Posted by: kljolly | September 1, 2014


In the process of transcribing Aldred’s gloss to Durham A.IV.19, slowly but surely, I have found another “Aldredism,” if not Northumbrianism, in an unusual compound word:  stancarr glossing Latin petram.  What follows is my process of discovery, aided and abetted by Northumbrian expert and blog commentator Seumas MacRath.

On fol. 9v, glossing a verse from Isaiah 50:7, Aldred has:

    drih[t]’   god    helpend    min    7 f’eðon nam ic   sceomigende
5 Dominus deus auxiliator meus. et ideo non sum confu

        f’ðon ic [gi]sette ondwlioto mino soelce stancarr heard
6 sus ideo   posui       faciem     meam  ut        petram   durissimam

    7 ic wat f’ðon       ne biom ic sceomigende
7 et scio    quoniam non confundar.

“The Lord God [is] my helper, and therefore I will not be confused; therefore I have set my face like hard rock, and I know that I will not be confounded.”

For Latin and Greek petra, Old English stan is a perfectly reasonable translation, one that Aldred has used elsewhere in his gloss of the Lindisfarne Gospels, but as an alternative to carr, a borrowing from Cumbrian or Old Welsh, carrecc.

In the Lindisfarne glosses of petra, Aldred puts carr as an unusual (loan) word first then stan as the more broadly understood or common word (as in Mark 15:46 and Matthew 7:24, carr ł stan).  When petra is repeated in close proximity, he uses only carr (Luke 6:48), and by the time he glosses John, he uses only carr (1:42, the naming of Peter).  In the gloss to the gospel prefaces discussing Matt. 7:24, he also uses carr ł but does not complete the alternative with stan.

So when we come to the Durham A.IV.19 gloss of Isaiah, we find a surprising collocation of stancarr, the reverse order of his vel glosses and combined into one word, the only instance of such a word so presumably an Aldredism.

Once we look into carr, though, some interesting possibilities occur.

For Tolkien fans, yes this is the Carrock of Beorn, in a collocation of carr + rocc, although in Old English vocabulary glossaries, one finds stan + rocc. Carrock appears to be a northern (Cumbric) phenomenon, found for example in Carrock Fell in Cumbria, just northwest of Penrith.  [To make things even more interesting, look up “crag” in the Oxford English Dictionary to try and figure out how it is related to carr!]


To explain why carr would need clarification with stan or rocc, though, Seumas points out that modern Northumbrian usage of carr in place names can mean either rocky place (more common as derived from Cumbric) or marshland in one instance derived from Old Norse kjarr.

So it is entirely possible that Aldred knows the possible confusion among Viking-era Northumbrians between carr as rock and carr as marsh.  He wants to make sure that his readers, who might include Scandinavians, know that Isaiah sets his face like a rock and not like a marshy place!  Of course, he could have used stan alone, but he shows a distinct preference for using local (Northumbrian) vocabulary and then clarifying with a more widely used Old English word when necessary.

What does this tell us about Aldred?  Well, he is not glossing alone.  He has an audience in mind, a local northern one of mixed linguistic backgrounds, and perhaps a larger imagined audience of English speakers who might, like us, want to know that the Northumbrians say carr for stone.


  1. Fascinating! Do you think Aldred’s acquaintance included Cumbric speakers?

  2. Hmm. I think, although Seumas may want to correct me, that Northumbrians absorbed and retained Brittonic words. I don’t think anyone knows how long Cumbric speakers persisted.

    • I’m not sure about the ‘expert’ bit, but I do agree with you on Cumbric words having been absorbed into the Northumbrian dialect. Apart from the use of ‘carr’, the Lindisfarne Gospels also regularly use ‘luh’, i.e. loch ł lough, to refer to the Sea of Galilee. It is comically incongruous to see Lake Tiberias (John 6.1) referred to as ‘ðæt luh’, i.e. that lough, when the lough on Holy island (Lindisfarne) is just a pond.

      • Thanks for the example of “luh.”
        I wonder if size was part of the criteria defining what makes a lough or loch what it was?

    • Aldred uses ‘luh’ throughout the synoptic gospels to gloss ‘fretum’ or ‘stagnum’. In Matthew he provides some double glosses, notably ‘luh/lytel sæ’ and ‘luh/nearo sæ’ on the ‘carr/stan’ pattern: Britonnic word first, more widely understood Germanic second. The second glosses suggest that size was a factor. The loughs ł lochs of Cumberland, Northumberland and Southern Scotland are generally small. A good example is Yetholm Loch half-way between Melrose and Lindisfarne on St. Cuthbert’s Way:

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