Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yearbook of Langland Studies online: Available

Hello Langland essay writers,

FYI go to http://opac.library.usyd.edu.au/record=b3642289~S4 for full access to YLS vols. 1 (1987) - 21 (2007).


Monday, May 4, 2009

"History of Britain Revealed"?

At last week's Middle English reading group, Alex Jones lent me a copy of M. J. Harper's History of Britain Revealed, which argues among other chestnuts that English does not descend from Old English, French is derived from English, etc. Apparently its author intends it seriously. Anything I say about it is by Harper's criteria automatically wrong, since I'm an academic. Fair cop, but I did want to make one point about his argument, one that I haven't seen in my brief survey on the blogosphere.

Harper heaps scorn on academics whenever they have recourse to the idea that a language wasn't written down during certain stages of its life (e.g., between Latin and the romance languages as we know them). But his whole book is an elaboration upon that assumption, which is apparently not so idiotic so long as he's the one doing it. In his polemic, English was not recorded before c. 1100. Oh, and (the entirely different language) Anglo-Saxon just happens not to have been recorded after c. 1100. Mere coincidence; don't look behind the curtain, let's instead insult academics again. Anyway (keep your eyes away from that curtain! look back here!) Angl0-Saxon really isn't so great, because Beowulf is a 16th-century forgery.

(Yes, he really says that.)

His evidence that English hasn't ever changed is that brief bits of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Eliot are comprehensible to us today where Anglo-Saxon isn't. Against that hugely compelling point I'll just point to, oh, The Owl and the Nightingale. I can hear the response: "Oh! well that's in an entirely different language altogether. We'll call it ... Owlish. Sure, why not. It's Owlish."

This is a really fun read, if pretty depressing once one realizes that this guy apparently means it and that so many reviewers and bloggers think it's so great. Best to imagine it, as one of the sane bloggers out there had initially hoped it really was, as more of a Colbert approach. "Nation! I'm tired of evidence and logic. Let's get up to some silliness instead!!"

OK, back to Langland now everyone, C Passus XVIII-XX for next Monday! (Yes, in MIDDLE ENGLISH.)