Essai d’histoire sociolinguistique: le français picard au Moyen Âge by Serge Lusignan (review)
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Essai d’histoire sociolinguistique: le français picard au Moyen Âge. Par Serge Lusignan. (Recherches littéraires médiévales, 13.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2012. 335pp.

This ambitious and stimulating work seeks not only to present a detailed study of Picard French in the Middle Ages in its sociolinguistic context — a worthy goal in itself — but also to develop a new approach to the study of the relationship between language and society in the past, which the author names ‘sociolinguistic history’. Whereas in historical sociolinguistics ‘l’histoire ne semble que dresser le décor d’une pièce dont les répliques sont échangées entre le linguiste et les sources du passé qu’il interroge’ (p. 41), sociolinguistic history uses findings drawn from linguistic and metalinguistic sources to inform the study of social history, taking as its inspiration Lucien Febvre’s observation that ‘la langue [est] le fait social par excellence’ (quoted on p. 9). An historian by training, the author’s mastery of sociolinguistic research is exemplary. Concerning Picard French, the core claim is that the variety had a similar high status to the French of Paris until the fifteenth century, being used in literature and in administrative documents over a wide geographical area. Chapter 3, which discusses the role of the University of Paris in the formation of Picard identity, is particularly insightful. The author argues that the term ‘Picard’ originated not in the north of France but in the University of Paris as an initially derogatory term to designate both people from the dioceses north of Beauvais and the language that they spoke. Thirteenth-century sources from the university refer to four ‘nations’ of students based on their geographical origin, one of which is the ‘nation of Picards’; yet at this time sources from the Picard region itself refer to their language consistently as ‘roman’ (as opposed to ‘françois’). Moreover, since the (Parisian) ‘nation of Picards’ was ‘le lieu qui réunissait la plus grande concentration de lettrés picards’ (p. 142), its role in the formation of a relatively fixed Picard scripta, subsequently diffused through schools in the Picard region, should not be underestimated. Evidence for the high status of Picard French is discussed in Chapters 4 and 5, where the relationship between Picard, French, Anglo-French, and Dutch is considered. For example, administrative documents ‘translated’ into Picard from françois or Anglo-French demonstrate an awareness on the part of scribes of the differences between the scriptae, and it is significant that native Dutch speakers in the provinces of Flanders and Brabant consistently adopt Picard, rather than Parisian French. Although it is convincingly argued that Picard French existed as a written scripta, it is harder to assess its status as a supraregional spoken norm. In Chapter 6, it is argued that literary and cultural exchanges between prosperous northern cities, such as the puys de rhétorique, served to promote Picard French, yet these remain limited to the middle classes, and thus the supraregional norm emerges ‘en particulier à l’écrit’ (p. 273). To assess the likelihood that a spoken norm existed, it would perhaps be fruitful to compare what we know of medieval Picard with studies of koineization and dialect-levelling situations in the present day. [End Page 386]

T. M. Rainsford
Linacre College, Oxford
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