Gower Bibliography

Middle English as a Foreign Language, to 'Us' and 'Them' (Gower, Langland, and the Author of The Life of St. Margaret)

Galloway, Andrew. "Middle English as a Foreign Language, to 'Us' and 'Them' (Gower, Langland, and the Author of The Life of St. Margaret)." Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching 14 (2007), pp. 89-102.


Galloway's entrée into a journal dedicated to pedagogy is his premise that Middle English by its very nature presents 21st-century students with a variety of dilemmas concerning vocabulary and syntax that were shared by medieval writers in England, many of whom were fluent in at least three languages (Latin, French and English) and for whom the "vernacular" was a poly-lingual work-in-progress. Their lot was thus to write (just as our students now read) possessed of a "sense of the foreignness of the English they use" (p. 89). In a series of closely read passages (CA I.2041-47; I.2080-2103; II.1936-57; Piers Plowman C.9.209-18; St. Margaret ll.83-84) Galloway demonstrates the complexity of (especially) Gower's English syntax, alongside the general self-consciousness of Langland and the St. Margaret author about words in English. His points about Gower are particularly bracing: Gower's "use of any one of these languages [i.e., Latin, French, English] must take account of his fluency in the others" (p. 91); "Gower regularly handles [syntax] with a sophistication far greater than Chaucer or indeed most any (and perhaps simply any) Middle English poet" (p. 91). So are some of his questions, e.g., does "Gower [use] a style that is explicitly 'Old French' to indicate the chivalric value system he then proceeds to shred or to refine?" (p. 95). Most revolutionary of all, however, is Galloway's suggestion that perhaps those who fail to teach Gower's work because they believe him to be "morally predictable and, worse, stylistically flat" (p. 91) reveal primarily their own failure to recognize, let alone comprehend, the subtlety of what he wrote. [RFY. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 27.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis

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