• Interlinguistic Communication in Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum

    Alaric Hall (see profile)
    Anglo-Saxons--Study and teaching, Celtic languages, Latin language, Middle Ages, Multilingualism
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum, Anglo-Saxon studies, Medieval Latin
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    This article seeks better to understand the processes whereby English and, to a lesser extent, Gaelic, expanded in early medieval Britain at the expense of the p-Celtic dialects. Most research has tried to examine this process in its earliest, prehistoric phases, but the present study focuses on the (near-)contemporary evidence for its seventh- and eighth-century phases provided by Bede and other writers of his time. Bede's concern about Anglo-Saxons' limited access to Latin is abundantly clear, but taken together, a number of hints also point towards his sensitivity to Roman and British Latin-language traditions in Britain. British Latin maintained features of vulgar Latin pronunciation as well as some distinctive semantics; Bede disliked both, but the fact that he saw fit to snipe at them may itself be evidence for the vigour of British Latin--and arguably for Bede's own anxiety at the fragility of Anglo-Saxons' Latin heritage relative to Britons' deeper traditions. Bede's evidence also suggests that British Latin was heard rather than merely read, and not only heard in the liturgy. However, it seems that ecclesiastical meetings were, at least at times, being conducted in English and Irish, even when we might imagine Latin to have been a useful lingua franca. This does not tell us anything definite about the upper levels of Latinity in the early Anglo-Saxon and Irish churches, since the choice of language may have been influenced by the presence of less learned participants, but Bede also implies that it would be unsurprising for an Anglo-Saxon in an Irish monastery to learn Irish, suggesting the prevalence of vernacular languages in Irish and English ecclesiastical discourse at this time. Thus although British Latinity may have been in better shape in Bede's time than surviving texts would suggest, this may not have much helped British clerics to advance their interests.
    The Northern World, 48
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    Book chapter    
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
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