Using Modern Language

I’ve not been nearly as active as I would like to say that I am. Between health issues and work concerns, I’ve not really had time to think about things to post here or, indeed, do actual Heathen things. Even my research has largely ground to a halt. It’s a pity.

Nonetheless, there has been something that interests me considerably lately: the use of language in modern Heathen practices. I’ve written about language a fair amount in the past, such as in one of my most popular posts “When a Cognate Isn’t Cognate” or its sequel “Care with Cognates“. Though never really cited much anywhere, “Modern Gods” will be important here, too.

We’re again seeing a sudden surge in using Old English to define ourselves in these modern times. It warms the cockles of my heart to see people learning and using Old English, but I personally don’t think that sticking with a long gone language is going to help us much now. I am, however, a very strong proponent of Anglish. It’s quite the boon to know our roots and then grow from there.

Since my teens I have been aware of people’s issues with Ásatrú when it comes to forming a noun for a practitioner of such. You’ll mostly see Ásatrúar, but that’s just a genitive form and is incorrect here. But no one wants to use Ásatrúmaður (or –maðr, if you prefer Old Norse) or some sort of odd Icelandic–English hybrid *Ásatrúman, so it just remains a sore point in those circles.

Fyrnsidu hasn’t really faired any better in this regard, but lately it seems that the people behind Lārhūs Fyrnsida are using Fyrnsidere, which is merely the Old English agent suffix –ere (> Modern English –er) being appended to the compound noun. This is a completely logical thing to do and I’ve seen others using it as well. Another possibility would have been *Fyrnsidman, but no one has ever used that evidently.

Both the Ásatrú and the Fyrnsidu examples suffer from the same issue in my mind: they’re not Modern English and that hampers people. I don’t much care for fixing Ásatrú’s internal messes, but let’s play with Fyrnsidu and its derivative:

  • For the prefix fyrn- “ancient, old; formerly”, the /y/ was unrounded in Middle English to /i/, then later made its way to /ɪ/, which tends to be pronounced as /ɝ/ when followed by <r>. That leaves us with *firn– /fɝn/.1This is then a homophone of fern and shares a vowel with fir.
  • Sidu “custom, practice; ritual; morality” had two different routes that it could have gone. Unstressed vowels were reduced to /ə/, spelled <e>, in Middle English, leaving us with side. This is where the split occurs. The unstressed vowel is dropped outright, leaving us with *sid /sɪd/. Occasionally, however, open-syllable lengthening occurs as well, which changes /i/ to /eː/, then later to /iː/ during the Great Vowel Shift.2You can see this in action with Old English wicu > Middle English weke > Modern English week. This leaves us with *seed /siːd/. I prefer the former, though.
  • Old English –ere just becomes Modern English –er, as already mentioned.

So for the religion itself we’re left with *Firnsid /ˈfɝnsɪd/ and for a follower with *Firnsider /ˈfɝnsɪdɚ/.3Those assume no R-dropping. If you’re in England, this is more along the lines of /ˈfɜːnsɪd/ and /ˈfɜːnsɪdə/, respectively. I personally find these forms to be better than using Old English, especially when keeping in mind that most people probably aren’t going to pronounce /y/ correctly anyway.

Truthfully, though, why stop there? Obviously English didn’t stop developing. So why not use *Tew /t(j)uː/ instead of Tīw? Or *Wooden /ˈwʊdən/ instead of Wōden? Easter instead of Ēastre? Sun instead of Sunna? These are easily figured descendants, after all. Conforming to Modern English’s patterns makes for an easier time for everyone, reduces the variety of incorrect pronunciations from people’s failed attempts at dead languages, and keeps our religious terms from sticking out like a sore thumb quite so much. And the joy of not needing to use macrons on everything!

There is honestly a good chance that in the future I’ll just switch over to projected forms of words instead of Old English, even going so far as to drop the asterisks. I won’t be able to pull this off everywhere, but here on Heargweard and in my private usage I see no issue whatsoever.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This is then a homophone of fern and shares a vowel with fir.
2. You can see this in action with Old English wicu > Middle English weke > Modern English week.
3. Those assume no R-dropping. If you’re in England, this is more along the lines of /ˈfɜːnsɪd/ and /ˈfɜːnsɪdə/, respectively.