, intermarriage among the nobility, and the use of Swedish scribes in the chancery; socio-economic collapse after the Black Death, as well as the growing Birgittine movement and its scribal production.

One manuscript that displays a high level of Swedish/Norwegian language mixture is Stockholm, Riksarkivet, E 8902 ('The Birgittine-Norwegian Text' from c. 1400), containing a total of 34 of St Birgitta of Sweden's revelations written in a mixed vernacular comprising Swedish and Norwegian features. E 8902 (previous signature Skokl. 5, 4o) is well known in the field of Birgittine studies as it contains some unique revelations and striking imagery not found in any other collection. However, a number of issues concerning the manuscript have continued to cause disagreement: the date and place of composition, the number of scribes involved, the nature of the language, and the originality of the Birgittine-Norwegian revelations.

As so much of the external history of the manuscript is unknown, I have investigated aspects of its language in order to throw some light on these points of discrepancy. This has been done by means of a statistical quantitative analysis of the mixed linguistic forms to measure the level Norwegian/Swedish language mixture in the manuscript. This method of investigating the level and type of mixture, not used before in the study of linguistic mixture in medieval vernacular manuscripts, can help us discern whether the language in E 8902 is the result of non-conscious language mixture ('interference') or a conscious process of Norwegianising (that is, a form of adaptation, perhaps for a specific audience). The language of the manuscript has otherwise tended to be regarded by earlier scholars as the rather haphazard interference of one or more Norwegian scribes working with Swedish originals.

In this paper, I shall present the manuscript as well as provide a brief overview of earlier research. I shall then describe the statistical tools used as well as my findings, before suggesting further areas for developing and applying the methodology.


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