03 October 2009
Cycle, wheel, or pendulum
It's almost a truism to say that history repeats itself, or that the world moves in cycles. It looks that way with languages in literature. I was reading just the first paragraph of "Trilingualism in Early Middle English Miscellanies: Languages and Literature" by John Scahill (2003) when I was struck by his observation that "miscellanies containing English were trilingual until the end of this period, when the appearance of the nearly monolingual Auchinleck manuscript marks the appearance of a public whose literacy is essentially confined to English." From being multilingual, England became monolingual. Today, from being monolingual, England has fast become multilingual. Some may say it's because of immigration and globalization, but we in literature (being understandably inclined to give more importance to our field than perhaps is objectively justified) could say, at least to ourselves, that writers have a lot to do with it, with multilingual writers forcing readers to become multilingual.