Vernacular psychologies in Old Norse-Icelandic and Old English

Mackenzie, Colin Peter (2014) Vernacular psychologies in Old Norse-Icelandic and Old English. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines the vernacular psychology presented in Old Norse-Icelandic texts. It focuses on the concept 'hugr', generally rendered in English as ‘mind, soul, spirit’, and explores the conceptual relationships between emotion, cognition and the body. It argues that despite broad similarities, Old Norse-Icelandic and Old English vernacular psychology differ more than has previously been acknowledged. Furthermore, it shows that the psychology of Old Norse-Icelandic has less in common with its circumpolar neighbours than proposed by advocates of Old Norse-Icelandic shamanism. The thesis offers a fresh interpretation of Old Norse-Icelandic psychology which does not rely on cross-cultural evidence from other Germanic or circumpolar traditions. In particular, I demonstrate that emotion and cognition were not conceived of ‘hydraulically’ as was the case in Old English, and that 'hugr' was not thought to leave the body either in animal form or as a person’s breath. I show that Old Norse-Icelandic psychology differs from the Old English tradition, and argue that the Old English psychological model is a specific elaboration of the shared psychological inheritance of Germanic whose origins require further study. These differences between the two languages have implications for the study of psychological concepts in Proto-Germanic, as I argue that there are fewer semantic components which can be reliably reconstructed for the common ancestor of the North and West Germanic languages. As a whole, the thesis applies insights from cross-cultural linguistics and psychology in order to show how Old Norse-Icelandic psychological concepts differ not only from contemporary Germanic and circumpolar traditions but also from the Present Day English concepts used to describe them. The thesis comprises four chapters and conclusion. Chapter 1 introduces the field of study and presents the methodologies and sources used. It introduces the range of cross-cultural variety in psychological concepts, and places Old Norse-Icelandic 'hugr' and its Old English analogue 'mōd' in a typological perspective. Chapter 2 reviews previous approaches to early Germanic psychology and introduces the major strand of research that forms the background to this study: Lockett’s (2011) proposal that Old English vernacular psychology operated in terms of a ‘hydraulic model’, where the 'mōd' would literally boil and seethe within a person’s chest in response to strong emotions. Chapter 3 outlines the native Old Norse-Icelandic psychological model by examining indigenously produced vernacular texts. It looks first at the claims that 'hugr' could leave the body in animal form or as a person’s breath. It then describes the relationship between emotion, cognition and the body in Old Norse-Icelandic texts and contrasts this with the Old English system. Chapter 4 examines the foreign influences which could potentially account for the differences between the Old English and Old Norse-Icelandic systems. It looks first at the imported medical traditions which were known in medieval Scandinavia at the time Old Norse-Icelandic texts were being committed to writing. Next it considers the psychology of Christian tradition from the early Old Icelandic Homily Book to late-fourteenth-century devotional poetry. Finally, it examines the representation of emotion and the body in the translated Anglo-Norman and Old French texts produced at the court of Hákon Hákonarson and explores how this was transposed to native romances composed in Old Norse-Icelandic. The conclusion summarises the findings of the thesis and presents a proposal for the methodology of studying medieval psychological concepts with directions for further research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Old Norse, Old Icelandic, Old English, Anglo-Saxon, psychology, mind, hugr, mōd.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages
P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Lowe, Dr. Kathryn and Smith, Professor Jeremy
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Mr Colin P. Mackenzie
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5290
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2014 10:58
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2017 15:46

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