, Volume 98, Issue 4, pp 657–673 | Cite as

The Language of Beowulf and the Conditioning of Kaluza’s Law

  • Leonard NeidorfEmail author
  • Rafael J. Pascual


In Beowulf, there are 106 verses in which second compound elements are unambiguously distributed into positions of resolution or non-resolution on the basis of etymological length distinctions that became phonologically indistinct early in the Anglo-Saxon period. The conditioning behind this linguistic regularity (Kaluza’s law) has been the subject of considerable dispute. R. D. Fulk argued that this regularity was phonologically conditioned: the Beowulf poet consistently distinguished between etymologically long and short desinences because he composed before they became phonologically indistinct. Some scholars have sought to explain this regularity by proposing that it was semantically or morphologically conditioned, while others have invoked oral tradition and narrative considerations in their efforts to explain it. The present article gauges the relative probability of these competing hypotheses and demonstrates that the hypothesis of phonological conditioning is the only tenable explanation. It is therefore probable that Beowulf was composed in Mercia prior to the year 725, by which time distinctions of etymological length had become phonologically indistinct.


Beowulf Old English meter Historical phonology Kaluza’s law Anglo-Saxon literature 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard Society of FellowsHardvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Universidad de GranadaGranadaSpain

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