Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

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Christopher Baswell

  The French of England:
Multilingualism in Practice, c. 1100-c. 1500

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Authentication: Pentimento Languages

Christopher Baswell, University of California at Los Angeles

The first quarter of the fourteenth century, and the years just after, can be seen as a moment of balance in the prominence and innovations of Anglo-French and Middle English.  New French texts continued to be composed and fresh manuscripts of earlier French texts copied; on the other hand, Middle English texts from the thirteenth century were inherited from a number of provincial centers, and a great deal of new writing took place in Middle English across a range of genres.  This activity in Middle English is famously embodied in the early-fourteenth century Auchinleck Manuscript, almost entirely written in English. 

In this setting of balance in a longer history of transformation, I want to explore what I am calling “authenticating language” in two texts and manuscripts of the period: the English Kyng Alisaunder in Auchinleck, and the roughly contemporary French text of the “Holkham Bible Picture Book” (London, B.L. MS Addit. 47682).  In each of these, the alternate vernacular emerges at fascinating key points and offers, I will claim, a form of linguistic authentication.  English emerges within a French setting, or French within English, as it were from below, in the manner of pentimento in certain Old Master paintings.  An alternate and (I will suggest) momentarily powerful linguistic rupture thus occurs, displaying an alternate or earlier language system, and creating a flash point of contact that helps validate the occasion of its occurrence. 


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