Title Background

On the Grammar and Rhetoric of Language Mixing in <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

On the Grammar and Rhetoric of Language Mixing in Piers Plowman.

PPl offers a rare literary example of linguistic code-switching in the mixing of Latin and English. Unlike typical linguistic data for this issue, which is based on casual and conversational exchanges, this poem presents carefully revised and calculated mixing. The results show a mixing that is highly structured but that generally “adheres to the expectations delineated in the current theories of bilingual language mixing.” Thus English is not the only center of the poem’s authority; L’s use of Latin shows his participation in a world where Latin is the common reference point. The use of Latin is restricted to a specific set of grammatical circumstances, especially those locating Latin phrases in syntactically free positions such as adverbial or appositive elements. When L’s Latin appears in more syntactically critical positions, the Latin in question is usually biblical citations or titles, or licensed by typological similarities between Latin and English: in both latter cases, his shift to Latin is a code-switching that communicates his clerical authority and participation in the world of “clergy.” The narrator’s self-defense in C.5.1–104, justifying his non-clerical professional position, reflects the poet’s worry about “not being identified as part of the learned world”; his careful use of Latin throughout seeks to settle that doubt among contemporary readers.


NM 103 (2002): 33–50.


Halmari, Helena, and Robert Adams.