What is runology and where does it stand today?
Michael P. Barnes
7th International Runic Symposium, Oslo (2010)
Excerpt: A definition of “runology”
This proves to be very difficult. A wide definition might include elements of linguistics, philology, palaeography, archaeology, cultural, religious, legal, literary and art history, mythology, cryptology, and occultism. But how can one define a discipline that comprises so many disparate elements? And if a discipline cannot be defined, is it meaningful to treat it as such? Should runology constitute a discipline in its own right? Ogam script does not seem to have called forth generations of ogamologists.
Runes are an alphabetical system of writing, and for the most part they are used to record language. An independent runological discipline, if it is to be established, must therefore deal with the runic symbols themselves, individually and as systems, with their development, and their use to record language. Runic inscriptions are sequences of runes placed on an object, and these the runologist will attempt first to read and then to interpret. Reading will involve examination of the inscription itself, since photographs are subject to tricks of the light and drawings will always contain an element of subjectivity. Interpretation will often require help from and some knowledge of other disciplines, notably archaeology. But archaeology is not runology, any more than are art history, mythology, or occultism.
Core aspects of the discipline thus seem to me to be: the origin of the runic alphabet; the change from the older fuþark to the Anglo-Saxon fuþorc and the younger Scandinavian fuþark; the development of the additional runic characters of the Scandinavian Middle Ages and their status; runes as graphemic systems; the distinction between graphs, graph types, graphemes and units of the fuþark; the principles and practice of transliteration. I would also suggest that the reading of runic inscriptions is more central to runology than their interpretation. The reading must be done first and must be undertaken by someone with experience in the field. Thereafter come attempts at interpretation, which may in some circumstances be made by historians, archaeologists and others – provided they possess the requisite linguistic knowledge, understand how the reading was arrived at, and have a proper grasp of all the caveats and reservations the reader has expressed.