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

27th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies, Fordham University
Friday, March 30 - Sunday, April 1, 2007
At the Lincoln Center Campus of Fordham University

An Illustrious Vernacular: The Psalter en Romanz in Twelfth-Century England
Geoff Rector, Univerity of Ottawa

This paper explores the rich cultural phenomenon of the romanz translation and adaptation of the Psalter in twelfth-century England, the first coherent literary movement in romanz prior to the emergence of romance as a narrative genre.  Our purpose will be to consider the status of the vernacular – social, cultural, practical, rhetorical– in the crucial period of this literary culture’s first formation.  As we will see, the tradition of the Psautier en romanz shows that the romanz vernacular was conceived and practised in England, as Dante imagined hisown langue de sí, as “an illustrious, cardinal, royal and courtly vernacular,” capable of bearing the highest attributes, practices and sociabilities of literature.  We can see, moreover, how the “illustrious vernacular” of the romanz Psalter is constituted in relation to both Latin and other competing vernaculars.  Here romanz is neither a handmaiden to nor epiphenomenon of Latin, but a self-sufficient literary “thing-in-itself” that acquires it status in being the standard “by which all the municipal vernaculars … are measured and weighed and compared.”   The status and function of the vernacular in this literary context speaks directly to its operation in the second half of the century in romance narrative, with which the romanz Psalter had a long-standing and surprisingly direct literary relationship throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

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