Charles F. Briggs

title.none: Goyens and Verbeke, eds., Written Vernacular (Charles F. Briggs)

identifier.other: baj9928.0511.003 05.11.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Charles F. Briggs, Georgia Southern University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Goyens, Michele, and Werner Verbeke, eds. The Dawn of the Written Vernacular in Western Europe. Series: Mediaevalia Lovaniensia, vol. 33. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2003. Pp. xiv, 484. ISBN: $80.00 90-5867-286-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.11.03

Goyens, Michele, and Werner Verbeke, eds. The Dawn of the Written Vernacular in Western Europe. Series: Mediaevalia Lovaniensia, vol. 33. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2003. Pp. xiv, 484. ISBN: $80.00 90-5867-286-7.

Reviewed by:

Charles F. Briggs
Georgia Southern University

This volume contains the fruits of a colloquium convened at Louvain in 2000, whose objective was to juxtapose and compare the processes of vernacular language use and standardization in the diverse language regions of Europe. Its twenty-five essays are grouped into five sections, devoted to: 1) Latin as a standard and its relation to the vernacular; 2) the dawn of the vernacular languages; 3) variation and standardization in the area where Romance languages were spoken; 4) the linguistic situation in the British Isles; and 5) variation and standardization in the Germanic language area. It concludes with brief closing statements by Peter Stotz, Serge Lusignan, and Luc De Grauwe on the colloquium's contributions toward an understanding of the status of Latin vis-à-vis the vernacular, and the development of written Romance and Germanic languages. The aims of the colloquium and the resulting collection of published essays are, needless to say, extremely ambitious, given the vastness of the enterprise, as well as the overwhelming diversity and complexity of a subject encompassing so many languages, writing centers and practices, and time periods. Still, it must be said that this volume does an admirable job, and will serve as a useful jumping-off point for future efforts at comprehensive and more focused treatments of the development of the written vernacular in medieval and early Renaissance Europe. What follows is a survey of some of the main points made by the essays in each of the five parts.

Part one begins with Marc Van Uytfanghe's "Le latin et les langues vernaculaires au Moyen Age: un aperçu panoramique." This excellent overview of the development of Latin from the time of the Roman Republic, and its relationship to the vernacular languages during late Antiquity and the Middle Ages should be required reading for anyone trying to come to grips with or indeed teach the history of Latin and Latinity. Indeed, Van Uytfanghe touches upon many of the themes that run throughout the volume, in his characterization of the Latin of the Middle Ages as ever-evolving, highly flexible and varied, open to neologisms, and occupying many registers, from the most learned to highly vulgarized forms, and yet still playing the role of a stabilizing and normative force on the developing written vernaculars, while in turn being influenced by them. In "Normgebundenheit, Normen-Entfaltung und Spontaneität im mittelalterlichen Latein," Peter Stotz makes a convincing case for the interplay of an ongoing consciousness of norms, both classical and biblical/liturgical, in Medieval Latin, and the willingness of Latin language users to incorporate novelties from the vernaculars and other learned languages. The topic of norms is taken up as well by Pierre Swiggers in "Continuités et discontinuités, tension et synergie: Les rapports du latin et des langues vernaculaires, reflétés dans la modélisation grammaticographique." The image of Latin as a "fixed" language, as contrasted with that of the vernacular as "déreglée" created a need to codify and normalize vernacular languages. But Latin did not provide the only model of grammatical norms, as these came also from other vernaculars--e.g. the first grammatical description of French was written in England. This consciousness of shared grammatical norms not only stimulated dreams of a universal grammar, like those of Roger Bacon and Ramon Llull, but also brought about "une sorte de crise d'émancipation," whereby the divide separating Latin and the vulgar tongues was put in question and the respective roles of "langue savante" and the vernaculars was redistributed. Of course Latin was also a willing recipient of vulgar interference, as nicely demonstrated by David Vitali in his study of Latin charters from western Switzerland. Vitali rejects the image of the badly educated scribe responsible for mistakenly inserting vernacular forms in Latin documents, and rather, and surely rightly, argues that this vernacular interference resulted from the charter's "nécessité de désigner," and provide a "garantie juridique." Moroever, in the case of these particular documents, one can also observe some phonetic and morphological intrusion, given the closeness of the scribes' native Franco-Provençal to Latin. Official documents and the centers responsible for generating them are also the matter discussed in the essays of Serge Lusignan and Godfried Croenen. Lusignan compares the language choice of documents produced by the French royal Chancellerie and Parlement in the fourteenth century with the contemporary practices of the king's local authorities, and those of the Prévôté of Paris. He concludes that while the central offices of royal government were slow to adopt the vernacular and did so largely owing to their desire to spread the use of the droit coutumier southwards into the pays de droit écrit. Local administrators, for their part, used whatever language was spoken in their districts, be that langue d'oïl or langue d'oc, while all documents produced by the Paris Prévôté were in northern French. A mixed language environment, in this case of Latin, French, and Dutch, is also the subject of Croenen's study of charters from thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Brabant. Just as linguistic conservatism was a feature of the French royal chancery, so too was it in the chancery of the dukes of Brabant, though in the latter case, the headway made by the vernacular was that of Dutch at the expense of French, whereas the use of Latin continued unabated. And yet while a look at all surviving charters from all centers shows a decline in the proportion of documents in Latin, from one hundred percent in the early 1200s down to roughly sixty percent by the end of the fourteenth century, this does not signal a decline in the use of this language, but rather a dramatic increase in the number of rural chanceries, whose scribes worked almost entirely in Dutch.

