PMLA, March 2010

Nice. I’ve only partly digested it, but will be a help.

First, an essay by James Earl on Beowulf and its textual repressions.

Then, an essay by James Paden and Frances F. Paden on a tenth-century midwife charm from France and the origins of romance lyric.

And third, a study by Joseph Luzzi of Dante’s neologisms–which teases out relations between Dante and his sources, but most interestingly for me attaches linguistic creation to his portrayal of Adamic language in the De vulgari eloquentia and Paradiso.

For an essay cluster in dusty fields of philology, these arguments are not so dusty at all; all very much in fact describe lexical patterns of linguistic creativity. The first two describe how writers (well, scops or bards or troubadours, I guess, not “writers”) reach back to and alter folklore to create more elite literature (or, orature). In the third, I wanted to hear much more here about Dante’s choice of the vernacular–and vernacularity itself as a linguistic category: this choice (in Dante, in Chaucer) seems to me predicated on the fact that a vernacular is not just defined by place but by flux. I’m thinking here of, for instance, Houston Baker’s work in Blues, Ideology and Afro-American Literature: the vernacular is characterized by movement, the desire for a place as much as the language of a place, and uses the upwelling of new language from the aquifers of social and linguistic creativity to create such a place.

Yet perhaps this is what a good essay, and a good issue, is supposed to do, to help.


Author: Derrick Pitard

I teach medieval and early modern literature, the history of the language, introductions to literature, Latin, and writing at Slippery Rock University.

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