What’s in a name?
Issued: Fri, 07 Jan 2011 11:23:00 GMT
In an Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project, Professor Clancy and his team of researchers, headed by Dr Simon Taylor, have been working to produce a major five-volume survey of the place names of Fife. The team are using the findings in Fife to investigate the presence of Gaelic in other counties throughout Scotland, work that will appear in a separate volume.
'The Middle Ages in Scotland is a period for which there is very little evidence about languages, despite the variety of languages spoken here,' says Professor Clancy. 'However, through place names you can trace the development of languages in Scotland and get some sense of how languages were expanding and contracting over time. You can also gain an understanding of how languages interacted in terms of borrowing words from each other or the way some place names fossilise a certain linguistic relationship. For example, in Dumfriesshire there is a village called Dalswinton, which is a Gaelic place name (dál means "haugh or water-meadow"). However, it actually contains an Old English place name within it (Swinton, meaning 'pig farm'). This tells us that Gaelic was spoken in this area after English or Scots appeared, and something about the interaction between the two languages.
'Increasingly we're also discovering that socioeconomic circumstances played an important part in the process. For example, names for clearings in the woods occurred when people started clearing land and names for new types of land units were created because land practices were changing. It's a very different way of seeing the creation of place names and I think we're starting to develop new agendas for working with place names that actually use them for social history.'
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