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Leglu, Catherine E., Multilingualism and Mother Tongue in Medieval French, Occitan, and Catalan Narratives.

Leglu, Catherine E., Multilingualism and Mother Tongue in Medieval French, Occitan, and Catalan Narratives (Penn State Romance Studies), University Park, PA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010; pp. 216; 5 illustrations; R.R.P. US$35.00; ISBN 9780271036731.

Catherine Leglu examines a complex literary and linguistic phenomenon in vernacular works composed between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. Providing clear synopses, detailed analysis, and new readings of the narratives, she explores ways in which significant texts employ multilingualism and the mother tongue, a notion to be replaced by 'other tongue' or'(m)other tongue'. She aims to examine 'the literary use of competing Romance vernaculars in the later Middle Ages' (p. 13), in examples of multilingual interaction, taking into account cultural and geographic differences and socio-political factors relating to individual texts. She moves with ease among the different languages and supplies appropriate English translations. The book has three parts, each with three chapters. Nineteen texts are examined closely and extensively, one or more in each chapter, of which the aim and fulfilment are made explicit (e.g. pp. 161 and 175). As is acknowledged, Chapter 1 and parts of Chapters 3 and 5 have already been published, but are here integrated into a wider investigation.

The Introduction opens with an engaging commentary on two pages of a manuscript of Peyre de Paternas's Libre de sufficientia e de necessitat (Paris, BNF, fr. 3313A), a bilingual treatise (c. 1350), where sections of Latin text alternate with Occitan translation 'en nostra linga maternal', the language the Austin Friar and his Limousin dedicatee share. Furthermore, the manuscript was copied in Avignon by a French and Francophone Breton team. This kind of multilingual cultural interaction was then possible.

In Part I, The Myths of Multilingualism, four Occitan texts are studied: the twelfth-century epic, Girart de Roussillon, Arnaut Vidal's Guilhem de la Barra, a translation of Paolino Veneto s Compendium (a universal history in vertical genealogical tables), and the Leys d'Amor. Images of the Tower of Babel and tongues of fire figure in the discussion of the hybrid linguistic and generic character of these Occitan works.

Part II, Language Politics, begins with Bernat Metge's Lo Somni (c. 1399), a dream poem in which material from Latin and Tuscan sources is rendered in Catalan, followed by the trilingual Historia de l'amat Frondino e de Brisona, where dialogue and narrative in three different languages are intertwined, and a love-story in fifteen images, without words. In Chapters 5 and 6, the Sleeping Beauty motif is tracked, firstly in novas in hybrid languages, where the problematical association of language and lineage is expressed, then in monolingual French texts, where an unspoken incest narrative underlies tales relating to exogamy.

Part III, The Monolangue, deals firstly with the multilingual Paris and Vienne tradition, which probably originated in Provence, although no Occitan version has survived. Pierre de La Cepede, author of the French version, seems to have accessed a Catalan version via his knowledge of Occitan, and wrote a new romance in his adopted language (pp. 144-47). The next example, Lystoire du Chevalier Pierre de Provence et de la Belle Maguelonne (c. 1453), is a French romance originating in Provence with recognisable topography and an unacknowledged intertextual connection with the French prose Roman de Troie tradition. The final chapter contains five examples of monolingual travel writing, mostly in French, with particular attention to the Provencal-born Antoine de La Sale and his compilation/translation La Salade (1444), which shows how the mother tongue can be manipulated.

The book has no overall conclusion, which is more or less in line with the initial specification that texts are to be read individually, 'rather than as part of a grand metanarrative of what happens to the literary vernaculars in this region and period' (p. 13). While in their composition the texts reveal aspects of language transfer and hybridization, their content also reflects language awareness and versatility: Berte, in Girart de Roussillon, has a command of five languages; Maguelonne, travelling in foreign places, uses a common mother tongue. The author of Frayre de Joy e Sor de Plaser maligns the arrogant French and their language (p. 99), at about the same time as Brunetto Latini chose French, because he was in France and French was more pleasant and more widely known than Italian. Of the three languages studied, Occitan was to lose ground to French and Catalan, which for political reasons became national languages.

Notes, Bibliography, and Index complete the volume. In the Bibliography, only two of the texts studied are classed as 'Primary Sources', the remainder appearing among 'Other Works'. Neither Gerard Gouiran's edition of Le Livre des aventures de Monseigneur Guilhem de la Barra (cited on p. 198, note 2), nor the earlier edition by E. Muller (1930) is listed.

The book contributes significantly to the knowledge and appreciation of Romance literature in the later Middle Ages, and especially of the Occitan novas genre, which, wedged between lyric poetry and romance, has tended until recently to be overlooked. It also sheds light on the moveable borders and shared cultural capital of the Romance languages.

Glynnis M. Cropp

School of Linguistics and International Languages

Massey University
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Author:Cropp, Glynnis M.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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