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How linguistics can help the historian

by  Anthony Harvey
€ 9.50

Book Details

Published by Royal Irish Academy

May 2021


Number of pages: 48

ISBN: 9781911479697


PDF icon Advance Information

It is often thought that linguistics has to be very technical and complicated (it doesn’t), as well as boring (it needn’t be).

In fact, linguistics can often finesse hard information out of historical documents in a manner that is just as striking and revealing—and just as scientific and objective—as the way in which archaeology helps us to interpret historical artefacts. The process involves looking beyond what is expressed in such a document to the question of how it is expressed; this exposition looks in simple terms at some specific examples that relate to early medieval Ireland, Britain and the Continent.

This deliberately informal exposition originated in a 2012 address given at NUI Galway in response to an invitation from the students of that university’s Cumann Staire. A version was delivered the following year in Dublin to a workshop of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

It is essential reading for any student of history.

This book is also available on JSTOR. For more information, institutions can visit Books at JSTOR or contact

You can buy the e-book here.

Linguistic archaeology - how words reveal our history - an article by Anthony Harvey on Books Ireland Magazine

About the authors

Anthony Harvey

Dr Anthony Harvey is Editor of the Royal Irish Academy's Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (DMLCS) and Project Leader of the St Patrick's Confessio Hyperstack activity ( He has been part of the DMLCS project since 1985 and Editor since 1990. He holds a PhD in early medieval Irish and British linguistics and literacy from Cambridge University's Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, where he had previously gained his MA, and has lectured and published widely on these subjects as well as on matters of Latin philology. He teaches conversational Welsh informally in Dublin, and has served as Chairman of the Classical Association of Ireland. He is currently on the advisory boards of several scholarly journals and dictionary projects at home and abroad.

Research Interests: Application of computers to dictionary-making, Medieval Latin and Celtic literacy and linguistics, Modern Celtic languages.