CORDIS - EU research results

The values of French language and literature in the European Middle Ages

Project description

A closer look at linguistic identity in mediaeval Europe

In mediaeval Europe, questions surrounding linguistic identity held significant importance. Amidst the multifaceted tapestry, researchers are examining the relationship between language and identity, as well as the demarcation of cognate languages. The ERC-funded TVOF project challenges prevailing narratives. By focusing on the crucial period of 1100-1450 and examining the role of French as a supralocal, transnational language, the project aims to illuminate its impact on the emergence of a European identity during the Middle Ages. Through an international collaboration of scholars from diverse disciplines, the project offers a fresh approach to understanding the complex interplay of language and culture in shaping European history.


Two questions about linguistic identity lie at the heart of this project. What is the relation historically between language and
identity in Europe? How are cognate languages demarcated from each other? Normative models of national languages
helped shape Europe. Yet they did not become hegemonic until the 19th century. Indeed, they were imposed (not always
successfully) on a linguistic map of Europe more fluid and complex than most histories of national languages allow. In the
Middle Ages multilingualism was common, as was the use of non-local languages, notably Latin, but also French. This
project undertakes a revaluation of the nature and value of the use of French in Europe during a crucial period, 1100-1450,
less in terms of its cultural prestige (the traditional focus of scholarship) than of its role as a supralocal, transnational
language, particularly in Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. The project fosters collaboration between, and
cuts across, different intellectual and national scholarly traditions, drawing on expertise in codicology, critical theory,
linguistics, literature, and philology; it involves scholars from a range of European countries and North America, entailing
empirical research around a complex and widely disseminated textual tradition vital to medieval understandings of
European history and identity, L’Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César. This case study will ground and stimulate broader
speculative reflection on the two core questions concerning linguistic identity. While the project builds on prior critiques of
the construction of, and investment in, national languages and literary traditions, it has a broad historical scope, and will
offer an innovative, genuinely international perspective, in terms of both its object of study and method. Indeed, its final aim,
through and beyond its consideration of French as a lingua franca, is to interrogate that language’s role in the emergence
of a European identity in the Middle Ages.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 274 225,00
WC2R 2LS London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — West Westminster
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 274 225,00

Beneficiaries (1)