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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER To return to the rather occluded subject of ‘‘nation’’: actually, the essay that might have the most to say about it is the one most insistent on its impossibility, or at any rate its emergence only under the most threatened conditions. This is Claire Sponsler’s concluding analysis of Froissart’s reported story of Anglo-Irishman Henry Chrystede, a most arresting example of ‘‘the confusions of ethnic identity and national affiliation that shaped English life in the late fourteenth century’’ (p. 307). Fittingly, Thorlac Turville-Petre, who wrote a pioneering study, England the Nation: Language, Literature, and National Identity, 1290–1340 (Oxford , 1996), provides a short afterword. He demonstrates a good deal of reserve about the ‘‘national’’ part of it, though, suggesting that the circumstances of 1290–1340 were peculiar ones, and that for Chaucer and the Gawain-poet issues of European culture trump questions of national identity. Kathy Lavezzo is to be congratulated for assembling a provocative collection, by a number of our most stimulating practitioners, working at top form on issues of political consciousness and the state of polity in late medieval England. Incidentally, this volume is evidently among the last to be issued by the influential Minnesota ‘‘Medieval Cultures’’ series, a considerable disappointment, given the success of its thirty-four published volumes in raising questions of vital contemporary importance to members of our profession. Paul Strohm Columbia University Tim William Machan. English in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. x, 205. $65.00. In the opening chapter of this book, Tim William Machan sets out the theoretical framework that underpins the subsequent chapters. His principal thesis is that an understanding of the status of a language and its use must be based on an integrated study of its sociolinguistic context , what Einar Haugen terms its ‘‘ecology,’’ rather than relying on the work of independent and isolated disciplines. This commitment to an interdisciplinary method, and an ability to apply the theoretical insights PAGE 334 334 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:02:41 PS REVIEWS of modern linguistics to Middle English, is the key strength of Machan’s approach. In chapter 2, Machan applies this methodology to a detailed study of the Proclamation of Henry III, placing it within its historical and political contexts. This document is a key text in histories of the language, frequently cited as evidence for the emergence of English as an official language, the development of the London dialect, and ultimately of standard written English. Rejecting the traditional scholarly assumption that identifies the document’s use of English as a nationalistic appeal, Machan argues that the English of the Proclamation was a rhetorical strategy by Henry to manipulate the hostility to foreigners fostered by his Baronial opponents. Building on his earlier discussion of the ecology of English, Machan argues that connections between language and national identity that have become naturalized and accepted in many modern societies are anachronistic when applied to medieval society. While the chapter’s focus on this single document is justified by the depth of analysis and the lack of previous discussions of this kind, other contemporary uses of the vernacular are dismissed rather too briefly. Other examples of early Middle English writing are mentioned but are quickly rejected as contributing little to the status of the language or its speakers. There is also little attempt to engage with the opposing arguments of Thorlac Turville-Petre’s England the Nation (Oxford, 1996), which identified these texts as responsible for fostering an identification between the English language and national identity. In the following chapter, Machan discusses ME dialects, arguing that the ecology of ME prohibits any correlation between regional variation and social stratification. While it is apparent that speakers of ME were aware of the differences between regional varieties, and it is likely that these differences had sociolinguistic significance, we should not assume that this is identical to that of present-day English. Machan also tackles the question of the emergence of standardized varieties in ME, arguing sensibly that the institutional structures through which a standard language is codified and maintained were lacking in the ME period . Surprisingly, however, Machan accepts without...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 334-337
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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