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Riht in earlier Anglo-Saxon legislation: a semasiological approach

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Abstract

The earlier Anglo-Saxon laws offer the rare opportunity of semasiological insight into the word riht which was common to most Germanic languages and is still in use today in all of them. However, German Recht and English ‘right’ had a different semantic history. While the German word still has both an objective and a subjective meaning, ‘right’ kept only the subjective meaning of ‘personal right to something’. The semasiological study of seventh century legislation shows that the Old English word riht did originally have a wider meaning than ‘right’. It meant also customary norm, judgment, claim, fulfilment of the legal claim, legal duty, right to, privilege, sentence, process.

These findings have allowed the author to question both the assumption of German research about the mere subjective meaning of this word in the early middle ages and the interpretation of its semantic development according to a Latin model.

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