Ethnolinguistics, Cultural Change and Early Scripts from England and Wales

by Jacek Mianowski (Author)
©2016 Monographs 218 Pages


The study presents a chronotope of linguistic and cultural changes that took place in England and Wales between the 4th and 8th centuries. It encompasses the areas of South Wales and Eastern England and describes the cultural practices of preliterate Anglo-Saxon and Celtic speech communities and their adaptation of runic, ogham and Latin scripts.
The study is based on the concepts of anthropological linguistics, ethnography of communication and discourse analysis. It incorporates 23 selected ogham- and Latin-inscribed stones from Wales, and 10 rune-inscribed everyday objects from England. The presented inscriptions were designed as text occurrences with well-planned, graphical content distribution, intentionally placed in the public space to increase the range of their potential audience.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1. Subject matter
  • 2. Research perspective
  • 3. Research material
  • Chapter One: Some Remarks on Oral Cultures
  • 1. On the notion of orality
  • 1.1. Selected features of oral transmission of information
  • 1.1.1. Additiveness
  • 1.1.2. Aggregation vs. analysing information
  • 1.1.3. Redundancy and repetition
  • 1.1.4. Preservation of knowledge
  • 1.1.5. Conceptualising vs. verbalising knowledge
  • 1.1.6. Struggle-based rhetorics
  • 1.1.7. Empathetic and participatory reception
  • 1.1.8. Time perception
  • 2. Cultural practices
  • 3. On the power of language
  • 4. On the significance of myths
  • 5. Oral cultures and the notion of text
  • 6. Chapter conclusions
  • Chapter Two: On the Emergence of Writing
  • 1. Selected remarks on the notions of culture and cultural groups
  • 2. The origins of writing — an outline proposal
  • 2.1. Restructuring the oral mind
  • 2.2. Writing as a conscious necessity
  • 2.3. Counting — a forerunner of writing
  • 3. Interferences of writing and art in ancient Mesopotamia
  • 3.1. Preliterate and literate pottery patterns
  • 3.2. Innovations in seal carving
  • 4. Emergence of cuneiform writing
  • 4.1. Mechanisms of evolution
  • 4.2. Geographic distribution
  • 4.3. Practical application of cuneiform script
  • 5. On the novelties of Linear A and B
  • 5.1. Early archaeological finds
  • 5.2. The application and functioning of Linear A and B
  • 6. Towards a better language representation — alphabetic writing
  • 7. Chapter conclusions
  • Chapter Three: Antique-Medieval Transition as a Cultural Process
  • 1. Chronological boundaries
  • 2. Medieval worldview
  • 2.1. Political concepts of the Middle Ages
  • 2.2. The role of monarchies and courts
  • 2.3. On the structure of early medieval societies
  • 2.4. The role of Latin
  • 2.5. The impact of Christianity
  • 2.6. The significance of trade
  • 3. Chapter conclusions
  • Chapter Four: Transformation of the Barbaric Mentality
  • 1. Germanic tradition of the British Isles
  • 2. Celtic tradition in Wales
  • 3. Latinisation of barbaric minds
  • 4. Visual arts in post-Roman Britain
  • 5. Poetic tradition in early medieval Britain
  • 6. Orality and literacy in the British Isles
  • 7. Chapter conclusions
  • Chapter Five: Research methodology
  • 1. Ethnolingustic framework — contemporary studies of historical evidence
  • 2. On the research approaches to orality and literacy in early medieval Britain
  • 2.1. Discourse as a social practice
  • 2.2. Linguistic landscaping
  • 2.3. Seven standards of textuality
  • 2.4. Proposed research-exclusive methodology
  • 3. Presentation of the research material
  • 3.1. On the origin of runic graphemes and Anglo-Saxon runic tradition
  • 3.2. On the use of Latin and ogham scripts in (post-) Roman Wales
  • Chapter Six: Analysis of the material
  • 1. The text corpus
  • 2. Latin- and ogham-inscribed stones of Wales
  • 3. Rune-inscribed items from England
  • 4. Chapter conclusions
  • Final conclusions
  • References
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Subjects

