Old English: ond his þa æfæstan tungan gedeofanade singan

Dib

Senior Member
Bengali (India)
"... ond his þa æfæstan tungan gedeofanade singan"

This is a line from the Old English Bede. You can read the text (along with Modern English translation) for more context here:
BEDE'S STORY OF CAEDMON

There is also a link to the original Latin version on top of the page.

Note: gedeofanade is a variant for gedaf(e)node < gedafenian

~

The English translation reads: "and [those which] were fitting for his pious tongue to sing." However, I stumble on so many things in this one line:

1) "his þa æfæstan tungan" = "his pious tongue" (acc.): Is it really usual to have a definite article after "his", etc?

2) "þa æfæstan tungan gedeofanade": Does gedafenian take accusative? The only unambiguous examples (the first two) below have dative:
'ge-dafenian' - Bosworth–Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary
Or, is the accusative an influence of the Latin original ("linguam decebant")?

3) I take "gedeofanade" to be impersonal, and hence in singular; and the shared plural relative pronoun "þa" in "þa ðe to æfæstnisse belumpon, ond his þa æfæstan tungan gedeofanade singan" to be acting as the nominative for the first clause (subject to "belumpon") and the accusative for the second (object to "singan"). Does this make sense? Is it okay for a shared word to have different grammatical cases in two coordinate clauses?
 
  • berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I agree, the accusative is strange. I would have expected dative as well. But ignoring that problem the whole phrase appears to be a simple noun phrase serving as an object to wyrcan. You live in Germany, so I assume you speak German. It is probably easier to compare it to modern German than to modern English because the syntax is much closer. In fact this syntax still works in modern German (again, ignoring the dative-accusative issue):
    his...þa..æfæstan..tungan gedeofanade.singan
    sein der frommen Zunge..geziemendes Singen


    So, if I am not mistaken the structure of the noun phrase is:
    • Possessive pronoun - his
    • Attributive participle phrase - þa æfæstan tungan gedeofanade
    • Head noun - singan
     
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    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Thank you very much for your opinion. Yes, I understand German, and your use of German does help to put your point across effectively. However, I believe, this explanation does not hold up on at least two counts:
    1) Form: I assume you are taking "gedeofanade" to have a neuter accusative singular weak adjective ending -e. But after "his" we'd normally expect a strong adjective ending (i.e. no ending in our case), wouldn't we?
    2) Usage: I scanned through the entry on "wyrcan" in Bosworth-Toller (link above), and wyrcan+infinitive does not seem like a possible construction.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    1) is indeed the weak point of my explanation. It bothered me already when wrote the post and it sticks out like a sore thumb if you compare the OE and German lines.

    2) Wyracn has various transitive uses. I don't understand why you need a special use wyrcan+infinitive. My point is that singan functions as an accusative noun.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    2) Do you mean "wyrcan" here means "perform" - as in "put on a performance on stage or in front of an audience, etc."? If that is a possible meaning of this verb, then yes, I agree it works without a special wyrcan+infinitive construction. Otherwise, with the common work on/construct meaning, it looks a bit forced to me.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I may of course have totally misunderstood the sentence but one of the transitive meanings of wyrcan is to make something (still present in the German cognate etwas bewirken). And that is how I understood it.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    So, you mean "to make his singing (happen)". Okay, Maybe it works.

    Anyway, how about taking gedeofanade as a plural participle used as a noun and an object to singan? It could be a stylistic calque of Latin neuter plurals. Apparently, past participle neuter nom/acc plural in -e was common at different times in different dialects (Cf. "Old English Grammar" - A. Campbell, p. 263), though I am not sure it is expected in this text.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I am out of my depth there. Could be dialectal variation. No idea. I have never heard about an infinitive being used as plural noun. I don't know if this is possible.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Not a plural infinitive, a plural participle (gedeofanade), used as a noun ("the things which are fitting to the pious tongue") and object to singan. :)
     
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