Hebban olla vogala

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Hebban olla vogala is the incipit of a well-known sentence in the old Dutch language, which has survived in a manuscript from Kent dating from around 1100 and was discovered in 1933. It apparently comes from a love poem and is often referred to as the oldest testimony in Dutch literature , although it was written earlier.

Endpage of the medieval manuscript MS Bodley 342 . The old Dutch text Hebban olla uogala ... is in the middle of the right half of the picture.


Hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic
enda thu uuat umbidan uue nu

It is a four-line transcript, consisting of a two-line verse in Old Dutch (lines 3 and 4) and a two-line verse in Latin (lines 2 and 1), which correspond in content.

According to the most recent comprehensive study by Kenny Louwen (2009), the text reads:

quid expectamus nunc
Abent omnes uolucres nidos inceptos nisi ego et tu
Hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic
enda thu uuat umbidan uue nu

The Latin sentence begins on line 2 with the word Abent and continues on line 1.

The letter u stands for v ( uogala = vogala , uolucres = volucres ), for u ( thu , tu ) and in the doubling for w ( uuat = wat ).

According to Louwen, the German translation is:

'Have all birds started nests, except you and me, what are we waiting for?' 

The previously authoritative transcription of the Corpus Gysseling (1980) gave the following reading:

quid expectamus nu (nc)
Abent omnes uolucres nidos inceptos nisi ego & tu
Hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnan hinase hi (c)
(e) nda thu uu (at) unbida (t) g (h) e nu

The characters that are in brackets in this version are difficult to read and some of them have been reconstructed differently. So could z. B. instead of hagunnan (“started”) also bigunnan or instead of enda (“and”) also anda (both without changing the meaning). However, Maurits Gysseling's reading unbidat ghe (“you wait”) in the last line was controversial from the start. According to Gysseling, the translation of the final question to be accepted was:

'What are you waiting for now?'

On the other hand, very many researchers preferred the reading, which deviated from Gysseling, unbidan uue or umbidan uue (“we wait”). Kenny Louwen finally rejects Gysseling's reading, since reading the first letter as g (instead of u ) is a mistake that is due to a line showing through from the back of the page. In addition, the question is also in the Latin parallel text:

What are we waiting now? (quid expecta mus nunc)

According to the reading practically unanimously represented today ( uue , not ghe in the last line), this meaning can also be read from the old Dutch text.

The old Dutch expert Hubert Slings from Löwen translates accordingly:

What are we waiting for? 


Usually the sentence is viewed as a verse from a love poem   ( marriage proposal or something similar). There are several hypotheses about the meaning and relationship of the Old Dutch text to the Latin lines.


Possibly the old Dutch verse comes from a secular minnesong that the writer knew from his homeland. Then the Old Dutch sentence would be primary and the Latin text would be a translation .


It is possible that the relationship between the different language texts is more complex and it is a multilingual language or word game in which the source and target language cannot be clearly identified:

  • Every Latin word corresponds to an old Dutch word: abent ( habent ) - hebban = "they have"; omnes - olla = "all"; uolucres - uogala = "birds" etc.
  • The emphasis on the words is the same: (h) ábent - hébban ; ómnes - ólla , uólucres - uógala etc.
  • There is a striking phonetic similarity between the Latin words and their Old Dutch counterparts. Several assonances (half rhymes) can be observed between the Latin and the associated Old Dutch word , i.e. H. both begin with the same or a similar sound.
  • The total number of stressed syllables is the same, and the total number of unstressed syllables is also almost the same.

Allusion to Bible passage

According to various interpreters, the text contains an allusion to a saying from the New Testament , namely Mt 8.20  EU par Lk 9.58  EU . In a modern translation the saying according to Mt 8:20 reads :

Then Jesus said to him: “The foxes have caves and the birds of the sky have nests. But the Son of Man has no where to put his head. "

This passage from the Bible was of great importance for the monastic calling and for living in the monastery . The meaning of the poem could therefore be that a candidate longs for his early acceptance into the monastic community. If the assumption is correct that the text alludes to this passage, the Latin form could also be original and the old Dutch verse could be a translation.

Female voice

Based on parallels from contemporary old Spanish Chardscha folk poetry, Peter Dronke and Frits van Oostrom have argued that the song verse can be assigned to a female voice. Contrary to what was sometimes rumored in press reports, this does not mean that the person who wrote the verse in the monastery office on the cover of the manuscript was a woman, but that the linguistic usage of the song quoted by the writer was assigned to a female role.


The old Dutch and Latin texts are preserved in this compilation on a medieval manuscript (MS Bodley 342), which is now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The text was discovered by the English Germanist Kenneth Sisam and first described in scientific journals in 1933.

