I’ve just receeived an email from Sean Palmer, the author of a wonderful blog that I linked a while ago, What Planet Is This?, “periodical essays on linguistics, history and much more”. Regrettably, he stopped updating that in 2005, but now he’s back with a new blog, Lo and Behold!. He introduces it thus:
Periodical enquiries, facts, and problems regarding antiquarianism, the history of science, etymology, palæography, and other sublunary affairs.
There are already entries to make the mouth water. For an example take Cumbric Vocabulary, the third entry on the page, from which I give the opening paragraphs.
Cumbric is the extinct Celtic language once spoken by the Brythonic people of the English-Scottish borderlands after they were cut off from Wales in the early 7th century. Glanville Price, following a lecture of Kenneth Jackson from 1955, says that there are only three Cumbric words in the documentary records, but a closer look at the evidence shows the situation to be more complicated. Could there be more Cumbric words, and are the three known words really Cumbric themselves?
The three words in question, from Price’s Languages in Britain and Ireland (2000), are “galnes or galnys, which corresponds to Middle Welsh galanas ‘blood-fine’, and mercheta and kelchyn, connected with Welsh merch ‘daughter’ and cylch ‘circuit’ respectively”. They all come from a roughly 11th century Latin text called the Leges inter Brettos et Scotos, and they’re all kinds of fines or taxes, for which there were apparently no equivalent Latin words. The kelchyn was a “fine paid to the kinsmen of a person killed” (DOST), and the mercheta was a “fine paid by a tenant or bondsman to his overlord for the right to give his daughter in marriage” (OED), so essentially a tax.
The etymologies of these terms in the dictionaries are somewhat diverse. The OED considers merchet, its headword for the term, to be from Old Welsh merched, possibly via Anglo-Norman or Latin. For kelchyn, the DOST says “prob. Gael. or ? Welsh” whilst the OED has no etymology at all. For galnes on the other hand, it has a more telling note, saying that it appears only in the phrase cro and galnes; that cro is from Irish (cró) and galnes from Welsh (galanas); and that the juxtaposition of the two is “remarkable”. That’s as much as we get from the insight of the dictionaries.
A welcome return indeed!