The Medieval Review 11.01.03

Ingham, Richard. The Anglo-Norman Language and its Contexts. Rochester: York Medieval press, 2010. Pp. ix, 186. 95.00 ISBN 9781903153307. .

Reviewed by:

Maureen Boulton
Notre Dame

Anglo-Norman has long been an orphan of medieval scholarship. Standard accounts of the English language routinely minimized the influence of French, asserting that the language largely fell out of use after the early thirteenth-century. Scholars of medieval French, on the other hand, have dismissed Anglo-Norman (or the French of England) as a debased form of the language. More recent scholarship, however, is redressing this neglect. This volume of essays, as Richard Ingham makes clear in his introduction, re-examines both of these common assumptions and draws rather different conclusions. The twelve essays fall into two large categories: one set uses the tools and methodologies of linguistic theory to examine Anglo-Norman theoretically, while the other investigates its use in a variety of mainly non-literary contexts, including estate management, bridge tolls, textiles, the legal and military professions, and commerce. Central to the authors' concerns is the establishment of the extent and range of the use of French in England, particularly after the mid- thirteenth century.

In "Later Anglo-Norman as a Contact Variety of French?," Ingham opens the investigation by examining how late Anglo-Norman deviated from French. In contrast to the usual interpretation of these deviations (as evidence that it was imperfectly learned as a second language), he uses recent studies of languages in contact to show that these features of Anglo-Norman are typical of those that occur when the languages of bilingual speakers are in contact. In a second contribution at the end of the volume ("The Transmission of Later Anglo-Norman: Some Syntactic Evidence"), Ingham offers a practical application of this theory. A survey of the errors of noun gender in the Parliamentary Roll of Medieval England reveal a marked increase in such errors in the later fourteenth century. Ingham attributes this increase to a change in the status of French in this period, when (he argues) most clerks were no longer bilingual and their French was influenced by English. Eric Haeberli's chapter ("Investigating Anglo- Norman Influence on Late Middle English Syntax") examines the opposite side of the question of languages in contact. Although his study is limited to a single syntactical feature (subject-verb inversion) and the influence cannot be definitively proved, the results are suggestive. The article by Anthony Lodge ("The Sources of Standardisation in French--Written or Spoken") looks at the increasing prestige of Parisian French in the thirteenth century, which led both its imposition as a standard and to the denigration of Anglo-Norman (along with other dialects) as provincial. Jean-Pascal Pouzet beings his chapter ("Mapping Insular French Texts? Ideas for Localisation and Correlated Dialectology in Manuscript Materials of Medieval England") by citing Chaucer's reference to the "Frenssh... of Stratford atte Bowe," proposes that the phrase was meant not to distinguish it from Parisian French (as is usually assumed) but rather from other varieties of Insular French. In the body of his contribution, Pouzet describes a long-term project for dating and localizing the French used in different regions of medieval England. Since this project is in its initial stages, his article deals principally with the obstacles to be overcome and the prospects for fruitfully correlating Insular French and Middle English material.

The remaining essays in the volumes concentrate on the use of French in different areas of society, with a focus either on lexicology or syntax. William Rothwell's chapter ("Husbonderie and Manaungerie in Later Medieval England: A Tale of Two Walters") relates a series of Anglo-Norman treatises on estate management (including one by Walter of Henley) to a treatise on language by Walter Bibbesworth, pointing out that the latter is really an introduction to the vocabulary of estates, and thus complementary to the others. The large number of surviving manuscripts of these treatises attest to the continuing knowledge of the "technical French of agriculture among the landed classes." Mark Chambers and Louise Sylvester have embarked on a large project on the Lexis of Cloth and Clothing, and their chapter ("From Apareil to Warderobe: Some Observations on Anglo-French in the Middle English Lexis of Cloth and Clothing") describes that work with a few examples. In "The Language of the English Legal Profession: The Emergence of a Distinctive Legal Lexicon in Insular French," Paul Brand traces the origin of "law French" in law reporting and in litigation. He finds that the evidence for a special vocabulary of legal French survives only from the mid-thirteenth century, although it may well have developed earlier. Anne Curry (together with four colleagues), in "Languages in the Military Profession in Later Medieval England," examines historical documents for evidence of the use of French during the English occupation of France in the fifteenth century. Paradoxically, this period of widespread contact with France coincided with a decline in the knowledge and use of French in England. One conclusion the team draws is that those who learned the language in the course of military service acquired it orally, a factor that may have contributed to the decline in grammatical standards of French in England later in the century. They also point out that once the English lost their remaining territory in France, the French language came to be considered "a distinctly foreign language associated with the hereditary enemy." Laura Wright's contribution ("A Pilot Study on the Singular Definite Articles le and la in Fifteenth- Century London Mixed-Language Business Writing") examines commercial documents--accounts and inventories--where Middle English is incorporated into a matrix of Medieval Latin or Anglo-Norman. She focuses on the frequent apparent mistakes in gender in the bridge accounts, and argues that the French definite articles functioned to distinguish French, from English as well as from Latin, and was not intended for the marking of grammatical gender.

The essays in this excellent volume apply a new conceptual framework to the study of language(s) in medieval England, and the work that has emerged shows that the new approach has opened up fruitful and exciting lines of inquiry. Until full-scale studies are published on these topics, scholars interested in the linguistic situation of medieval England will be able to extrapolate from the examples and suggestions provided here to re-evaluate the older story of the evolution of English and Insular French.