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National Library of Wales journal


Cyf. 14, rh. 3 Haf 1966

The Black Book of Chirk and The Orthographica Gallica Anglicana : The chronology of the Black Book of Chirk on the basis of its Old French Graphical Phenomena /

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THE Black Book of Chirk, the earliest form extant of the Welsh
language version of the Welsh Laws is beyond a doubt whatsoever
a reproduction. The Welsh Laws in their pristine form go back
far beyond the reputedly oldest exemplar of continuous Welsh prose.
The syntax of the manuscript has been termed above reproach but its
orthography, quite unlike anything transmitted to us by any contem-
poraneous script, has been a perplexity to generations of Welsh scholars
and many have racked their brains attempting to ascertain its raison d'itre.
Timothy Lewis, the compiler of the codex vocabulary, A Glossary of
Mediaeval Welsh Law, was at a loss to conceive an hypothesis to
account for its disconcerting spelling. (Manchester University Press,
1913). To Dr. Gwenogvryn Evans, who published a facsimile of the
work, its orthography was 'a notable exception to all rules' (The White
Book Mabinogion, XII, note). Sir John Morris-Jones described its
graphies as 'peculiar' ('Taliesin', The Transactions of the Honourable
Society of Cymmrodorion, XXVIII, 46). All three scholars, I need hardly
say, regarded the manuscript from the standpoint of the Welsh language
and from that angle, we must confess, it is unique in the catalogue of
Welsh Mediaeval manuscripts that are still extant.
The glaring variety of its symbols were presumed in the Ancient
Laws and Institutes of Wales by Aneurin Owen to have been the handiwork
of a monk who was not so skilful in Welsh as in other languages, but
Timothy Lewis' verdict that it has 'a faultless syntax' appears to put
the foreigner out of court and to conjure up problems which make it
hard to propound a theory for its seemingly random orthography.
Nevertheless, it would be desirable to arrive at some decision respecting
the nationality of the scribe whose unusual orthography has been the
subject of so much speculation. The possession on his part of a faultless
Welsh syntax is not necessarily incompatible with his being a foreigner.
I know several foreigners who could pass muster as native Welshmen.
If this is possible nowadays, it was certainly within the bounds of
possibility in the relatively calm time of the transcription of the Chirk
codex. A perfect Welsh syntax is, therefore, attainable by any outsider
who is sufficiently gifted linguistically and industrious enough to pay
the price for it. We might conclude then that our scribe could well
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