The story begins in Alexandria, Egypt. The Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of
Alexandria has a library preserving a great number of valuable books and
manuscripts. In describing and conserving the manuscripts, the Patriarchate
has received significant help from the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence, ‘Ancient and Medieval Greek Documents, Archives and Libraries’,
led by Jaakko Frösén (cf. Frösén & Hakkarainen 2005). At the end of 2003,
the Finnish historian and philologist Mika Hakkarainen, studying the mainly
Greek manuscripts of the library, came across a relatively new evangeliary,
perhaps from the end of the 18 th century, with the call number Bibl. Patr.
Alex. 268. The manuscript contained parallel Greek and Slavonic columns,
both written in Greek letters.
Not being a Slavist himself, Hakkarainen contacted me, asking whether the manuscript might be of interest, and sent me digital photos on a compact disc.
Some years earlier, Hakkarainen and I had participated in an interdiscip linary research project on the Balkans , wh ich is why it was natural for h im
first to contact me. Later the cooperation between Slavists and Classical scholars proved several times to be indispensable for the study of this manuscript, as we will see.
At the Department of Slavonic and Baltic Languages and Literatures, we
recognised the Slavonic text of Manuscript 268 to be in a Macedonian dialect. Nina Graves, writing her doctoral dissertation on Macedonian grammar, was the first to identify the text as representing a type of Lower Vardar dialect and therefore coming from what is now Northern Greece.
The text seemed very interesting in its linguistic details, and its orthographic solutions were admirably suited for writing Slavonic. We knew that some vernacular Macedonian Gospel texts written in Greek letters had existed in the 19 th century,
but it was not immediately clear whether Manuscript 268 contained a text that was already well-known in scholarship or whether it was a new discovery. Of course, at this stage every philologist hopes to have found something previously unknown. The libraries of Finland are poor in Slavonic manuscripts – especially in South Slavonic manuscripts! – which is why their study does not have a strong tradition among the Finnish Slavists; it was thus not entirely obvious to us what to do next...
... Finally we arrived at a
formulation that we later also used on the Konikovo home page: ‘What
makes the manuscript unique is its bilinguality, and the fact that both the
Greek and the Slavonic texts represent the vernacular, not the church language. The Slavonic part is the oldest known text of greater scope that directly reflects the living dialects of Southern Macedonia. It is also the oldest known Gospel translation in Modern Macedonian.
’ The expression ‘oldest Modern’ might seem to be rather vague, if not outright circular, because ... what counts as the ‘ Modern ’ stage of a given language is only a scholarly convention. But fortunately there had been a clear break in Bible translations into Macedonian: Cyril and Methodius used the living Slavonic dialect of the Thessaloniki region in their translations in the 9 th century; thereafter came a hiatus of almost a millennium during which the Bible texts did not directly reflect the spoken language of the region; and then came our manuscript. Whenever the ‘Modern’ period of the Macedonian language began, it certainly was some time in that millennium. And the attempts to write the Macedonian vernacular in the Modern period had been based on more northern dialects, which is obviously why the discovery was so significant for the study of the endangered dialects of Southern (Aegean) Macedonia
.... The central question was actually the use of the word ‘Macedonian’ to
define the Slavonic language in the manuscript. Most of my Bulgarian colleagues probably say that the manuscript contains a Bulgarian text and that it is somewhat marginal for the history of the Bulgarian language
. This is a more complicated question that I will address later in this essay: did we define the manuscript as Macedonian only to enhance its apparent significance?
Weiter gehts hier, in der offiziellen Ausgabe der Universität von Helsinki