Реферат: History of runic alphabets

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ReportHistoryof runic alphabetsFulfilled by the second year student of

RostovState Pedagogical University






From ancient times mankind was appealed by unknownwritings: half-forgotten antique languages, Egypt hieroglyphs, Indianinscriptions… The fate of runes was much happy – their sense wasn’t lost in thecourse of time, even when Latin alphabet became dominating one in Europe. Forinstance, runes were used in calendars till the end of the 18-th c.

Modern linguists think that runesposses another kind of meaning, which we cannot find in ideograms, hieroglyphsor in modern exotic alphabets – this meaning exists in subconsciousness level.Runes were the personification of the surrounding world, essence of outlook.With the help of special links between runes a man could express nearlyeverything, compiling them (so called combined runes). In different times runescould change their meaning, so we can say this adjusting system created dozensof meanings of one and the same symbol. (Linguists find   confirmation of this theory in the followingexample – every rune in different languages had separate and original meaning,which didn’t fully coincide with another one in the second language.

Like all others components oflanguage, runes endured numerous changes: in form, style of writing, system ofsounds and letters, which expressed them. We can say, that these alphabets tookwide spreading not only among Scandinavian and German tribes, but we can alsotrace its penetration in Celtic and Slavonic languages. Now runes keep theirmain original meaning — in the beginning they were the symbols offortunetelling lore with sacred sense and mystic signs (The general matter whythey didn’t get wide diffusion before AD). Even the word “rune” corresponds as“secret” (compare old Celtic “run”, middle welsh “rown”,modern German “raunen”). The last 1000 years inIceland runes have been used for divination. In Anglo-Saxon England the hoursof king council were called “runes”.

The most important sources aboutrunic history are ancient texts of Scandinavian pagan religion – Old Edda by Brynolf Swesson and Lesser Edda by Snorri Sturlusson. They were twomissionaries who discovered these manuscripts in the time of Christianexpansion. Another documents containing the information about runes origin areNorthern king sagas “Red leather” and Icelandic kin chronicles. Tombstones,altars, pagan pillars called “runic stones” played quite catholic role inscientific researches — usually they are found dappled with miscellaneouswritings (Gothland, Upland, Norway). The most famous is Cilwer stone, whichdates from the 5-th c. So we can find a lot of writings on jewels and weapon,for barbarians believed things had to posses their own names (breakteats). 

German and Slavonic runic writingwas the letter system of peculiar look, accounted by the writing technique onbone, wood and metal. Nowadays we have the main runic alphabet, consisting of24 signs, may be more, but another ones are regarded as variants or combinedrunes. Letters of any language can have several sources of origin, for a tasteGreek language, which gave the birth to North Italian writing, had a good manyof meaning for every sign. This tradition was inherited by Etruscan alphabetand later by runic one. However, Christian chronicles of 9-12c, known as«songs», revealed information about rune names and their meanings. Every runein it conforms to one strophe, which begins with this rune and its name. In itsturn, the name begins with its sound. The whole system is divided into 2 parts– futarks (arises from the first symbols – F, U, Th, A, R, K: Old futark (runesof Old German origin – o.f.) and Late futark (modifications of o.f. in Northumbrian,Frisian and Anglo-Saxon alphabets). 24 signs traditionally gradate into 3groups of 8 symbols called atts (“part of land “ or“kin” compare Scot. "airt”, Ireland “aird).

Old futark old Norway German runes

Anglo Saxon runes Northumbrian futark

Late futark Norway runes

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Comparing scheme of different futarks and their development

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Anglo-Saxon futark

The origin of futark remains thematter of severe debates between historians, linguists and philologists. Thereare two main theories: 1) Runic writing appeared on the basis of Latinalphabet; 2) cradles of these signs are in transalpine and North Italianscripts. Scientists have a lot of historical facts, approving that Etruscanmerchants used this system. Probably they brought it to the North (6-th c.B.C.). However some researchers think that runes cropped up in German tribesfrom ancient Rome Latin writing. Comparing 3 letter types we have: 10 runicletters in Etruscan language, which absolutely coincide each other; 5coinciding runic letters and 8 resembling ones in Latin. Latin, Etruscan andsome symbols from Greek originate from Akhiramalphabet (10c. B.C.). But the construction of runic alphabet (RA) differentfrom others – for example, order of the first letters.  The main period of development is one, whenoccult signs, used in Alpine region and in the North, became combine solesystem. Many runic symbols were used as icons, showing various things andanimals. Some runologists suppose that even in the most developed variant theyare close to pictures: rune “Fehu” <span Futhark AOE"">f

symbolizes cattle, Thurisaz<span Futhark AOE"">q l,– thorn, Wunjo<span Futhark AOE""> w– weathercock, Algiz <span Futhark AOE"">z– elk, Zin <span Futhark AOE"">xxs–lightning, Yr <span Futhark AOE"">u– bow, Edhwaz <span Futhark AOE"">m – horse.

