This project aims to contribute to both the debates on (medieval) reception theory, medieval elite culture and education, as well as the theories on bilingualism by studying the function of Irish and Latin code-switching in two medieval Irish corpora.
The challenges posed by modern multilingual society’s need to cope with different languages in everyday situations almost make us forget that linguistic diversity has been the norm rather than the exception throughout human history. Medieval Ireland was a multlingual society. The exact extent of multilingualism in past cultures is difficult to establish in detail because no spoken language is available and because the written sources are limited in scope. However, since these written texts were produced and used predominantly by a cultural elite, they provide insights into the attitudes of that elite towards the languages with which it was confronted.
This proposal focuses on a field of study in which the sources are so rich that developments in multilingualism can be traced across centuries: Latin-Irish bilingualism in early medieval Ireland (ca. 700-1200 AD). In the beginning of that period, Ireland was at the centre of Western European cultural and religious life. At a time when most of Western Europe wrote in Latin rather than the vernacular, the Irish succeeded in turning a potential clash between regionality and tradition on the one hand, and internationality and innovation on the other, into a new closely-knit identity. The Irish prided themselves on being actively bilingual and giving evidence of that capacity on parchment. Why they adopted this attitude is unclear. More unclear still is why they produced texts in a mixture of Latin and Irish. A careful study of those texts, which is the aim of the proposed project, will answer the following questions:
1. What was the extent of medieval Latin-Irish bilingualism, what written form did it take, and how and why did the situation change over time?
2. What determined whether a text was produced in Latin and/or Irish, and how and why did attitudes change over time?
3. How is active, literate bilingualism tied up with the rise and development of a tradition of producing written comments on existing texts?
The project aims to shed new light on the way in which the Irish blended their indigenous culture and its pre-Christian roots with late Antique Roman culture that was introduced together with Christianity. Here lies a model of cultural integration that requires investigation.