I am thoroughly confused about something for quite some time and hope that someone here can enlighten me.

There is the very famous literary opus "Ossian" edited by James Macpherson (JM), what is supposed to be a poetical work based on Gaelic traditions from the Scottish highlands, which were collected and translated or created by JM. The history of its reception and its influence on European literature and culture in general is epic. So I abstain from trying to summarise it here.

It was published in the early 18th century and since then there has been much debate on the role of JM in general and the authenticity of the material in special. Funny enough Macpherson could deliver Scottish Gaelic "originals" only after some time and even then it did not resolve the questions.

My basic question is about the very nature of the language of the Gaelic version of that Ossian ("The poems of Ossian. Dana Oisein mhic Fhiun", Edinburgh 1859, Maclachlan & Stewart). E.g. Is it authentic Gaelic (e.g. vs. made up gibberish)? Can it be narrowed to some regional/temporal variant (e.g. can something be said on the age of the language variant)? Is it exactly representing what Macpherson could produce in terms of language himself (i.e. was it possibly his own mother tongue, or is it possible that it eexceeds JM's Gaelic abilities) or is it recognisably some "retro-style" Scottish Gaelic (so that it is likely he wrote it in a way "mocking" old style), or does it contain clear signs of authentic language-archaisms?

(After finding that the literature SE does not have a Gaelic/Celtic/Irish Tag; It thought that might be a question fir this site, especially since it implies a linguistic characterisation of the Ossian corpus).

Any thoughts will be most gratefully acknowledged!

(Here is no Scottish-Gaelic tag, But since it is known that Middle-Gaelic and Middle Irish are very similar variants, possibly only accents, I am using the Irish tag)

  • 3
    I like the idea of using SE to solve old mysteries. :) Don't forget another possibility: he commissioned translations by scholars, leading to high-quality Gaelic but still fraudulent. That would be much harder to detect - you'd have to have a keen eye for style or large corpus to spot infrequent turns of phrase used only to match an English original. – Luke Sawczak Mar 31 '18 at 13:38

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