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Reviewed by:
  • Textual Healing: Studies in Medieval English Medical, Scientific, and Technical Texts
  • George Keiser
Textual Healing: Studies in Medieval English Medical, Scientific, and Technical Texts. Edited by Javier E. Díaz Vera and Rosario Caballero. Linguistic Insights: Studies in Language and Communication, 101. Bern: Peter Lang, 2009. Pp. xi + 213. $61.95.

This collection of eleven essays offers a range of linguistic approaches not often practiced among American literary critics. For those who work with vernacular scientific and technical writings from later medieval English, it is very heartening to find a volume founded on this premise: "analyzing the language of specialised texts is an opportunity to obtain access to the early history and vernacularisation of learned written styles" (p. vii). Five of the eleven essays are studies of medical manuscripts in the Hunterian collection at the University of Glasgow. Though only a small portion of the collection, these Hunterian medical manuscripts are certainly important and interesting representatives of Middle English medical writings.

Welcome too is the information that these Hunterian MSS have been digitized as part of a project based at the University of Malaga, in cooperation with the Universities of Oviedo and Glasgow. These digitized versions, all of very high quality, are accessible on the internet, but not at the URL provided in the book. Instead, one must go to http://hunter.uma.ed/html/ and register. Unless it has been changed in response to my complaint, however, the registration process may be a vexing experience, thanks to multicolored CAPTCHAs, the most difficult I have ever encountered. [End Page 533]

The rationale and method of this project, officially The Annotated Corpus of Middle English Scientific Prose (less officially, The Malaga Corpus), is explained in careful detail in an essay by David Moreno-Olalla and Antonio Miranda-García. In particular, they explain the difficulties and choices required in annotating every word of the text found in the manuscripts, and the necessity of creating annotations that are easy to understand and to read, by machine and by human, and to use for studies of vocabulary and authorial attribution. The outcome, one must suppose, would be very satisfactory, for the authors of this essay do seem to recognize every potential pitfall to avoid in creating a useful set of annotations.

Graham D. Caie of the University of Glasgow provides an overview of William Hunter, who assembled the Hunterian collection, and of the medical manuscripts used for the Malaga Corpus. It is a cheerful and entertaining essay that disappointingly repeats misinformation from the outdated Hunterian catalog.

Five of the essays in the volume address specific problems in individual Glasgow manuscripts: line-final word division by Javier Halle-Martín, punctuation by María Laura Esteban-Segura, dialect by Teresa Marqués-Aguado, lexis by Nadia Obegi-Gallardo, and orality by Elena Quintano-Toledo. Each is an interesting study in its own way. However, each is limited and does not reach conclusions that are either dramatic or particularly valuable. Perhaps the source of the problem is that, with one exception, the Glasgow versions of the texts have not been edited. Moreover, working from only a text in a single manuscript can be very limiting, for comparisons with other versions are useful in determining the extent to which conditions in the manuscript are a result of the idiosyncrasies of a particular scribe. Such knowledge would be of obvious value in studies of punctuation and line-final word division. The authors seem not to be aware of a wide range of manuscripts of Middle English medical texts, and they launch their studies without describing the nature of individual works, their sources, or the extent of their dissemination in other manuscripts. None provides information about the character of the specific text, which may be, for example, expanded or abbreviated by the Hunterian scribe or a predecessor. In at least one case, the study of orality in a medical recipe collection, the author is making dubious assumptions about the text—specifically, that the recipes represent "supposed folk medical texts" (p. 153) that began as oral works collected, by uncertain means, for use by lay audiences. A sufficient number of recipe collections, some in French or Latin...


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