Academic journal article The Romanic Review

The Monolingualism of the Parrot, or the Prosthesis of Origins, in Las Novas del Papagay

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

The Monolingualism of the Parrot, or the Prosthesis of Origins, in Las Novas del Papagay

Article excerpt

There seems to be a return to Romance philology in Anglophone scholarship. When the study of the medieval forms of modern foreign languages began in the United Kingdom about a century ago, the Romance languages taught at the University of Cambridge were French, Italian and Provencal; the same trio was honored in Oxford and London; at Manchester and other provincial universities, Provencal was less prominent than Anglo-Norman; but from about the 1970s, philological work in all these areas declined, and there was a turn in favor of literary, theoretical and cultural research. The Romanic Review has always been hospitable to medieval French and Provencal or, as I call it, Occitan studies, but its publications in these fields as far back as I can remember reflect this literary or cultural emphasis; indeed, it was the leading journal of this new disciplinary turn. (1) In recent years, under the influence of postcolonial and translation theory, Anglophone critics of medieval French and Occitan have increasingly become interested in what I would see as the core concern of Romance philology: not just the development of the individual Romance languages but the relations between them and the movement of texts in these in-between zones. Thus there is an altogether new interest in Franco-Italian, in "the French of England," and in the troubadour diaspora after the Albigensian Crusade. Renewed attention to the interactions between Anglo-Norman, French, Occitan, and Italian--medieval languages that were traditionally strong in the Anglophone academy--has also stimulated interest in Catalan as a conduit of mobility around the northern Mediterranean. (2)

My own recent work on the reception of troubadour poetry reflects this Romance philological turn and, in a discussion directed largely to the past of the Romanic Review, I offer this essay as an indication of the kind of submissions it may receive in the future. In northern France and in Germany, troubadour song was imitated and assimilated by poets in their own languages, giving rise to important native traditions. But in what are now Spain and Italy, where many of the troubadours resettled after the Albigensian disaster, rather than this "nightingales' way" of lyric re-creation, poets often composed in Occitan rather than in their own languages. And in Spain, Italy, and the Occitan homeland in between, there also developed a second form of reception in which excerpts of troubadour songs were repeated verbatim in works of an overwhelmingly scholastic or quasi-academic character--grammatical treatises, poetic biographies, and various forms of didactic text. The majority of these works are composed in the same Occitan literary koine as the troubadours they quote, but most originate outside Occitania, are by authors whose first language was Catalan and / or Italian, and were composed for readers or audiences who were not native Occitans either, but Catalan or Italian. Working on this tradition of quotation, I find myself for the first time in my life grappling with medieval Italian and Catalan, at least in their interface with Occitan. I have become a Romance philologist.

Two hilarious Occitan short stories featuring a parrot as protagonist can be read as drawing attention to the issues raised by the "parroting" on which this northern Mediterranean practice of quotation relies. Las Novas del papagay or "Tale of the Parrot" and Frayre de Joy et Sor de Plazer, "Brother of Joy and Sister of Pleasure," both present a maie protagonist largely overshadowed by a parrot who serves as his factotum, especially in situations requiring diplomacy and courtship. (3) By turns subordinate and managerial, merely repetitive and wildly imaginative, these parrots provide the main lines of communication in both stories, and are the essential vehicles without which their plots could not advance. Putting a parrot--as opposed to, say, a nightingale--in the driving seat is both comic and unsettling. …

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