Monday, August 29, 2011

Codex Cumanicus

The Codex Cumanicus was a linguistic manual of the Middle Ages, designed to help Catholic missionaries communicate with the Cumans, a nomadic Turkic people. It is currently housed in the Library of St. Mark, in Venice

The Codex likely developed over time. Mercantile, political and religious leaders, particularly in Hungary, sought effective communication with the Cumans from the time of their ascendency in the mid-11th century.
As Italian city-states such as Genoa began to establish trade posts and colonies along the Black Sea coastline, the need for tools to learn the Kipchak language sharply increased.

The earliest parts of the Codex are believed to have originated in the 12th century or 13th century. It was likely added to substantially over time. The copy preserved in Venice dates from 1330. The Codex consists of a number of independent works which were ultimately combined under one cover.

Historians generally divide it into two distinct and independent parts: The first (fol. 1r-55v) is a practical handbook of the Kipchak tongue, containing glossaries of words in vulgar Italo-Latin and translations into Persian and Kipchak. This section has been styled the "Italian Part" or the "Interpreter's Book" of the Codex. Whether the Persian parts came through Kipchak intermediaries or whether Persian was a lingua franca for Mediterranean trade well-known in Western Europe is a matter hotly debated by scholars.

The second part (fol. 56r-82v) is a collection of various religious texts (including a translation of the Lord's Prayer) and riddles in Kipchak, translated into Latin and Eastern Middle High German. This part of the Codex is referred to as the "German" or "Missionary's Book" and is believed to have been compiled by German Franciscans.


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