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Signalling Language Choice in Anglo-Saxon and Frankish Charters, c.700–c.900

Roberts, Edward and Tinti, Francesca (2020) Signalling Language Choice in Anglo-Saxon and Frankish Charters, c.700–c.900. In: Roberts, Edward and Gallagher, Robert and Tinti, Francesca, eds. The Languages of Early Medieval Charters: Latin, Germanic Vernaculars, and the Written Word. Brill's Series on the Early Middle Ages . Brill, Leiden, Netherlands, pp. 188-229. ISBN 978-90-04-42811-9. E-ISBN 978-90-04-43233-8. (doi:10.1163/9789004432338_007) (KAR id:84624)

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Though Germanic vernaculars enjoyed different statuses in relation to Latin in England and on the continent, authors of documents in both regions made specific choices concerning their use of language. This chapter explores how these linguistic decisions were sometimes signalled and what they imply through a comparative study of self-conscious language-use in Anglo-Saxon and Frankish legal documents, including both royal diplomas and ‘private’ (i.e. non-royal) charters, between c.700 and c.900. The enquiry focuses on significant cases of code-switching between Latin and Germanic vernacular. We identify and compare how charter scribes signalled a switch in language, as for instance in documents where Latin prose is interrupted with a qualifying phrase to describe something in a Germanic language. In addition, we examine instances of specific linguistic awareness in charters, including explicit references to the theodisca (usually continental Germanic language) and saxonica (usually Old English) languages.

These code switches and identifications of language reveal an acute linguistic consciousness on the part of the draftsmen and offer an opportunity for direct comparison between two cultures whose diplomatic practices have often seemed to be markedly different. In both regions the most frequent use of Germanic vernacular in charters came in descriptions of land and boundaries (though in England, Old English could also be employed for other purposes and in different sections of a charter). While acknowledging the pragmatism of transmitting certain pieces of information in the vernacular, we argue that the use of the vernacular in descriptions of landscape and property was often also an assertion of territoriality and a meaningful representation of identity. The status of Latin as the standard language of written communication in both regions has hitherto tended to lead scholars to suppose that Germanic insertions and qualifying phrases were included in charters purely to facilitate communication in societies with relatively low Latin literacy. Our study, by contrast, shows that the vernacular could be invoked quite deliberately, that it could be exploited as a means of engendering social inclusion or exclusion, and that it ultimately conveyed intentions and meanings which went far beyond simple clarification.

Item Type: Book section
DOI/Identification number: 10.1163/9789004432338_007
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
P Language and Literature > PD Germanic philology and languages
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Edward Roberts
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2020 09:05 UTC
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2021 10:06 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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