Old Nubian in Bergen – part III (2017 sequel)

The first week of the Bergen Workshop on Old Nubian has been completed. Our goal was to go through the new grammar of Old Nubian that is under preparation by Vincent van Gerven Oei.


“A Possible Grammar of Old Nubian” is the title that Vincent has chosen for his work and this shows his attitude towards his object of research. Vincent is a linguist and therefore his approach to Old Nubian as a grammarian is radically different than that of Gerald Michael Browne, the author of the most recent grammar of Old Nubian (previous grammars were written by Ernst Zyhlarz in German and Eugenia Smagina in Russian, whose English translation is expected to be published soon). It is not only the terminology that is changed (exit verbids and indicative copulatives for example; enter determiners and intentional aspect), but also the way the language is being taught.

Vincent follows the structure of the language itself, which is a Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) language, and thus markers of grammatical phenomena tend to cluster towards the end of a clause, where the verb is to be expected, i.e. suffixes to the verb that tell us things like tense and aspect, person and number etc. So, in “A Possible Grammar of Old Nubian”, the student is initiated to the way the language works “from right to left”, beginning with discourse markers and ending with lexical roots of verbs and names.

Those present at the Bergen workshop were lucky to follow Vincent still working his mind through the fine tuning of this innovative approach, and at times we could even take pride of contributing to improvements of details in content and structure.

Vincent makes a photograph of a new way to organize in his grammar the presentation of a group of Old Nubian morphemes

How profitable this crash-course was for the participants can only be measured when one sees closer into the insightful analyses that are already appearing after only one day of work with the Serra-East codex, the longest text in Old Nubian known, that is the target of the second week of our workshop.


If you did not manage to be in Bergen, you can follow our work through a new Twitter account called “ontrakagoueke“. Stay tuned!

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