The Visual Pragmatics of Code-Switching in Late Middle English Literature.

Machan, Tim William

The Visual Pragmatics of Code-Switching in Late Middle English Literature.

Machan, Tim William. "The Visual Pragmatics of Code-Switching in Late Middle English Literature." In Herbert Schendl and Laura Wright, eds. Code-Switching in Early English (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011), pp. 303-34.

Machan begins by describing differences between oral and literary code-switching, including comments on the "pragmatic strategies" (306) and bibliographical codes available to authors and scribes for representing code-switching in late-medieval England. He distinguishes "intersentential" and "intrasentential" switching (between and within sentences), and comments on a full range of scribal possibilities, from "non-recognition" (310) of switching to "consistent graphic design that visually emphasizes moments where a text changes languages" (310), using the Trentham manuscript as one example of the latter. He then examines in greater detail the practices evident in psalters and in manuscripts of Langland's "Piers Plowman" and of Gower's "Confessio Amantis," using them to show that "code-switching constitutes a particularly elusive feature in the meaning of medieval manuscripts and their texts" (312). When discussing manuscripts of CA, Machan observes a general rarity of intrasentential switching (relative to that found in Langland), but he documents the "variety of ways" scribes used to "correlate the visual, rhetorical, and linguistic significances of code-switching" (323) that is found in trilingual Gower. BL MS Additional 12403 "offers no graphic distinction among languages or rhetorical functions" (323) while more lavish manuscripts offer several kinds of indications, from the red underscoring and glosses of Latin in BL MS Stowe 950 which represent a "slightly more complex design," marked by a "changing or even confused sensibility" (323), to the rich "panoply of bibliographical codes" (324) that align with language switching in BL MSS Egerton 1991 and Royal 18.C.XXII, the latter a manuscript that uses switching "to shape [its] 'mise en page'" (326). Machan closes by cautioning against the perils of generalizing in such a discussion and offering three generalizations nevertheless, commenting on 1) the fluidity of code-switching in medieval England, 2) the need to conceptualize code-switching as rhetorical rather than lexical, and 3) the literary productivity of code-switching. [MA. Copyright. John Gower Society. eJGN 37.1].


Gower Subjects
Manuscripts and Textual Studies
Language and Word Studies
Confessio Amantis