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List of figures

Figure 1. Token assemblage from Uruk, Iraq

Figure 2. Distribution of plain and complex tokens

Figure 3. Tokens and their pictographic representations

Figure 4. Evolution of cuneiform signs

Figure 5. Ugaritic and Old Persian cuneiform variants

Figure 6. The basic syllabary of Linear B

Figure 7. Early Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions

Figure 8. Anglo-Saxon futhorc

Figure 9. Ogham letters

Figure 10. Inscribed stones included in the study

Figure 11. Cantref stone

Figure 12. Crickhowell stone

Figure 13. Llanddeti stone

Figure 14. Llanfihangel Cwm Du stone

Figure 15. Llanlleonfel stone

Figure 16. Llansanffraid stone

Figure 17. Llywel stone

Figure 18. Copy of Llywel (Pentre Poeth)

Figure 19. Trallwng stone from St David’s church

Figure 20. Vaynor stone

Figure 21. Ystradfellte stone

Figure 22. Ystradgynlais stone

Figure 23. Cadoxton-Juxta-Neath stone

Figure 24. Geli-Gear stone

Figure 25. Llanmadog stone

Figure 26. Loughor stone

Figure 27. Margam Mountain stone

Figure 28. Margam Enniaun Cross

Figure 29. Margam Conbelin Cross ← 9 | 10 →

Figure 30. Margam Eglwys Nynnid stone

Figure 31. Margam (Port Talbot) stone

Figure 32. Merthyr Mawr stone

Figure 33. St Brides stone

Figure 34. Ash pommel, transcription

Figure 35. Boarley brooch

Figure 36. Chessel Down scabbard mount

Figure 37. Chessel Down pail

Figure 38. Harford Farm brooch

Figure 39. Loveden Hill urn

Figure 40. Loveden Hill urn inscription

Figure 41. Spong Hill stamp

Figure 42. Undley bracteate

Figure 43. Watchfield case-fitting

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The author would like to sincerely thank the following people and institutions:

Professors Judith Jesch and Christina Lee (University of Nottingham) — for inspiring talks, guidance and invaluable aid in the course of my research in Nottingham,

Professor Adam Jaworski (Cardiff University, The University of Hong Kong) — for his kind help in conducting fieldwork in the Welsh landscape,

Professor Piotr P. Chruszczewski — for his immense help, guidance and supervision in the course of writing,

Professors Piotr Gąsiorowski (Adam Mickiewicz University), Michał Post (Philological School of Higher Education) and Aleksander Szwedek (University of Social Sciences) – for their valuable insights, comments and supportive remarks that proved to be invaluable in completing this work,

Professors Sioned Davies, Dylan Foster-Evans (Cardiff University) and Mark Redknap (National Museum Wales, Cardiff) — for encouraging discussions and suggestions on the subject of early literacy in Wales,

Professor Michael P. Barnes (University College London) — for an inspiring discussion over a friendly lunch and his introduction to runology,

Professor Denise Schmandt-Besserat – for immense feedback and fascinating talks on the origins of writing,

dr David Parsons (University of Wales), dr Tim Pestell (Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery), University of Texas Press, The British Museum, Brecknock Museum (Brecon), Swansea Museum, The National Museum Wales, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Cadw — for allowing me to use excellent illustrations and photographs.

Hanna Krzyszowska — for her support in the course of fieldwork planning as well as countless suggestions and brainstorming.

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The development of a comprehensive written visual language caused civilization to grow more complex. (…) Literacy gives cultures the privilege of knowing the past.

— Denise Schmandt-Besserat (2007: 105) When Writing Met Art. From Symbol to Story. Austin: University of Texas Press.

1. Subject matter

The research objective of the following dissertation is to present a chronotope of the cultural and linguistic changes which took place in the British Isles during the period between the fourth and eighth centuries. These changes affected the geographical areas of Wales and England, which were inhabited by the representatives of two distinctive cultures — Anglo-Saxon speech communities inhabiting England and post-Roman Celtic speech communities in Wales. The nature of the aforementioned changes can be observed within cultural practices or in the oral and pre-literate communities that came into contact with the technology of writing. It is therefore imperative to assess the scale, range, nature and chronology of civilisational advancements that led to the introduction of Latin, ogham and runic scripts among the inhabitants of Wales and England.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (December)
runes, runic ogham ethnography of communication writing systems speech community Anglo-Saxon Celtic
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 218 pp., 42 graphs

Biographical notes

Jacek Mianowski (Author)

Jacek Mianowski is Assistant Professor at the Kazimierz Wielki University (Bydgoszcz), Poland. His areas of academic research include anthropological linguistics, ethnography of communication, Viking Age studies, the emergence and evolution of writing systems.


Title: Ethnolinguistics, Cultural Change and Early Scripts from England and Wales
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220 pages