Wednesday Seminar: Language switching and script mixing: multilingual landscapes of medieval Scandinavia

Alessandro Palumbo (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, ILN) will present his current project entitled "Language switching and script mixing: multilingual landscapes of medieval Scandinavia".

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In a recently started project, I investigate phenomena of bilingualism and biscriptalism attested in epigraphic sources from medieval Scandinavia. Until the end of the eleventh century, the Scandinavian written culture was dominated by the local vernacular and the runes. Around this time, the introduction of Latin and the Roman alphabet started a four-century-long period of coexistence and mutual influence between the two languages and scripts.

This encounter of written cultures is most evident in inscriptions where both languages and alphabets are used together, oftentimes in public and well thought-out texts. The choices made in such texts, as regards the language(s), script(s), spelling conventions and visual composition can give us important cues about the development of literacy in medieval Scandinavia as well as about the cultural and ideological processes behind it.

The present project aims to elucidate these bilingual and biscriptal texts from a sociolinguistic and multimodal perspective, drawing on modern developments in the fields of written multilingualism and linguistic landscape studies. In my talk, I wish to discuss the project’s theoretical and methodological framework. Are medieval bilingual and biscriptal texts comparable to modern ones? Can analytical tools developed to study modern written multilingualism be applied to historical sources? What are the challenges and possibilities of such an approach?


I am a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at ILN and have a PhD in Scandinavian languages from Uppsala University. My main research interest concerns the development of historical writing systems from both a structural and a sociolinguistic perspective. I wrote my PhD thesis on the relationship between graphemic and phonological variation and change in the runic inscriptions from medieval Sweden, and in my current project, I focus on the simultaneous use of both vernacular, Latin, runes and Roman letters in medieval Scandinavian epigraphic sources.


Yesim Sevinc
Published Jan. 28, 2020 10:34 PM - Last modified Dec. 7, 2020 12:16 PM