If you would like some linguistic knowledge of Old French, you can take the Ancillary Module in the subject, in the same way as you can for Old English and Old Norse. This assumes some knowledge of modern French, ideally at least a GCSE or equivalent, but you may have other or different linguistic experience that would make it possible for you to take the module profitably: if in any doubt come and discuss.
The vast numbers of texts extant in French, especially the great chansons de geste and the Arthurian and other romances, form an important part of the modern canon of medieval literature. French's long career as a prestige vernacular makes it a strong presence in most European medieval literary cultures (notably in Old Norse, Medieval High German, Medieval Italian, for example). Old French is of special importance to study of medieval England because of its career from the early twelfth to the fifteenth centuries as a major vernacular in insular culture for both literary and documentary texts. Anglo-French relations between England and the Continent have long been given scholarly attention in every social, cultural, and political field: the French used in England itself has only more recently become better acknowledged, and presents an important new area for students of medieval England.
Old French has various dialects, but there is less difference between texts from different regions than in e.g. Middle English. This module uses a textbook offering standardized linguistic information and paradigms, but working with and specifically commenting on texts in both continental and English French. It is designed to equip students generally in Old French and also to serve as preparation for those wishing to take the Spring MA course, 'The French of England: Texts and Territories'.
- Students will gain a reading knowledge of Old French sufficient to enable them (a) to appreciate the original text of major literary works for which translations as well as editions are available, and (b) to enable them to estimate the significance of untranslated or unpublished documents and texts when they encounter these in their study and research.
- Students intending to take an MA Module in The French of England will acquire a linguistic grounding preparatory to their more intensive literary study of this field. (The MA Module will be taught using whole texts in translation, but will include opportunities for close work on selected passages in the original).
Autumn Term: we use a grammar offering a short section of text each week together with paradigms and phonology. This will be supplemented by exercises and quizzes. The aim is familiarity with the basic grammatical paradigms and enough experience in their use for people to be able to read some O.Fr on their own by the end of the first term.
Spring Term: we continue, through text extracts and through grammatical study and exercises, to add more detail to the paradigms and phonology of Old French. In addition, we will give some attention to dialect variation and some to chronological change in Old to Middle French, by working through and analyzing text extracts from different regions and periods. (If possible I would also like to include some sessions on prosody and palaeography, but this is a pioneer Old French ancillary course: we don't have many weeks, and much will depend on the pace at which it proves possible to accomplish the linguistic work).
Textbooks for Purchase
Preliminary Reading (Please read at least one from the following list)
- For Autumn and Spring classes: W. W. Kibler, An Introduction to Old French (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1984).
- For Spring: continue with Kibler and supplement with Wendy Ayres-Bennett, A History of the French Language Through Texts (London and New York: Routledge, 1996).
- Fenster, Thelma, "French Language" in An Encyclopaedia of Medieval France, ed. W. W. Kibler (New York: Garland, 1995), pp. 370-74 (for a concise overview and history).
- R. Anthony Lodge, French: From Dialect to Standard (London and New York: Routledge, 1993). A sociolinguistic account: the most useful for present purposes.
- Peter Rickard, A History of the French Language (Routledge: London and New York, 1974, 2nd ed 1989, rpr. 1996). A clear and concise straight 'language' history.
- If you have access to it, see the excellent account (inclusive, for once, of appropriate attention to the French of England) by Serge Lusignan, 'Langue française et société du XIIIe au Xve siècle', in Nouvelle histoire de la langue française, ed. Jacques Chaurand (Paris: Seuil, 1999), pp. 93-143.