The claim by jokers like Jordi Bilbeny that whatever contains the odd Catalanism must have been written by a Catalan is obviously and completely ridiculous because it ignores a basic truth of the Mediterranean littoral: that multilingual jostling and experimentation has been going on here for as long as people have had horses, boats and horny, morning moods. Everyone’s got their favourite contemporary story–the Beirut taxi driver who can recite Machado, the Glaswegian-speaking Barcelona puticlub proprietor, the Valencian harbour workers and their Sicilian barman swapping between opera buffa Italian, Catalan and Spanish–but I started wondering what the earliest surviving examples of this type of multicultural multilingualism would be. Additions and corrections are welcome–Gurgling, Googling after a glass of beer, is a dangerous sport.
First, there’s the simultaneous multilingualism found in Sumerian-Akkadian inscriptions from roughly 4,000 years ago. This is great stuff, but it’s basically a sign of the replacement by Akkadian of Sumerian as the spoken language, Sumerian being relegated (or elevated, depending on your point of view) to sacred, ceremonial and scientific use.
Second (and I’ve probably skipped a million examples here), the allegorical or parodical multilingualism found in thirteenth century French motets. Here, typically, a liturgical text in Latin serves as the tenor while one or more other voices sing French texts alongside which serve to deepen, or for a non-clerical public provide an alternative to, the Latin. This, too, is great stuff, but, like the Sumerian-Akkadian examples, it demonstrates basic social stratification as opposed to the intersocial literature I’m after.
Third, and of a similar nature, macaronic texts like In dulce jubilo (which I think is C14th), which typically combine Latin and a vernacular.
Fourth, an interactional multilingual play called La vesita and written by Joan Fernández de Heredia/Ferrandis d’Herèdia (1480-1549), apparently for performance at the Valencian court sometime before 1525 and then again at the wedding of Mencia de Mendoza to Ferdinando of Aragon/Naples, Duke of Calabria, Prince of Tarento in 1540. By interactional, I mean that the play’s (elite) public would clearly have needed a good understanding of both Catalan/Valencian and Spanish (extra points for the wonky Portuguese) in order to follow the story. The level of understanding required and–more especially–the length of the text distinguish this from macaronism (including more substantial repertoire such as Siúil a rúin) and indicate multilingual integration in non-scholastic society. And if their masters were up to it, there’s no reason to suppose that sailors and soldiers from simpler backgrounds–take Cervantes, for example–would not have been.
(Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t really get why this kind of stuff didn’t take off. I’ve come up against the occasional bilingual poem (Hendrik Schouten’s 1783 Een houselijke twist, featuring Dutch and Sranan, Suriname creole), the odd vaguely multilingual novel (Juan Goytisolo’s 1966 Señas de identidad), and what is apparently Canada’s first bilingual play (David Fennario’s Balconville), but surely there should be more around, now that we’ve all got multiple identities and a beach hut in Patagonia.)
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