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Roman and Runic in the Anglo-Saxon Inscriptions at Monte Sant’Angelo: A Sociolinguistic Approach

Journal article
Authors Michelle Waldispühl
Published in Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies
Volume 9–10
Pages 135-158
ISSN 1892-0950
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 135-158
Language en
Keywords Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions, medieval graffiti, sociolinguistics of writing, multilingual writing, language contact, personal names, identity, medieval pilgrimage
Subject categories General Language Studies and Linguistics, English language, Latin language


This paper addresses the Anglo-Saxon personal name inscriptions at Monte Sant’​Angelo in Southern Italy from a sociolinguistic angle. The main interest lies in the mix between Roman and runic writing and its inter­pretation in the light of indi­vidual literacy and the cultural context of medieval pilgrimage. Four from a total of five inscriptions were written in runes; two of these show sig­nif­icant in­fluence from Anglo-Saxon scribal practices and Roman epi­graphic writ­ing. The fifth Anglo-Saxon name is written entirely in Roman letters. Draw­ing on theo­retical approaches from modern sociolinguistic studies of multi­lin­gualism in writ­ing, this study suggests that the use of mixed Roman-runic prac­tices reflects the biscriptal background of the respective carvers and was applied in situ to indi­vidualize the inscriptions. However, not all the in­scrip­tions show such a mix; hence either skill or personal preference varied among the pilgrims. The prac­tice of mixing evident in the runic inscriptions does not fully correspond to previ­ously described features of multilingual and multi­scrip­tal writing, which is why a new term, “heterographia”, has been coined in this study to include mix­ing not only in a language and a writing system, but also on a graphetic and ortho­graphic level. Finally, the use of runes or Roman script for one’s personal name is inter­preted as an expression of social identity dependent on the person’s social embedding.

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