Groundbreaking research to establish chronology of Medieval Irish literature

Maynooth University Professor awarded €1.8m to study Irish-language texts

Prof David Stifter

Prof David Stifter

 

Prof David Stifter of Maynooth University has been awarded an €1.8m grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for a project that will date a large number of 7th–10th Century Irish texts and develop methodologies for dating languages that will be applicable across the world. It is hoped that this research will, in turn, shed new light on Medieval literature, history, and culture.

Prof Stifter, Head of the Department of Early Irish at Maynooth University, said: “Linguistic dating is about to take a huge leap forward into the technological possibilities of the 21st Century. By developing and utilising unique methodologies that help us to accurately date these fascinating medieval texts and create linguistic profiles of their language, we are linking the past with the present. Given the complexity of Old Irish, the success of this project will represent a new model for the study of other languages that researchers all over the world will want to emulate.”

He will lead five researchers on the project known as the “Chronologicon Hibernicum – A Probabilistic Chronological Framework for Dating Early Irish Language Developments and Literature”.

ChronHib will develop and use methodologies and software to perform linguistic analysis on a large number of Early Medieval texts. By looking for subtle changes in the language over centuries and by applying statistical methods, Prof Stifter will profile language variations. The aim is to create a ChronHib database which will serve as the key reference point for the linguistic dating of Irish texts and will then provide a model for other old languages in Europe and beyond.

It is hoped that researchers around the world will be able to use these new dating methods in a way similar to how tree-rings serve as chronological indicators in archaeology.

An Austrian national, Prof Stifter’s interest in Celtic languages and Maynooth University’s international reputation in the field of Irish linguistics drew him to Ireland: “Studying in Vienna, there was an adage in my department, ‘If Maynooth speaks, it is time to listen.’ So when the opportunity arose to come to Maynooth, I jumped at it.”

Colleagues have been quick to commend him. Prof Gregory Toner, professor of Irish at Queen’s University in Belfast and Director of the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language said: “This exciting project provides innovative, cutting-edge solutions to the thorny problem of the accurate dating of medieval Irish texts. It has enormous potential to solve many issues in the field and contribute to a significant improvement of our understanding of medieval Ireland.”

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