Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 4825
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  • Title: The Extended Polysemy of Old English "earg" [having the sense of unmanliness or unnatural behavior; Thirtieth International Congress on Medieval Studies, the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 1995. Thirtieth Symposium on the Sources of Anglo- Saxon Culture, co- sponsered by the Institute and CEMERS, Binghamton University. Session 415.]
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 28, 3 (Spring 1995):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Gender Old English Language Sexuality
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
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  • Abstract: This polysemy study of the Old English word "earg," based upon the possible senses of the word in context, argues for the inadequacy of the translations listed for "earg" and its vari-ants in Bosworth and Toller's "An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary" as well as in the glossaries accompanying separate editions of Old English texts. The textual context of OE "earg" often invites or demands that this term be translated to include meanings indicating gender deviation as well as alternate sexual behavior, translations not included in the dictionary or glossary entries for "earg." The extended polysemy of "earg" includes senses of the word which overlap with the senses of the Old Norse cognate "argr," meaning "effeminate" and/or "playing the feminine role in sexual relations between men." While the senses of the OE and ON cognates have previously been assumed to overlap, this study provides evidence for this assumption based upon a detailed analysis of the larger textual context of the word, a context comprising at least two to three pages of a given text rather than only one sentence. Furthermore, this study's conclusions benefit from a contextual analysis of 40 of the occurrences of "earg" and its variants, including "earge," "eargian," "eargscipe," and "earh," located within the Old English corpus through the use of "A Microfiche Concordance to Old English." Although this study views the range of senses synchronically due to unreliable manuscript dating, the extant range of senses shows evidence of the diachronic patterns of semantic development outlined in Eve Sweetser's theory of cognitive semantics. Cognitive semantics asserts that the polysemy of a panicular word expands metaphorically in a regular and even predictable manner. The three new categories of senses for "earg" supported by this study, including the senses of (1) unsanctioned sexual behavior, (2) unmanliness, and (3) unnatural behavior, are related metaphorically to each other as well as to the ON cognate "argr." While the results of this study are especially important for explorations of gender and sexuality in Old English literature, for which the range of senses of earg are potentially important, the results also serve generally to call into question the usefulness of dictionaries, glossaries, and older word studies for settling semantic or interpretive disputes [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
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  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973