Language change, whether convergence or fragmentation, in the developing written vernaculars is the subject of the second part. Willy Van Hoecke delves back into the early Middle Ages, to examine the role of "structures décentralisatrices" on the fragmentation of early Romance dialects, prior to the time when the written vernacular began to have a converging effect. For Van Hoecke, parish priests were the principal agents in creating some sort of uniformity in the spoken language at the regional level, in that their education in the cathedral school not only made them conscious of language norms in Latin, but also exposed them to the local patois of their fellow clerks, forcing them to establish basic dialectal norms in their speech. Scribal training played a role in the orthography of the earliest vernacular texts in Castile, says Roger Wright, who uses a "sociophilological" approach in examining Romance spellings in documents produced by the royal chancery in the years 1206-08. Wright's skepticism regarding just how much one can glean from orthography when trying to reconstruct the spoken vernacular is not shared by Pieter Van Reenen and Maaike Mulder, who argue that, with the aid of computers, one can now sort through the spelling variations in documents written in the vernacular, in order to determine sound differences and even different kinds of sound change in speech. Marijke van der Wal argues that one of the chief forces at work in language convergence in Dutch was respect for Latin. Yet, she says, the real movement from diversity to standardization did not take place until after the medieval period in the Netherlands, since only then did the first Dutch grammars appear.

Six of the eight essays in the next part concern the development of spoken and written French. One thing on which the first three contributors agree: early written French follows its own rules, rather than trying accurately to reproduce speech. According to Jakob Wüest, in some regions, scriptae (written dialects) deviated considerably from spoken ones, while in others the scripta and the spoken dialect were fairly close to one another. The reason for this, he says, is the relative prestige of spoken dialects, since these scribes, in trying to create something approaching a standard written language, produced "une sorte de langue vulgaire idéalisée," which owed more to the forms of prestige dialects than those held in lower esteem. Liselotte Biedermann-Pasques's research on French manuscripts of the ninth through fifteenth centuries confirms that there is indeed, what she calls "une grammaire de l'écrit." Yet the rules governing this grammar seem to come from within writing itself, creating an oscillation between an adherence to graphic traditions and a willingness to take on innovations from the vernacular system. While Lydia Stanovaï:a agrees that the scriptae obey their own rules, she takes the bold step of arguing for a high degree of standardization in Old French scriptae, owing to the prestige and importance of the chief monastic writing center in the Ile-de-France, Saint-Denis. For her, to write in Old French, initially meant to write in francien, which in turn meant to write according to the usage of Saint-Denis. Once other monastic centers began to produce their own scripta, they began to introduce their own regionalisms into the primordial base of the Saint-Denis scripta. This move toward regional scriptae was greatly accelerated by the increased participation of lay scribes, who were more influenced by habits of speech, over the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Thus diversity became the rule in the later Middle Ages, only to be reversed by the standardization imposed by grammarians and the printing press. Developments in written Middle French are treated in the next three essays. It is the shift from Old French to Middle French that occupies Amalia Rodríguez Somolinos, who compares word order and the use of the subject in the works of Villehardouin and Froissart, in order to determine to what extent usage in spoken French preceded usage in its written form. Her focus on prose narrative is nicely complemented by Rika Van Deyck's examination of new prosodies in the poetry of François Villon. The question of Latin to French translation, and its role in the development of written French prose, is broached by Claude Buridant, who has produced a "grille d'analyse" for determining the lexis and translation method of Jean de Vignay and comparing these to the practices of other translators. Particularly interesting here is the observation of the re-latinization of French lexis brought on by the translation of learned Latin works.

