Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Richard Rolle's Psalter Rendition: The Work of a Language Purist?

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Richard Rolle's Psalter Rendition: The Work of a Language Purist?

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The paper sets out to investigate one of the assertions pertaining to Richard Rolle's Psalter translation, and more precisely to its linguistic layer, phrased by Partridge (1973: 21) in the following manner:

"Rolle adhered with fidelity to the Latin original, using the simplest and most proper English wherever possible, except when his native language failed him, and he was compelled to latinize"

The excerpt quoted above leads the reader to deduce that Rolle's rendition would employ almost exclusively vocabulary of native origin, except for instances where no proper item with native etymology presents itself in a particular context and Rolle is forced to use a Latin-derived word. Such an interpretation, however, would amount to ascribing Richard Rolle the ideas nowadays covered by the term linguistic purism, albeit of a mild form. (1) There are a number of issues inevitably entailed in this assumption. Firstly, Rolle would need to have a 'linguistic' knowledge extensive enough to enable him to differentiate between lexical items on the basis of their etymology. Secondly, it would take an extremely disciplined and individualistic translator, if one takes into account also other (nearly) contemporaneous Psalter renditions, allegedly replete with loanwords, to incorporate such an endeavour into the task of Bible translation, especially if Rolle's primary focus was providing as close a rendition of the original as possible (Bramley 1884: 3-5). Thirdly, he would need to be exceptional or even isolated in his linguistic views since the Middle English period was a time when not only the term linguistic purism, an 18th-century French coinage (McArthur 1992: 827), would sound foreign. It seems that its denotatum itself would not be understood, let alone met with acceptance in the contemporary society of the time (cf. Section 3). In fact, such an attitude to language would be first observed in England only in the 16th century, i.e., two centuries after Rolle completed his rendition (McArthur 1992: 827).

Interestingly, Partridge (1973: 21) presents no evidence to corroborate his claim and since the assertion itself--old as it is--has never been either confirmed or openly rejected, I undertook to address this issue. Admittedly, Rolle's linguistic convictions would be impossible to gauge in a straightforward manner, which is why one needs to establish a point of reference from which to measure Rolle's alleged linguistic purism and more accurately his faithfulness to the vocabulary of native provenance. Therefore, I decided to analyse the text while juxtaposing it with the remaining 14th-century prose Psalter renditions in relation to which Rolle's translation would be identified, if Partridge's (1973: 21) claim were correct, as most exceptional. The translations in question are the Wycliffite Bibles and the Middle English Glossed Prose Psalter, of which the former are asserted to be overtly influenced by the Latin text they render (Condit 1882: 64-73, Delisle and Woodsworth 1995: 32, Norton 2000: 7, Daniell 2003: 76-80) and the latter is considered to be deeply indebted both syntactically and, more importantly, lexically to a 'French source' (Reuter 1938).

As a result, the paper aims to analyse the lexical layer of the text in search of the evidence, or lack thereof, which sets Rolle's translation lexically apart from the other renditions. Such a study is to be conducted on the basis of the nominal layer of the first fifty Psalms of the four relevant texts, scrutinised in relation to their common Latin source text, as only the juxtaposition of all of these enables one to (dis)prove the claim cited above.

The structure of the paper is the following. Succinct information regarding each of the texts employed in the research is presented in Section 2. This is followed by an overview of the contemporary theory of translation set against a broadly sketched linguistic map of contemporary England (Section 3), as these are indispensable if one aims at providing a wider context from which to view the data. …

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