Sociocultural implications of French in Middle English texts
Arends, Enti Amar
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This thesis studies the interaction between language, people and culture in England in the century either side of 1300 by analysing the use of French in three Middle English texts: Laȝamon’s Brut, Kyng Alisaunder, and Handlyng Synne. I explore the ways in which these texts exploit the sociocultural implications of French elements to negotiate the expression of collective identity, and consider what that suggests about the texts’ audiences. This exploration also provides insights into the sociolinguistic relation between English and French. Specifically, I add to recent work on multilingualism within texts by providing a more systematic approach than has been adopted hitherto. Since this period saw the largest influx of French-derived vocabulary in English, evaluating the use of French elements requires consideration of the extent to which that vocabulary had become integrated in English. This aspect has not so far been included in studies of multilingualism in texts, and in approaching it this thesis brings together previous work on loanwords to offer a systematic methodology. Chapters 2 to 4 treat the lexis of the individual texts. Study of the broader context of the French elements in chapter 5 shows that they are distributed evenly across the texts and the majority are introduced independently of the source texts. Those that were carried over from the source texts were not adopted into Middle English more generally. Appeal to a specific register better explains the appearance of clusters. Chapter 6 concludes that the implications of the French elements in these texts centre on the negotiation of social and cultural identity. No clear support was found for the use or avoidance of French elements to express ethnic or religious identity in these texts. The style of both versions of Laȝamon’s Brut was confirmed to be the result of redactors’ choices and not the state of the language as a whole, since most French-derived words in either version were apparently well integrated by 1300. On a larger scale, the amount of well-integrated lexis of French origin in Handlyng Synne demonstrates the extent to which French-derived vocabulary had become accessible as early as 1300. Lastly, the atypical, specialised French elements in Kyng Alisaunder are best explained by supposing its initial audience included those with extensive knowledge of French. This supports the hypothesis of continuity of audience between French and Middle English literary culture.