Manuscripts, Metadata, and Medieval Multilingualism

Manuscripts, Metadata, and Medieval Multilingualism: Using a Manuscript Dataset to Analyze Language Use and Distribution in Medieval England

By Krista A. Murchison and Ben Companjen

Digital Humanities Benelux journal, Vol. 1 (2019)

Introduction: In the traditional linguistic model of medieval England, the Norman Conquest of 1066 caused English, which had previously been an acceptable language for literary and cultural production, to be displaced by French and sidelined in aristocratic and courtly domains. In this traditional model, English only regained its status within these ‘high domains’ after about two hundred and fifty years. A growing body of research has pointed to the significant structural problems with this traditional linguistic model, and it is now generally accepted that French persisted as an important domestic and aristocratic language in England for much of the late medieval period. In light of this increasingly important body of research, the status of French in this period, including the contexts and implications of its use, is being re-examined.


To date, studies of the status of French in medieval England have been focused on isolated examples—either of individual cases of sociolinguistic interest, or of the interplay of languages within single manuscripts or texts. This example-based approach has allowed the field to productively challenge the traditional ‘grand narrative’ of England’s linguistic situation, but since examples are, by nature, highly specific, they provide only limited insight into patterns of language use across social groups, gender, and temporal periods.

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Top Image: British Library MS Arundel 74   fol. 2v