Page:Irish Lexicography.djvu/15

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7
ON IRISH LEXICOGRAPHY.

the language was still in possession of these wonderful primeval case-endings. But nothing of the kind I refer to is found in these codices. The suggestions hitherto made appear to me to demand a rate of change which the circumstances of the case do not permit, and which nothing but a phonetic epidemic of a malignant type could possibly explain. But the course of linguistic transformation in a country at rest from serious troubles, and where, too, no external shock precipitates the progress, is far too slow to permit the assumption that such forms as qurimitirros and glasiconas [Ir. glas-chon] could be real living genitives at any period subsequent to the introduction of Christianity. Either, therefore, these inscriptions are much older than they are generally considered to be (which I do not think possible), or, we have not got at the right solution. For my own part, I do not believe that they represent the spoken language of the time when they were inscribed, but rather that they were a secret writing based on the language of long-past centuries kept up, among the druids and brehons, combined with other cryptic methods of writing that had no reference to the antecedent state of the language.

II. Leaving then this barren field of inscriptions, we advance to the sure and fruitful sources of the MSS. in Old Irish. The earliest of these are the so-called Zeussian codices, from which was drawn the material used by our great master in the construction of his vast work, the Grammatica Celtica.

[1853]The progress of study on these important texts will be best seen from a chronological statement of the works published subsequently to the appearance of that work in 1853. Zeuss made use of seven MSS. of varying extent, but whose language, according to the master, was "una eademque formis suis et regulis certis circumscripta, lingua hibernica vetusta" (Gr. Celt., p. xxxiv.). These were MSS. of the 8th and 9th centuries, from St. Gall, Würzburg, Milan, Carlsruhe, and Cambray, containing glosses and phrases explanatory of passages found in Latin MSS. of Priscian's grammar, or parts of the New Testament, and the Psalms.

[1866]The next step was the publication of Goidelica, by Whitley Stokes, in 1866, containing his transcripts of the Irish glosses found in MSS. at Turin, Milan, and Berne.

[1869]Three years after the publication of Stokes' book, Nigra gave to the world an edition of the Turin glosses, with a commentary on each word, and a considerable amount of explanatory detail.