Skip to main content

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

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - TVOF (The values of French language and literature in the European Middle Ages)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-01-31

The Values of French examined 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 fostered collaboration between, and cuts across, different intellectual and national scholarly traditions, drawing on expertise in codicology, critical theory, linguistics, literature, and philology; it involved 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 grounded and stimulated broader speculative reflection on two questions concerning linguistic identity. What is the relation historically between language and identity in Europe? How are cognate languages demarcated from each other? Indeed, its final aim, through and beyond its consideration of French as a lingua franca, was to interrogate that language’s role in the emergence of a European identity in the Middle Ages.

The projects specific objectives were as follows:

1. To develop a better understanding of the values of the use of French as a transnational and supralocal language in the Middle Ages (1100-1450).
2. To investigate the role that French played in the emergence of a European, transnational and supralocal identity (as opposed to a specific French national identity) at a crucial point in history (i.e. 1100-1450).
3. To conduct empirical research on a sizeable body of under-researched material that is central to the writing of European history in the Middle Ages (the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César), in order to make this material available digitally.
4. To engage in more speculative, theoretical, and genuinely interdisciplinary enquiry about the contours of individual languages and linguistic definition, using medieval French as a case study.
5. To engage in more speculative, theoretical, and genuinely interdisciplinary enquiry about the nature of the ‘literary’ and its relation to the conception and practice of historical writing.
6. To promote significant (and largely unprecedented) interdisciplinary and international collaboration between philology, literary studies and linguistics.

There were therefore 4 interlocking seams in the project, which may be characterised as follows:

1. Editorial
2. Linguistic
3. History vs literature
4. Language and identity
TVOF ran an international seminar in London which met three times a year and included members from 7 different countries working in the fields of literary studies, philology and linguistics. The seminar gave the team feedback on its work and acted as an Advisory Board for the project. In addition to the seminar, the project organised an international workshop in 2018 and an international conference in 2019 in collaboration with the British Library. Each of the seams of the project has delivered or will deliver imminently its proposed outcomes:

1. Editorial: 85% of the material is now published on line. We expect to publish the remainder by March/ April 2021. For details, see https://tvof.ac.uk/histoire-ancienne/edition-release-dates. The digital edition has a sophisticated, analytic search function and is accompanied by an 'alignment' tool mapping the manuscript tradition of the 'Histoire ancienne' in a variety of formats. Our website also features a blog with over 70 posts and a range of PowerPoint presentations from our conference and seminar presentations. All the material is downloadable in xml on open access.
2. Linguistic: the RA is completing the book which will be the result of his research. It will go to press in mid-2021. The focus is on negation, subordination, co-ordination and syntax more generally, rather than phonology, scripta or morphology (the focus of more traditional philological studies). Apart from publications outlining the results of our analysis, the linguistic data is integrated with our digital editions, enabling dynamic and innovative linguistic searches on MS material.
3. History vs literature: the RA is writing up her book that will be the main output of this seam. It will go to press in late-2021.
4. Language and identity: the PI is currently writing up the book that will be the main output of this seam of the research. It will go to press in mid-2021.
5. The project student's PhD was awarded in July 2020.

The project team disseminated its findings broadly outside the forum of the project seminar and engaged with the broader scholarly community and indeed the general public. The project's blog (70 posts) was publicised through twitter and Facebook. Several of our blogs were shared or retweeted and we had a ‘reach’ of 300+ with a regular readership of over 100. Members of the project have given numerous conference papers, seminar papers and invited lectures in 8 different countries. Apart from the substantial material we have published on our own website, members of the project team have so far published 16 articles generated by the research with more to come. We have made 3 videos about the project, which are available on YouTube.
The Values of French generated exciting collaborations and partnerships. Notably:

1) The inclusion of colleagues from linguistics in the project seminar has generated precisely the kind of interdisciplinary dialogue we sought to create and has impacted upon our methodology most significantly in two ways: first in the decision to publish semi-diplomatic editions alongside interpretive editions, which will allow linguists to make dynamic searches on medieval texts that have not been mediated by modern assumptions about syntax, word division etc.; secondly, in the decision to focus on syntax and pragmatics in our linguistic analysis rather than phonology, scripta or morphology (the focus of more traditional philological studies). Both these developments are innovative and moving beyond the state of the art.

2) We collaborated closely with Stephen Dörr (a member of the project seminar) and Marcus Husar of the Dictionnaire étymologique de l’ancien français based in Heidelberg (http://www.deaf-page.de/fr/index.php) to produce a complete lemmatization of the Histoire ancienne and to integrate our findings digitally into the DEAF’s lexical database, which in turn will be the basis for our own on-line glossary. The lemmatisation is already freely accessible on-line. This level of integration of digital resources has not been attempted before in the field and goes beyond the state of the art.

3) We collaborated with the British Library on the organisation of an international conference in London in June 2019 on the languages of history in the Middle Ages. The project team curated an exhibition case relating to this theme in the Library’s Treasures exhibition space which was on display for 6 months, coinciding with the conference. There was also a series of guest blogs by team members for the British Library manuscripts blog. Collaboration with the BL has led to a reevaluation of parts of their collection relating to French outside France and this impact on curatorial practice as well as on public awareness is foregrounded in an Impact Case Study King's College submitted to REF 2021 focussed on TVOF.
Home page of tvof.ac.uk