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Multilingualism in Post-Conquest Britain (Benson, Pons-Sanz, Boyarin, & Henley)



In the centuries after the Norman Conquest, as many as eight languages were spoken in the British Isles: English, Anglo-Norman, Latin, Norse, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, and Hebrew. Who spoke these languages, and how did they interact with and influence each other? In this episode, Austin Benson discusses the linguistic and literary landscape of Multilingual Britain, focusing on the turbulent relationship between English, Anglo-Norman, and Latin. Featuring interviews with Dr. Sara Pons-Sanz at Cardiff University about Old Norse, Dr. Shamma Boyarin at the University of Victoria about Hebrew, and Dr. Georgia Henley at Saint Anselm College about Middle Welsh, this episode also draws attention to some of the less thoroughly-studied languages of the period, and examines how they shape our understanding of the regions social, linguistic, and literary landscapes of Multilingual Britain.


Austin Benson is Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at the University of Virginia. He studies Middle English, Anglo-Norman, and Anglo-Latin literatures, paleography and codicology, and multilingualism in the Middle Ages. His forthcoming dissertation, The Trilingual Book, studies the development of Insular verse in the surviving trilingual manuscripts of post-Conquest Britain.


Sara Pons-Sanz is a historical linguist at the University of Cardiff working mainly on the medieval period with particular interest in Anglo-Scandinavian linguistic contact and its effects on Old and Middle English. Sara’s research focuses on the make-up of medieval English vocabulary from different perspectives (etymology, sociolinguistics and stylistics).


Shamma Boyarin is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Victoria. Shamma’s current research and teaching interests include medieval literature (particularly the literature of Spain and the Near East), comparative literature (particularly Hebrew and Arabic), literature and religion, Jewish Studies, and the religious roots of antisemitism. He has additional expertise in the connections between medieval and contemporary popular culture, especially as they manifest in Heavy Metal music and white supremacist ideologies.


Georgia Henley is an Assistant Professor of English at Saint Anselm College, an ACLS Fellow 2021-22, and a Senior Fellow in the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. Georgia’s research concerns cultural transmission and multilingual literatures in medieval Britain, synthesizing book-historical and digital humanities methods to uncover the literary networks that connected Wales, England, and their neighbors. Georgia is dedicated to raising the profile of the Welsh language and literatures within the humanities and brings a multilingual, transnational perspective to the study and teaching of medieval British literature.


Further resources:


Hsy, Jonathan. Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2013.

Faulkner, Mark. A New Literary History of the Long Twelfth Century: Language and Literature between Old and Middle English. 1st ed. Cambridge University Press, 2022.

Jefferson, Judith A., and Ad Putter, eds. Multilingualism in Medieval Britain (c. 1066-1520): Sources and Analysis. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013.

Machan, Tim William. “Medieval Multilingualism and Gower’s Literary Practice.” Studies in Philology 103, no. 1 (2006): 1–25.

Miles, Brent. An Introduction to Middle Welsh: A Learner’s Grammar of the Medieval Language and Reader. Toronto: 2023. 

Nisse, Ruth. Jacob’s Shipwreck: Diaspora, Translation, and Jewish-Christian Relations in Medieval England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017.

O’Brien, Bruce. Reversing Babel: Translation Among the English During an Age of Conquests, c. 800 to c. 1200. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2011.

Pons-Sanz, Sara M. “Medieval Multilingualism and the Expression of Emotion: Fear in the Gawain-Poet’s Texts.” English Language and Linguistics 26, no. 2: 361–98.

Townend, Matthew. Language and History in Viking Age England: Linguistic Relations Between Speakers of Old Norse and Old English. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002. 

Trotter, D.A. Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000.

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