Alessandro Palumbo

Postdoctoral Fellow - Medieval Studies
Image of Alessandro Palumbo
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I am a Marie Curie fellow at the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, and I lead the project  "Language switching and script mixing: multilingual landscapes of medieval Scandinavia". (See below for a description of the project.)

Background and academic interests

I received my PhD in Scandinavian languages from Uppsala University in 2018 with a specialization in historical linguistics and runology. My research interests also include Scandinavian philology, historical sociolinguistics, multilingualism and multiscriptality.

One of my main research interests concerns the development of historical writing systems, and the relationship between graphemic and phonological variation and change, both from a structural and sociolinguistic perspective. In my dissertation, "Changing writing systems: a graphematic and palaeographic study of the Swedish medieval runic inscriptions", I studied the changes that the runic writing system went through during the Middle Ages in Sweden, when the runic tradition came in contact with the Latin written culture. After the Viking Age, the runic alphabet was still in use in many regions of Sweden, but it was significantly expanded: new runes were created at the same time as some of the older ones were retained but with different sound values. This implied that old spelling practices and writing conventions changed substantially. My research resulted in a deeper knowledge of these changes' chronology, of different local writing traditions, and of the developments that written and spoken Old Swedish went through during the 12th and 13th century.

During my PhD, I also collaborated as a doctoral fellow in the project "Runic Writing in the Germanic Languages" at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and in the project "Reading and interpreting runic inscriptions: the theory and method of runology" at the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. I am also affiliated to the project Modes of Modification.

Language switching and script mixing: multilingual landscapes of medieval Scandinavia

The use of different languages and scripts is at the core of the development of literate societies in medieval Europe. In this context, Scandinavia represents a unique case where the Latin written culture, introduced successively from the end of the 11th century, encountered an 800‑year‑old native tradition based on the local vernacular and the runic script.

The adoption of the Latin language and the Roman alphabet revolutionised literacy practices in the North. From a basically monolingual and monoscriptal written culture, the Scandinavian societies, or at least some of their strata, became multilingual and multiscriptal. This led to a centuries‑long coexistence of the two traditions, to the contemporaneous use of two languages and scripts in the textual sources and to their mutual influence.

Aim of the project

The purpose of this project is to analyse the encounter between the runic and the Latin written culture through phenomena of language and script mixing, and to determine its significance for the development of literacy in Scandinavia between the 11th and the 16th century.

The project focuses on epigraphic sources from medieval Scandinavia where such a meeting of written traditions is attested. In these inscriptions, one can observe how the agents involved in their production made different choices regarding which languages and scripts to use, which orthographic and palaeographic conventions to employ, and how to arrange the languages and scripts visually.

On the one hand, these choices say something about the language and script proficiency of the producers of the texts and of their intended receivers. On the other hand, they also have important sociolinguistic and cultural implications. In fact, they also witness to the mutual status of the languages and scripts involved, and can be explained with different ideological presuppositions and purposes, or with different ways of presenting the self or the community identity.

In order to survey and interpret this variance, the project employs an interdisciplinary approach which combines analytical tools from epigraphy, sociolinguistics and linguistic landscape studies. This approach aims to yield new insights in both the multilingual and multiscriptal proficiency of the medieval Scandinavian carvers, and in the cultural and ideological processes behind the emerging of new writing practices. Moreover, the project also seeks to explain the significance of the Scandinavian case in a broader European context, by investigating how multilingual and multiscriptal writing in the North relate to similar phenomena in the rest of medieval Europe.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 839290.

Courses taught

At the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, I have taught Philology in an interdisciplinary perspective and Runic inscriptions of the Middle Ages.

Previously, I have held courses in runology and Swedish as a foreign language at Uppsala University, as well as guest lectures and seminars at Ca' Foscari University of Venice and at L'Orientale University of Naples.

Tags: Runology, Old Norse Philology, Multilingualism, Latin


Published Jan. 11, 2019 12:23 PM - Last modified Feb. 24, 2020 9:03 PM