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Old English spells in BBC's "Merlin"


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Radman, Ivana. (2014). Old English spells in BBC's "Merlin". Diploma Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of English Language and Literature. [mentor Broz, Vlatko].

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This paper investigated Old English spells in BBC’s Merlin. The aim was to find out whether Old English, used for entertainment purposes such as this TV series, was simply reconstructed or whether it was inevitably reinvented in the process of “retro-translation,” as the Arthurian story itself. An inquiry into Merlin’s Old English grammar and vocabulary was conducted and an attempt was made to answer the following questions: Do the long ago discarded inflections still matter? Are declension and agreement rules for the different parts of speech adhered to? What verb forms have been used? Do Old English words take on new meanings? Are they encountered in different contexts? Finally, what are the strategies employed by the translators? Have they resorted to borrowing or ventured into novel creations? It is difficult to say whether Old English has been recreated in accordance with the rules of the language or whether it was reinvented, for the analysis reveals Merlin’s spells to involve a mixture of preservation and innovation. Old English grammar was neither entirely disregarded nor strictly adhered to. As declension turned out to be the greatest challenge, words were more often than not uninflected for case, gender and number. The direct object was frequently found in the nominative case, whereas the indirect often took the accusative inflection. Case requirements concerning prepositions were not always fulfilled either. Adjectives tended to follow the patterns of the strong declension in general but did not always agree in case and gender with the nouns they modified. Verbs displayed disagreement with the subject on several occasions. The infinitive and the imperative were the most common among verbs, with the former often assuming the function of the latter. The indicative mood was preferred to the subjunctive. The past tense and the passive voice were rarely used. On the contrary, almost half of the spells did not need any revising. Those, however, appeared to be far less complex sentences as they tended to include one or several words only, with the exception of a few more elaborate instances. Most of Merlin’s Old English vocabulary rested on common word choices, although there were several less comprehensible spells with puzzling combinations of particular word meanings. Old English literature proved to be a fruitful source of vocabulary as many words, phrases and even entire lines were borrowed or adapted for the purposes of the enchantments. A few novel compounds were noted, although literary borrowings were the more frequent strategy. So, why Merlin? In the words of Crystal, who was referring to the English language (2003: 3): Because it’s fun, beautiful and important. Merlin has sparked an interest in something as important (or not) as the roots of the English language by way of telling such a beautiful and fun story, interweaving ancient languages and mythologies with amusing storylines and characters. This paper might be of interest to some Merlin/Old English/language lovers, and hopefully will be of use to the diligent Merlin fans out there who have already done so much work, researching and translating the spells into various languages, and incorporating them into their own little works of art. It might provide some answers to those who keep asking questions such as this one (lembas7, 2013):Strangath: (The Diamond of the Day, Part 1) Spell used by Merlin to attempt to summon a cup to his hand. Hopefully this means something like “Come!” and not something basic like “Cup!” which would be embarrassing. Couldn’t find the translation on the site, so I’m crossing my fingers for this one.

Item Type: Diploma Thesis
Subjects: English language and literature
Departments: Department of English Language and Literature
Supervisor: Broz, Vlatko
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2015 12:30
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2015 12:30

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