The lines are on the flyleaf of this manuscript, so do not belong to its actual content. As it is expressly noted on the sheet, it is supposed to be a probatio pennae si bona sit , i.e. a pen test that a scribe left behind to test the quality of his pen .

In his investigation Gysseling differentiates between six different hands (scribes) that have left writing samples on the sheet and all of them come from the same period. According to Gysseling, most of the entries on the sheet come from the same hand that wrote down the vogala verse.


The exact time the short text was written is not known. Another hand noted the year 1066 in another writing sample on the same sheet of paper ( Anno millesimo sexageno quoque seno ). It is generally assumed, however, that the verse Hebban olla vogala was not written down until after 1087. According to palaeographic evidence, the manuscript was probably created in the first quarter of the 12th century or earlier.


The writing was probably made in Rochester Abbey in the English county of Kent . This abbey had intensive contacts with the nobility of the County of Flanders when the script was supposed to have originated . The manuscript containing this old Dutch sentence was in the possession of Rochester Abbey around 1100.


According to the traditional classification, the language of the Old Dutch sentence is Southwestern Old Dutch, so according to the prevailing opinion it comes from the west of the County of Flanders or the Flemish part of the County of Artois .

  • hebban (3rd person plural, "have") corresponds to Old English habbað , Old Frisian hebbath / habbath and Old Low German hebbiad / habbiad , but can be clearly distinguished from them
  • olla ("all") with o instead of a is typical for southwestern Dutch,
  • the plural ending in -s in nestas ("nests") is typical of southwestern Dutch,
  • hinase is a contraction of hit na si ("het en zij", modern: "tenzij" = "unless"); hit instead of het ("it", "that") is a West Flemish form,
  • hic instead of ic ("I") and abent instead of habent ( Latin "they have") shows that the writer did not know exactly where an h is written out as a mute and where not; with hic he mistakenly wrote an h , with abent he mistakenly omitted it; this uncertainty in the initial h sound is typical of south-west Dutch dialects.

Although there are older text witnesses to Old Dutch, namely the Wachtendonk Psalter (which, however, comes from an eastern peripheral area and has only been preserved in later adaptations) and the Leiden Willeram (which is based on an only inconsistently translated Old High German model), the feather test Hebban olla remains For many researchers, vogala is the earliest “real” representative of Old Dutch (or Old Lower Franconian).

The Belgian linguist Luc De Grauwe from the University of Ghent claimed in 2004 that the familiar phrase was not Old Dutch, but a local Old English dialect (from Kent). He triggered a lively discussion, but could not prevail with his maximum position. The debate, which was led in part with polemical statements to speak (for example, Van Oostrom asked the ironic question whether the song should be renamed “Hebban olla birds”), continued until recently. In the meantime, the mediating solution has been accepted by many representatives, according to which the text is likely to come from a Flemish writer (the written form is also clearly continental), but linguistically has the hybrid character of a mixed language typical of mobile segments of medieval society . In his 2009 essay pioneering this interpretation, Kenny Louwen comes to the conclusion that the most famous sentence in Dutch is bilingual and contains three Old English words ( nestas, hagunnan, hinase ), four language-neutral forms ( hic, thu, uue, nu ), the Can be both Old English and Old Dutch, and six distinctly Old Dutch words ( hebban, olla, vogala, enda, uuat, umbidan ).

In connection with this fragment, the Old Anglic studies also indicate that even five centuries after the linguistic separation there was still a very great similarity and, in some cases, interchangeability of Old English with the Lower Franconian / Old Dutch language belonging to the continental West Germanic . Likewise, the great importance of the many Flemish immigrants (soldiers, monks, merchants) who came to England during and after the conquest of the island by William the Conqueror (1066), i.e. precisely in the period when this writing was also made in Kent.


Web links

  • The well-known setting of the movement Hebban olla vogala by Frank Willaert, deposited on the website of Frits van Oostrom (accessed on March 6, 2016).
  • Kenny Louwen: Hebban olla vogala , blog posts by the author from January 2016 (summary of his research article published in German in 2009 in Dutch, illustrated with meaningful illustrations of the manuscript, accessed on March 6, 2016).

