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ChronHib Report Summary

Project ID: 647351
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ChronHib (Chronologicon Hibernicum – A Probabilistic Chronological Framework for Dating Early Irish Language Developments and Literature)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Early Medieval Irish literature (7th–10th centuries) is vast in extent and rich in genres, but owing to its mostly anonymous transmission, for most texts the precise time and circumstances of composition are unknown. Aside from a small number of texts that contain unambiguous historical references, the only clues for a rough chronological positioning of the texts are to be found in their linguistic features. Phonology, morphology, syntax and the lexicon of the Irish language changed considerably from Early Old Irish (7th c.) into Middle Irish (c. 10th–12th centuries). However, only the relative sequence of changes is well understood; for most sound changes very few absolute dates have been proposed so far.
It is the aim of Chronologicon Hibernicum to find a common solution for both problems: through the linguistic profiling of externally dated texts (esp. annalistic writing and sources with a clear historical anchorage) and through serialising the emerging linguistic and chronological data, progress will be made in assigning dates to the linguistic changes. In order to move on from the traditional philological way of doing it, this will be done by using statistical methods for the seriation of the data, and for estimating dates using Bayesian inference.
If successful, the resultant information will allow to find new dates for hitherto undated texts. On this basis, a much tighter chronological framework for the developments of the Early Medieval Irish language will be created. In a further step it will be possible to arrive at a better chronological description of medieval Irish literature as a whole, which will have repercussions on the study of the history and cultural and intellectual environment of medieval Ireland and on its connections with the wider world, leading to a better understanding of the historical development of Ireland.
The data collected and analysed in this project will form the database Chronologicon Hibernicum which will serve as the authoritative guideline and reference point for the linguistic dating of Irish texts. If it proves successful, the methodology will be transferable to other languages as well, thereby adding a new scientific method for shedding light on obscure periods of the past.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

In the first 18 months of the project, the Chronologicon Hibernicum team have been working on laying the linguistic-phonological groundwork on the basis of which the more advanced goals (e.g. statistical approaches) of the coming years can build. The team has been creating and adapting lexicographic databases of key Old Irish texts, such as the Annals of Ulster, the so-called 'Minor Glosses' of Old Irish, and related texts. It has been one of the central issues of the work so far to agree on a standard of analysing and annotating Old Irish texts in a way which reflects the subtleties of synchronic variation and diachronic change of the language, and which makes best use of the possibilities of current computational technology.
Through the use of social media, the project members not only try to propagate the results of the project research, but also to raise awareness of Early Irish and its importance for the intellectual history of Ireland and Europe as a whole. The project is also in close contact with other researchers and projects in Early Irish studies, and fosters these cooperations by organising workshops.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The major progress that has been achieved in Chronologicon Hibernicum so far relates to the method of analysing Old Irish grammer and annotating it in texts, and to depth of analysis achieved. This is a major stepping stone towards a comprehensive synchronic and diachronic description of the Old Irish language, a description that not only reflects the traditional grammatical categories, but one that is also capable of reflecting in a standardised way the synchronic variation and the diachronic change of the language. This is the first global goal of the project, and it will allow to develop computational tools and statistical methods of quantifying language variation and change in the next period of the project.

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