SpecGram Vol CLVI, No 4 Contents Letters to the Editor

A Bit-O-History

A Letter from the Managing Editor

Well, the truth shall out, as they say. Several keen-eyed subscribers to SpecGram have noted that, while the official date of SpecGram’s founding is 1276, the lawsuit Þorkell Leifsson vs. SpecGram, which refers to events dating from at least 954, was settled last year, implying that Speculative Grammarian is at least 300 years older than we let on.

That, in fact, is true, and has been previously alluded to, in the deliberately oblique comment about “the myths of [SpecGram’s] pre-history prior to its official founding by Petrus Hispanus.” The myths are not so mythical, and the pre-history in question is not so “pre-”. The details are well-known, but for legal reasons related to the Þorkell Leifsson vs. SpecGram case, have been, shall we say, “elided” for about a thousand years now. Our lawyers have advised us that we can reveal this little bit of history now that the case has been settled for more than a year.

The journal Íslensk Tölvumálvísindi was founded in Reykjavík in 881 by Ingólfr Arnarson in honor of his close friend, Hjörleifr Hróðmarssonwho had set sail with Ingólfr for the then-newly-discovered island in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, only to be murdered by his Irish slaves. Hjörleifr was an avid málvísindamaður, and Ingólfr could think of no better way to honor his friend than to found the first and best linguistics journal in Ísland.

Íslensk Tölvumálvísindi was a great success, despite its limited circulation (copies were written out by hand, often by Irish monks working in exchange for passage home and away from the immigrating pagans). Some controversy surrounded the journal when, in 890, rumors began to circulate that “Pope Joan” had not only escaped death in the 850s, but had fled to Iceland and was funding ÍslenTölvum. This angered many, among both those who believed that Pope Joan had converted to paganism upon her arrival in Reykjavík and those who believed that she had not.

In 930, Þjóðveldið Ísland was founded, with the Alþingi situated on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn lake. The furor over the alleged Pope Joan’s alleged religion and her alleged affiliation with ÍslenTölvum simmered for decades, finally boiling over at the time of the kristnitakan in 1000. All this despite the fact that control of ÍslenTölvum had since passed to the legendary Hrafnkell and his intellectual followers, who were well-known to have given up on religion entirely.

Parallel to the religious developments in Iceland, a decades-long storm of controversy had raged among the íslenskar málvísindamenn. A senior editorial associate at ÍslenTölvum had somewhat harshly criticized an analysis of Old Norse by Ketilbjörn Ketilsson, goði of the Haukdælir. The entire Haukdælir clan took it all a bit too seriously, and they collectively launched a crusade against ÍslenTölvum alongside their crusade for Christianity. For political reasons, the Haukdælir needed to distance themselves from the pagan-tinged battle among the málvísindamenn after the kristnitakan. They convinced Þorkell Leifsson to file suit against Íslensk Tölvumálvísindi, first in Greenland, then later in Iceland, and eventually even in Norway.

The editors and publishers of ÍslenTölvum were a crafty bunch, to say the least, and they managed to avoid legal proceedings for centuries. Charges against ÍslenTölvum were dismissed in Greenland (in 1009) and Norway (in 1128), but the suit continued in Iceland, largely due to the trumped up charges that ÍslenTölvum had also misappropriated water from Þingvallavatn lake, thus adversely affecting the ancestral lands of the Haukdælir in Grímsnes.

In the mid 13th century, the editors and publishers of ÍslenTölvum again saw a chance to avoid binding legal action. Gizurr Þorvaldssongoði of the Haukdælir family clan and hereditary plaintiff of the suit filed by Þorkell Leifsson (the Haukdælir having given up the pretense of Greenlandic origination of the suit in the 1170’s)was quite distracted, first in the Sturlungaöld, and then later when he became jarl of Iceland in 1258. By 1244, Íslensk Tölvumálvísindi had established a roving headquarters among the earliest and generally unknown European vanguard of the migratory Romani, hoping to avoid being located by Icelandic process servers. (Of historical note, an editorial splinter group, headed by former ÍslenTölvum Senior Editorial Associates Andheiti Lýsingarorðsson and Málfræðivilla Orðsdottir, fled to England in 1243 just before the time of ÍslenTölvum’s Romani affiliation. That group had evolved into the Original English Movement by the late 1490’s.)

By all accounts, the Haukdælir had lost track of and interest in the remnants of ÍslenTölvum by 1270, following the death of Gizurr. Of course, ÍslenTölvum also had not published an issue in decades. Enter Petrus Hispanus, who had encountered Nýyrði Nafnorðsdottir (leader of the rag-tag band of itinerant málvísindamenn that comprised the remains of ÍslenTölvum) at a philological philosophy symposium (legend among the SpecGram editorial board has it that they sat next to one another during a talk on comparative analysis of n-dimensional projections of adjectival über-phrases in Middle Elbonian, but neither the archeological nor literary evidence is clear on that point). After many long discussions with Nýyrði and her lieutenants (Orðsifjafræði Orðabóksson and Afturbeygt Fornafnsdottir), Petrus Hispanus became overwhelmingly sympathetic to their cause, and agreed to relaunch Íslensk Tölvumálvísindi as the rebranded Speculative Grammarian, hiding its centuries-old origins from all but the most trusted members of the Editorial Inner Circle.

Unfortunately for SpecGram, the Icelandic connection was never fully severed. High profile Icelanders included the editorial dynasty of Málgjörð Meðskilningursson (Editor-in-Chief from 1331 to 1353), Framburður Málgjörðarson (Senior Editor from 1344 to 1401), and Viðskeyti Framburðardottir (Managing Editor from 1377 to 1402), and many, many others over the centuries. In 1770, Tengisögn Nafnháttarson, málvísindagoði of the Haukdælir clan (a persistent bunch if ever there was one), was very close to proving to an Icelandic Superior Tribunal that Speculative Grammarian was the legal corporate descendant of Íslensk Tölvumálvísindi, and thus liable for any damages resulting from Þorkell Leifsson’s original suit. By 1774, he had won judgement to that effect, but SpecGram had been already been driven underground in 1773, as the result of unrelated difficulties.

By the 1860’s, when SpecGram was headquartered in New Orleans, the editorial board acknowledged SpecGram’s legal obligation to appear in proceedings related to the newly renamed Þorkell Leifsson vs. SpecGram case, though they admitted to no wrongdoing at that time. From there, the wheels of international legal action ground their slow but methodical way to the eventual settlement of the case last year, as reported in these pages.

Please note that nothing in this history shall be construed as representation, either by SpecGram or any of its employees, on behalf of the journal (née ÍslenTölvum) or its historic employees, to make any admission or statement relevant to the entirely separate pending lawsuit Brynjólfur Sveinsson vs. SpecGram. That suit hinges on entirely unrelated issues, about which no comment shall be made at this time.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLVI, No 4 Contents