French 701: Introduction to Old French

The principal aim of this course is to provide a basic reading knowledge of Old French, mainly of the 12th and 13th centuries. Rather than work through a prescribed grammar of the language (there is no fully satisfactory one for this purposes, anyway), I propose to tease the syntax, morphology, and phonology of Old French out of a set of selected texts, provided each week in photocopy, pdf, or jpeg. Alongside critically edited texts, we will also look at facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, that is to say, the raw material of the older forms of the languages; many manuscripts are available online at Gallica or elsewhere.

This course could actually be retitled “Introduction to Old Frenches” on the simple grounds that there is no form of the language sanctioned or approved by an establishment until the late Middle Ages. There are no rules, which means that the language is constantly evolving and essentially fluid and unstable. Rather than let this give rise to frustration, it is an opportunity to make virtue of necessity, and appreciate the freedom enjoyed by speakers and readers of the langue d’oïl in the different regions of medieval Francophonia, from Ireland through England, France, and Italy, to the Crusader Kingdoms of the Levant.

During the reading process, we will also touch upon such vital matters as dialectology, editorial practices, palaeography, and codicology.

Because the course is “compressed” so as to end before Spring Break, we will meet twice a week for two hours each session. Assessment will be by means of one in-class test, two take-homes (translation, transcription, and commentary on short passages or facsimiles) and class participation. A more detailed syllabus with bibliography will be sent in January to those who enroll.