Mixing Languages on the Manor

By Ingham, Richard | Medium Aevum, Spring-Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Mixing Languages on the Manor


Ingham, Richard, Medium Aevum


Multilingualism in medieval England

Medieval multilingualism in England has become a significant subject of study in recent years. (1) Much more is now known about the linguistic multi-competence displayed by language users in England, depending on textual type and function, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries especially. Although a belief in the adversarial nature of language choices--with French a language identified with Norman masters and English identified with the oppressed classes--has long been a staple of English language history, (2) it is becoming clear that the relationship between French and English in the later medieval period was more a matter of complementarity. The two languages represented, not differing communities with opposed interests, but choices available to those who possessed bilingual competence. Educated Englishmen, at least, seem to have been comfortable in the use of either vernacular, selected in terms of the language function required. The sharp growth in the use of French for administrative and commercial purposes in the fourteenth century, at the expense of Latin, would have been pointless unless there were substantial numbers of people who found it practical to have such documents drawn up in French, even though they were by now--centuries after the Conquest --unquestionably native speakers of English.

Although it has long been customary to downplay the existence of French as a spoken language in later medieval England, and to restrict it to a written code, members of the literate classes experienced years of practice using French as a spoken medium of instruction at grammar school. (3) The status of French as a vehicle for the teaching of Latin is amply documented by surviving pedagogic material in which Latin grammar and vocabulary is explained through French. (4) This can surely have worked as a successful teaching strategy only if French was well enough known to learners to have functioned as a spoken medium in the classroom. Thus substantial numbers of school leavers would have been produced in each generation whose knowledge of spoken French typically came from non-aristocratic social backgrounds. Their social roles in adulthood would have been those where literacy was required, including those involved in administration and commerce, such as tax collectors, bailiffs, scriveners, and accountants, (5) as well as teachers, lawyers, and the clergy. Documentary material survives in abundance from the later thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries to show that these professionals, as a group, functioned in French to an extent bearing comparison with Latin, producing a very large number of administrative records in French.

Granted that multilingualism was a fact of life in later medieval England, a key question is whether it took the form of 'code digiossia', (6) whereby Latin and French were essentially written codes, with English as the spoken medium of communication. If insular French was entering a phase of terminal decline in the later thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries, (7) little if any use of French as a functional spoken language would be expected, since in virtually all linguistic encounters the individuals talking to each other would have been native speakers of English, and would presumably have been able to use it to communicate. On the other hand, French as used in England in the later medieval period (8) is often written at a level of grammatical competence and fluency which belies the older image of decline and collapse, (9) so it may have retained a substantial spoken presence alongside its use in written documents. Given the pervasive orality of language in the medieval period, (10) this degree of written proficiency may have gone hand in hand with some considerable ability to make spoken use of the language.

The thesis of oral bilingualism in medieval England, once championed by Legge, (11) has been much criticized by many subsequent authors, who generally omit to note, however, that it actually comprises two distinct claims. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Mixing Languages on the Manor
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.