Vernacular Languages and Dialects

Ann Moyer

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:
Vernacular Languages and Dialects

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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Written vernaculars increased enormously in use during the Renaissance. They also became objects of scholarship and debate. While modern linguistics looks back to the 19th century for its professional origins, Renaissance humanists began to develop systematic approaches to language study much earlier. Accordingly, some modern scholars have focused upon the languages, others on the era’s writings about language. One approach to the subject is diachronic, dealing with change over time. Synchronic change across region or social rank has attracted new attention with recent interest in questions of power, rank, and social control. The rapid development of computers has improved the ability to use large bodies of surviving sources, producing historical grammars, lexicons, dialect mappings, and other results. Most such projects are centered on a single European language. For many European languages, the Renaissance saw the rise of the modern literary language. Each developed a canon of writers; thus the study of languages overlaps with that of the literature, including the impact these writers had on their language. Renaissance writers also wrote about language, comparing vernaculars with Latin, and composed and written language with spoken and spontaneous. They debated how to set normative and aesthetic standards. The Italian term for these disputes, questione della lingua, often appears in the scholarship on other languages as well. Interests in colonial expansion; in the history of the book; in power and its exercise; and in gender distinctions have all led to a series of new approaches. Earlier portrayals of the development of vernaculars as progressive and egalitarian, parts of nationalist or romanticized narratives of modernization, is giving way to an appreciation of the losses and more complex issues at stake in the gradual move away from Latin. Some research focuses on medieval continuities: preaching and sermon-writing, popular drama, religious devotion, and many genres connected with lived religion. The rise of political states led to more records and more vernacular record-keeping, as well as matters of linguistic standardization and its ties to political and social power.

Article.  10322 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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