Old Frisian etymological dictionary

Old Frisian etymological dictionary. By Dirk Boutkan and Sjoerd Michiel Siebinga. (Leiden Indo-European etymological dictionary series 1.) Leiden: Brill, 2005. Pp. xxi, 591. $157 (Hb).

Reviewed by Marc Pierce, University of Texas at Austin

Frisian has long been a Cinderella figure in Germanic linguistics, especially in the United States. For instance, very few American universities offer courses in Frisian, and Frisian data is rarely discussed in more general survey courses. There are a number of possible reasons for this neglect, for example, the relatively late date of the earliest Frisian documents in comparison to the other Germanic languages, and the general lack of the reliable tools for the analysis of Frisian that exist for the other Germanic languages, including concordances, dictionaries, and so on. Fortunately, this deficit has been partially remedied over the past several years, especially with the publication of the sizable Handbuch des Friesischen ([Handbook of Frisian studies], ed. by Horst Haider Munske, 2001), and now with the volume under consideration here.

According to the preface, the impetus for this book came in the early 1990s, when Dirk Boutkan realized that there was no complete, up-to-date etymological dictionary of Old Frisian. In 1993, B therefore started to prepare a database of Old Frisian etymology, which he eventually began to convert into an etymological dictionary. The dictionary, however, remained unfinished at B’s untimely death in 2002, after which it was decided that it should be completed, although this task was complicated by several considerations (among other things, there were two different versions of the manuscript). It was decided that changes to B’s entries should be minimal (in fact, it was originally planned that B’s entries would be edited, but that no new entries would be prepared), and several hundred new entries were written. The entire manuscript was then examined by a team of specialists in Indo-European linguistics, who corrected obvious errors, but left B’s entries as intact as possible, and the various prefatory materials and indices were prepared (including an introductory chapter on topics like the process of preparing the dictionary, the justification for such a dictionary, and substratal influences in Indo-European).

The entries are much what one would expect from a work of this type. The word itself is given, along with an English gloss, and related Old Frisian forms are discussed, leading to the reconstruction of a Proto-Frisian form. This process is repeated for Germanic and Indo-European, assuming that the word is inherited from Proto-Indo-European (PIE). (If the word is a substrate item, the PIE reconstruction is omitted.) References to relevant literature and/or other entries are also given where appropriate.

Judging the value of such a book is a difficult task, as a completely accurate assessment is only possible after the book has been used for some time. Having said this, the entries I have examined to date all seem solid and reliable, and I have no reason to expect that the remaining entries will be different. Moreover, this book is the only work of its kind available in English, and it is therefore certainly a welcome addition to the literature on Germanic etymology.