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The Early Runic Inscriptions

Their Western Features


Irene García Losquiño

Why were runes invented? What did the Germanic peoples of southern Scandinavia speak during the first centuries CE? Can the earliest runic inscriptions be used to learn something about their dialects, and can we extract other information from their study as a corpus? The Early Runic Inscriptions: Their Western Features gives answers to these questions through an analysis of the earliest runic inscriptions found mainly in Denmark, and later in England and on the continent up to the seventh century. This analysis offers a novel tracing of the initial appearance and later establishment of West Germanic dialectal features in an area and time usually referred to as having a more Northern linguistic identity.
The earliest runic inscriptions are an invaluable source of information about the state of the Germanic dialects during the first seven centuries of our era. They also provide insights about some of the social customs of different Germanic groups during this period, such as the development of the purposes of runic writing or personal-name formation. Using a comparative and comprehensive methodology, this book combines linguistics with other disciplines to cast as much light as possible on these oftentimes single-worded inscriptions.
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Chapter 3: The Anglo-Saxon corpus: the importance of the orthographical reform


As David Parson states in Recasting the Runes,1 it is not without surprise that the runologist approaches the corpus of inscriptions in the Older Futhark and finds such little orthographical variation in its four centuries of history. What lies behind this invariability must have been a standardising tool of some sort, maybe of the type that Parson proposes: “a complete twenty-four character futhark is likely to underlie the earliest-known finds, even though no attested full futhark is thought to date from before the fifth century.”2 I have to agree with Parsons in that complete copies of the whole futhark must have been used during the formation of the runic-writers, and that these futharks must have been consistently transmitted across land and time. It is certainly difficult to navigate the history of the script at its very beginning. Even though there is actual evidence for its use as early as the second century, as seen in previous chapters, there is little certainty as to how long the script was used prior to the year AD 160. In any case, there is an increased support of the theory that the script did not naturally evolve from other scripts, but that it was created as a conscious effort, certainly influenced by the scripts adjacent to the place of invention. This theory is also supported by the small amount of variation in the script until the development of the younger futharks (including the Anglo-Saxon and Frisian scripts). If the script...

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