Sources and individual references

  1. a b See Hubert Slings ' commentary on the Central Dutch verse novella Karel ende Elegast (p. 49), quoted in: Claudia Daiber: Karel ende Elegast / Karl and Ellegast. A knight's story from the Dutch-Belgian and German culture and language areas. In: Ingrid Bennewitz and Andrea Schindler (ed.): Middle Ages in children's and young people's books. Files from the Bamberg Conference 2010 (= Bamberg Interdisciplinary Medieval Studies, Volume 5). University of Bamberg Press 2012, ISBN 978-3-86309-118-7 ; P. 379 for note 3.
  2. a b Kenny Louwen: On the reading and hybridity of the old Dutch pen test. In: Amsterdam Contributions to Older German Studies 65 (2009), pp. 61–86 (77).
  3. a b c Maurits Gysseling, Willy Pijnenburg (ed.): Corpus van Middelnederlandse teksten (tot en met het jaar 1300). Part II.1, The Hague / Leiden 1980, pp. 126-130.
  4. a b A. Quak and JM van der Horst: Inleiding Oudnederlands. Leuven 2002, ISBN 90-5867-207-7 .
  5. a b c Tamás Balogh: Review of: Frank Willaert and Veerle Fraeters (eds.), Louis Grijp (music): Hadewijch: Liederen. With a reconstructie van de melodieën by Louis Grijp (Groningen, 2009). In: Neerlandica extra Muros / Internationale Neerlandistiek , Vol. 48 (2010), pp. 74-76 (76).
  6. a b Kenny Louwen: On the reading and hybridity of the old Dutch pen test. In: Amsterdam Contributions to Older German Studies 65 (2009), pp. 61–86 (83).
  7. a b c d e f g Herman Vekeman and Andreas Ecke: History of the Dutch Language (= Lang's Germanist Textbook Collection, Volume 83). Peter Lang, Bern 1993, ISBN 3-906750-37-X ; Pp. 50-51.
  8. Cf. u. a. Frits van Oostrom: Stemmen op script. Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse literatuur vanaf het begin dead 1300. Bert Bakker, Amsterdam 2006.
  9. ^ M. Zeeman: Vrouw dated eerste Nederlands , in De Volkskrant of April 5, 2004.
  10. Art. Schutblad , in: GJ van Bork, D. Delabastita, H. van Gorp, PJ Verkruijsse, GJ Vis (arrangement): Algemeen letterkundig lexicon , The Hague 2012 (online publication of the DBNL).
  11. Art. Probatio pennae , in: GJ van Bork, D. Delabastita, H. van Gorp, PJ Verkruijsse, GJ Vis (arrangement): Algemeen letterkundig lexicon , The Hague 2012 (online publication of the DBNL).
  12. Kenny Louwen: Hebban olla vogala 2: het voorspel . Entry on the author's blog from January 25, 2016 (accessed April 4, 2016).
  13. Cf. various etymological encyclopedia entries, compiled on etymologiebank.nl ; accessed on January 31, 2017.
  14. ^ Ludwig Rübekeil: Early history and language history in the Netherlands. In: Elvira Glaser, Marja Clement (eds.): Dutch and German Studies in Contact: Jelle Stegeman for parting (= Amsterdam Contributions to Older German Studies, Volume 71). Rodopi, Amsterdam and New York 2014, pp. 53–98 ( here p. 54 f. In the Google book search).
  15. Luc de Grauwe: Zijn olla vogala Vlaams, of zit de Nederlandse filologie met een koekoeksei in (hair) nest (s)? In: Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde 120 (2004). Pp. 44-56.
  16. Frits van Oostrom regularly updated his standard work Stemmen opschrift , published in 2006, with short online additions ; the comment can be found in the entry dated February 22, 2008.
  17. See Ludo Beheydt: Review of: Voortgang. Jaarboek voor de Neerlandistiek XXVI (Münster, 2008). In: Neerlandica extra Muros / Internationale Neerlandistiek , Vol. 48 (2010), pp. 84–86 (85).
  18. ^ Kenny Louwen: On the reading and hybridity of the old Dutch pen test. In: Amsterdam Contributions to Older German Studies 65 (2009), pp. 61–86 (81).
  19. ^ Emil Chamson: Revisiting a millenium of migrations. Contextualizing Dutch / Low-German influence on English dialect lexis. In: Simone E. Pfenninger u. a. (Ed.): Contact, Variation, and Change in the History of English (Studies in Language Companion Series, Volume 159). John Benjamin Publishing Company, Amsterdam et al. Philadelphia 2014, pp. 281–304 (here: pp. 283–286 in the Google book search). Chamson quotes the soldier's rhyme handed down from the 12th century, with which "Wileken", nickname for a Flemish, is to be encouraged to go on a foray as a mercenary to England (p. 286; source: M. Parisiensis , Historia minor , I, 381 ): Hoppe, hoppe, Wileken, hoppe Wileken, Engelond is min ant tin ("Up, up, Wileken! Dance, Wileken! England is ours!").