The top of development and completeformation of RA system was in 1-2 c. AD.

The number of runes in alphabetvaried in the course of time. 28 sings appeared in the middle of the 6-th c. InBritain where German runes penetrated in the 5-th c. with Anglo-Saxon invasion,Frisian futark was improved by the some additions and changes (mostly combinedrunes) and numbered 29 units. In Northumberland 33 rune system existed already,with the mixture of Celtic runes. Whilst on the Continent o.f. went through thenumber of another changes. In the middle of the 7-th c. the tendency tosimplification appeared – some runes changed in inscription, some were lost. Tothe middle of the 10-th c. the number of runes decreased to 16 units and latefutark formed. It was purely writing system, which wasn’t used for fortunetelling. It got wide spreading not only on the territory of German Empire, butin the North too, for example in Denmark and Swiss. The difference between themwas in writing technology – Swiss ones were simpler, with short branches.Apparently it can be explained that it gained everyday using. This system, ifnot take notice of its disadvantages, was in circulation till 12-th c.

The next step in development of RAtook place in the middle of the 12-th c. by adding dots to 16 sign system(dotted alphabet). It was used along with Latin one till the 16-th c. We canfind its variants in Slavonic manuscripts. Hipped and branchy RA weren’t aliketo dotted one.

<img src="/cache/referats/7559/image006.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1043"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image007.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1042"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image008.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1041"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image008.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1040"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image009.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1039"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image008.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1038"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image008.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1036"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image009.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1035"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image006.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1034"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image008.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1032"><img src="/cache/referats/7559/image009.gif" v:shapes="_x0000_s1031">Combined (constrained) runes. They attract attention by theirunusual form – it is too difficult to regard it as ordinary symbol. Their useis quite miscellaneous: in amulets, braketeats, and everywhere when difficultmagic formulas were necessary. Runes are bind on the strength of commonline            .


We cannot leave unnoticed suchimportant stage of RA development as Ulfila`s Gothic alphabet. It has gotnothing in common with “gothic” variants of Romanticism period. The real Gothicwriting system was used by the Goths on Gothland Island and later on theterritory of Poland, Lithuania and even North Black Sea coast. In the 6-th c.gothic bishop Ulfila invented parallel variant of gothic alphabet. Creating it,Ulfila took the range of common Greek letters and perfected some runic sings,which existed already, with the aim to paint them with brush. During 5following centuries it was used by west Goths in Spain and in the South ofFrance. But in 1018 Toledian counsel decreed toprohibit all runic alphabets as vane and pagan ones. It is clear from letternames and their order that UA is younger than other RA. So we can trace Greekand Latin influence in the system. For example, futark structure was changed byadding 2 symbols to the first att. So UA contains 12 signs, which do not haveanalogs in Old Gothic: Q, D, A, B, G, E, X, K, L, N, P, T. 

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 Comparing scheme of Gothic alphabet (upperrows) and Gothic runes (lower rows).

But, knowing all thesepeculiarities, we still can’t answer to the question, from where runes came.So, a few scientists suppose that German and Slavonic RA had the same roots andoriginated from a same proto-language, for Etruscan theory is rather imperfect– Scandinavians couldn’t borrow it, because Etruscan writings were used too faraway from the North and in quite small territory. The following theory isclosely connected with national migrations and mythology. One of the legendaryScandinavian tribes – vanes or veneds – came to the North from the East, wherethey set up Slavonic tribe – Vyatichi. We haven’t got any historicalconfirmations, that Slavonic people didn’t have writing systems before Cyriland Mefodius coming, so hypothetically we can believethat such system existed. Moreover, archeological researches showed that therewere some traces of RA on the territory of ancient Russia. It differs fromScandinavian ones and looks like as Latin and Greek letters:

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but in common it coincides with o.f.  So we can say that when Slavonic tribesdivided into non-relative kins, RA went through changes of different kind. Inthe end of the 1-st millennium BC veneds werevanished by Germanic barbarian hordes and proto runic system spread rapidly onthe territory from the Black sea to Gaul. As it is follow from archeologicaldiscoveries RA can be found on the Slavonic jewels dated from 10-th c. AD, butit is difficult to say if they were originally Russian or Scandinavian ones –perhaps, runes on the jewelries were regarded as the part of design and in wascopied blindly. 

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Different Slavonic variants ofScandinavian runes

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