Re: proposal for an international hnefatafl society
Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2011 3:06 pm
The Wikipedia article on Tafl games has in its notes:Roderich wrote:Would be very helpful to have a ethymological analysis of the word
To elaborate a bit on the word -6. Helmfrid 2005, p.1, discusses this etymology, elements of which are confirmed by Zoëga 1910, "hnefa"/"-tafl"/"hnefi".
7. Murray 1951, p.60, says "hnefi (meaning doubtful, but used of the king-piece)", while Helmfrid 2005, p.1, notes that hnefa is the genitive form of Icelandic hnefi (fist), but concedes "it is often translated as king."
"Hnefatafl" is of course Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, and the word is still recognizable to a modern Danish ear. Updated to modern Danish the word would become "Nævetavl".
Hnefatafl is composed of two words hnefa and tafl.
The Glossary of Modern Danish tells that the word "næve" is of Old Norse origin "hnefi" which means a clenched fist. Today "næve" is always used in terms connected with strength.
Icelandic is today the language most closely connected to Old Norse. In Icelandic the word for fist should still be "hnefi". The Icelandic grammar is also very unchanged since Old Norse. The Icelandic genitiv inflexional endings are
Genitiv singularis -s
Genitiv pluralis -a
I found an article about Old Norse grammar which also mentions the genitiv pluralis -a.
So the exact meaning of the word "hnefatafl" would seem to be "the board game of clenched fists". Of course war is not fought with clenched fists alone. The term could be a designation of the mental atmosphere? If an army of Vikings met on battle field with their fists clenched, they probably brought a lot more with them that their fists...
Many sources translate hnefa into the name for the king piece, which is thus supposed to be called "the fist", and so hnefatafl would by this roundabout translate into "King's table". But as said, hnefa is not singularis but pluralis. Could be that the name in real has not so much the tone of "the noble board game of the king" but more the tone of "the board game of a hell of a fight with clenched fists"...!
Tafl origins in the Latin word tabula (English: table). Old Danish has the word Tavl-Bord, Old Norse taflbord (literally table-table), which has the meanings
- game board for board games
- table for board games or dice games
- name for the game itself
The word is found in many old Danish folk songs, as in the line "Listen, you good young swain, play tavlebord with me!" Note the close similarity of the word tavlebord to the Welsh tafl game Tawl-bwrdd.
As for the starting letter h in hnefatafl, I can't say about the other Nordic languages, but Jutlandic Danish dialects do pronounce the h in the beginning of very many words, even if standard modern Danish does not. So the h was very probably pronounced by the Vikings.Roderich wrote:I sometimes wonder why the 'h' at the beginning ... are there nordic languages who do actually pronounce that consonant in any way?
Like Roderich, I also prefer the good old, original word Hnefatafl more than modern commercial adaptations like "nefatavl".