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40th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies, Fordham University

Co-sponsored with the Centre for Medieval Literature, University of Southern Denmark and University of York, and the Program in Comparative Literature, Fordham University.

Date: March 20-21, 2020, at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus, 113 West 60th Street

This international conference looks anew at the origins and development of French within multilingual contact zones from the ninth century until the sixteenth century. The dialects we now identify as the langue d’oïl emerged in a relatively small zone in northern Europe, but assumed international importance both as a transactional and a cultural language, bringing it into contact with varieties of Arabic, Breton, Dutch, English, German, Greek, Hebrew, Irish, Norse, Occitan and Welsh. From the ninth century French was a second language of empire (Carolingian, German, and later Angevin). From at least the eleventh, it was spread by trade, conquest, emigration, dynastic marriage, ecclesiastical networks and the soft power of northern French court culture to many different regions, courts, and cities across northern Europe and the Mediterranean. As an idiom used by city-dwellers, travelers, merchants, sailors, artisans, and pilgrims, its earlier language relationships were reconfigured even as new ones were being created.

This interdisciplinary conference calls for papers that integrate French with the other languages and literatures with which it came in contact and that propose new contexts for understanding the medieval expansion of French that refine and complement more familiar explanatory frameworks such as identity, cultural prestige, and source studies.

This conference continues the French of England, French of Italy, and French of Outremer projects at Fordham. Papers on French-speakers’ contact with German, Arabic, and Hebrew speech-communities are particularly welcome, as are perspectives on contact zones, multilingualism and cultural exchange from History, History of Art, Manuscript Studies, Music, and every other field within Medieval Studies.

Papers that explore the following or related questions, but not only these, are especially welcome:

  • How does French differ from other boundary-crossing languages of the medieval world, like Arabic, Greek, German, Hebrew, Latin, Occitan, Persian, or Slavonic? What can students of French learn from the insights of scholars working on these languages?
  • How and why did French come to be used in so many different polities across northern Europe and the Mediterranean during this period?
  • How does the shifting status of French across its geographic range – as the language of colonizers in Ireland but as an indigenous minority language in some parts of the German Empire, for instance – affect its meaning and usage?
  • How does the medieval French speech community need to be distinguished from modern francophonie?
  • What role did specific social, religious, or economic groups – or people outside the chief political and cultural centers – play in shaping the forms, uses, and status of French?
  • How can recent theoretical perspectives, including gender and sexuality studies, critical race theory, postcolonial studies, and ecocriticism, open new perspectives on French language in contact?
  • How have multilingualism and contact zones shaped French language and literature in ways that current disciplinary categories, bounded as they are by national histories, have obscured?

Participants include: Mark Chinca, Thelma Fenster, Marisa Galvez, Jane Gilbert, Wolfgang Haubrichs, Sarah Kay, Maryanne Kowaleski, Karla Mallette, Ann-Hélène Miller, Laura Morreale, Lars Boje Mortensen, Thomas O’Donnell, Sara Poor, Brian Reilly, Teresa Shawcross, Elizabeth M. Tyler, and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne.

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Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus, 113 West 60th Street
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