The final two essays in this part deal in turn with standardization in written Italian (Serge Vanvolsem) and Spanish (María Teresa Echenique Elizondo). According to Vanvolsem, standardization in written Italian began with its three great fourteenth-century authors, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, whose prestige as writers passed very quickly to their linguistic code. But the real standardization had to await the second half of the fifteenth century, when humanists, long wedded to Latin, began to apply Latinate standards to the vernacular. When they did so, they turned to the model provided by the three fourteenth-century authors. This "choix éminemment humaniste et élitaire," for several centuries excluded "presque un peuple entier de la possession de sa propre langue de culture." Standardization of the written vernacular happened even earlier in Castile, says Echenique Elizondo, thanks to the conscious efforts of Alfonso X. Like the Italian humanists of the fifteenth century, he tried to create order from a chaotic mix of dialects and languages. In the Spanish case, however, this was done by blending both western and eastern Romance elements, some elements of Basque syntax, and lexical borrowings from Arabic and Latin. The result: "une koinè magnifique."

Part four, on the British Isles, contains only two contributions. In the first Doris Edel, seeks to answer two questions: 1) How could Old Irish make such an early appearance (seventh century) as a fairly standardized written medium of learned and literary expression; and 2) why did the Church in Ireland begin using the vernacular from the 800s onwards? In answer to the first question, Edel proposes that the Irish secular "hereditary class of learning," the filid, faced with the imported, and ecclesiastical, written culture of Latin, adopted writing in their own learned speech code "in order to participate on an equal footing in learned dialogue and discussion." As for why ecclesiastics took up the use of written Old Irish, this can be explained by the fact that the great monasteries had become as much a part of the political scene as the secular kingdoms, and were very much a part of Ireland's Adelskultur. Tony Hunt's discussion of Anglo-Norman argues against the common misconception that Anglo-Norman was a true spoken vernacular, assigning it instead the status of a contact language or "interlect." He also believes that the study of Anglo-Norman should be sociolinguistic, rather than philological, in order to take into account a linguistic environment characterized by constant code-switching between English, Anglo-Norman, and Latin. Given this, it comes as no surprise that Anglo-Norman never became standardized.

In the final part, Jacques Van Keymeulen shows how, probably owing to cultural and/or political influence, western forms came to dominate written Middle Dutch, even in eastern parts of the Netherlands. An interesting counterpart to this is found in Robert Peters's examination of variation and convergence in written Middle Low German. While Peters acknowledges the role that politics and trade (especially associated with the Hanse) must have played, he also believes there are purely linguistic reasons for the phenomenon of greater convergence in the Schreibsprach of Middle Low German during the latter part of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. These linguistic factors were in large measure responsible for the eventual reintroduction of variation in the writing of Middle Low Dutch in the southern part of the language area in the later fifteenth century, and its eventual replacement there by High German in the sixteenth century. While no one doubts the reality of different Germanic dialects and languages on the continent in the Middle Ages, Luc De Grauwe offers a compelling case for there having been no clear distinction in people's minds between Dutch and German, at least up until the time of the emperor Charles V. Certainly they were aware of different local and regional ways of speaking, but to them these were simply "ander Deutsch." Be this as it may, scholars can point to a definite "classical" form of Middle High German in the literature of the thirteenth century. Yet, says Kurt Gärtner, thanks to the survival of eleven manuscripts of Williram von Ebersberg's MHG commentary on the Song of Songs, dating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and from all the major dialectal regions of the MHG language area, it becomes quite clear that each scribal center practiced its own local scripta. The Williram manuscripts not only bear witness to the close association between orthography and the spoken language in these early MHG scriptae, but also to the high degree of variant forms employed by individual scribes. All this was to change in the last years of the twelfth century, with the adoption of "einer varientenarmen, aber dafür ökonomischeren Praxis." The last essay in the volume, by Dirk Huth, focuses on the Old Icelandic First Grammatical Treatise. The early date of this treatise (ca. 1150), not only attests to how quickly after the arrival of Christianity a written vernacular literature came into being in Iceland, but also to the FGT's author's awareness of the phonetic poverty of this alphabet, when it came to rendering the sounds of Old Icelandic, and his inventiveness in devising characters to express them.