‘On Englyssh Tunge Out of Frankys’: Translation and ‘Tourning’ in Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne
Marginalia, Vol. 4, (2005-2006) Cambridge Yearbook
In a poem which clearly describes itself as a translation of the Manuel des Pechiez‘tourned…/On englyssh tonge’, the description of the transfer of ‘sacrylege’ from French into English is one of Handlyng Synne’s most self-consciously translative moments. Using a word borrowed from Old French, which appears in the equivalent section of the Manuel (ll.6669-74), the passage maps out the cognitive steps of the appropriation process by which a word is accepted from one language into another. First, the concept for which a new word is needed is outlined – ‘Þat a3ens here fraunchyse falles’. Next a new, unfamiliar word is supplied, which, Mannyng explains, certain ‘men’ use. The following line, with its repeated syntactical structure – ‘Sacrylege, [noun] hyt [verb]’ – narrows and clarifies the passage’s focus, revealing the ‘men’ to be, more precisely, French-speaking, and the new word, ‘sacrylege’, to be French. After this, a further explanation in English is given, like that of a dictionary definition – ‘Menyng of mysdede or mys:/Mysdede to holynes’ – before, finally, the new word is slotted into the English language. The echoing syntax of lines 8599 (‘Sacrylege, frenshe hyt is’) and 8602 (‘Sacrylege on englyssh ys’) suggest that by the end of the passage the word belongs equally to both languages – Mannyng has successfully ‘tourned’ it into English by means of taking it from French.