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

Old French of England
Michelle R. Warren, Dartmouth College

Much existing research on the history of French in England
rests on the broad notion of "decline," a sense of dwindling linguistic, sociological, pedagogical, political, and literary importance. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, however, sustained at least one form of continuity: reading and translating of Old French. While continental writers were "updating" Old French texts for greater linguistic and cultural familiarity, some of these same texts continued to be read in the older forms on the island.

This paper investigates the implications of Old French reading in late medieval England for our understanding of book production, literary theory, linguistic competence, and social identity. I focus on the "Matter of England" as written (mainly on the continent) in Old French in the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries and read in the fourteenth and fifteenth. The Arthurian prose romances (c. 1210-40) in particular enjoyed a vigorous reception that includes a surprisingly broad spectrum of readers, from women to minor merchants to mid-level knights to kings.

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