The Politics of Language: Byrhtferth, Aelfric, and the Multilingual Identity of the Benedictine Reform
Published: May 2022© 2015
232 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 1.00 in
Old English literature thrived in late tenth-century England. Its success was the result of a concerted effort by the leaders of the Benedictine Reform movement to encourage both widespread literacy and a simple literary style. The manuscripts written in this era are the source for the majority of the Old English literature that survives today, including literary classics such as Beowulf. Yet the same monks who copied and compiled these important Old English texts themselves wrote in a rarified Latin, full of esoteric vocabulary and convoluted syntax and almost incomprehensible even to the well-educated.
Comparing works by the two most prolific authors of the era, Byrhtferth of Ramsey and Ælfric of Eynsham, Rebecca Stephenson explains the politics that encouraged the simultaneous development of a simple English style and an esoteric Latin style. By examining developments in Old English and Anglo-Latin side by side, The Politics of Language opens up a valuable new perspective on the Benedictine Reform and literacy in the late Anglo-Saxon period.
Introduction: The Literary Context of the Monastic Reform
1. Pedagogy of Enchiridion: Layout and Languages
2. Scapegoating the Secular Clergy: The Hermeneutic Style as a Form of Monastic Self-Definition
3. The Politics of English: Computus, Translation, and Monastic Self-Definition
4. The Politics of Ælfric’s Prefaces
5. Unraveling the Hermeneutic Style: Ælfric’s Latin Epitomes and English Translations
“The Politics of Language is not only the first major study of Byrhtferth’s language politics but also the first substantial work to look at Byrhtferth and Ælfric together. Stephenson is very skilled in dismantling the claims regarding language made by both authors, analyzing why they were made and what the reality behind them may have been.”Mary Clayton, Professor Emeritus, School of English, Drama, and Film, University College Dublin
“The Politics of Language teases out the rhetorical manoeuverings by which two key authors, Byrhtferth and Ælfric, steered their way through the complex ideology of language-use in the Benedictine Reform. Stephenson’s approach is firmly rooted in her own linguistic sensitivity, especially with regard to the Latin texts, and we understand the Benedictine Reform much better because of her research.”Joyce Hill, Emeritus Professor of Medieval Literature, School of English, University of Leeds