Chapter

Mother Tongues: English and French in fifteenth‐century England

Ardis Butterfield

in The Familiar Enemy

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780199574865
Published online February 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722127 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574865.003.0009
Mother Tongues: English and French in fifteenth‐century England

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This chapter considers the role of women in the inheritance and propagation of vernacular languages. It reassesses the status of English through historical and linguistic evidence and such figures as Higden and Trevisa by setting it alongside the growing importance of French as a language required by the English in their renewed assertion of rule in France after Agincourt. Material considered includes a fifteenth‐century teaching document known as the Femina, and the dialogues or Manières de Langage. Contemporary writings about English in the shape of the rising genre of the vernacular prologue, with special attention to Usk and such charged words as ‘symple’ and ‘straunge’, are set in the context of a wider discourse about mother tongues. Finishing with Christine de Pizan, and her translator into English, William Caxton, the chapter argues that both English and French are caught up in a conflicted set of associations between the vernacular and the value of natural as against artificial languages.

Keywords: Ranulph Higden; John Trevisa; Agincourt; Femina; vernacular prologue; mother tongue; Christine de Pizan; William Caxton

Chapter.  20777 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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