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“Polyglot Encounters in Early Modern English Narratives of Distant Travels”

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Organisers: Nandini Das (TIDE, Exeter College, Oxford), Ladan Niayesh (LARCA, University of Paris; Visiting Fellow, Exeter College, Oxford)

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In an age of geographic discoveries and colonisation, easier communication, and international trade growing steadily from the mid-16th century, England gradually established itself as an Atlantic and global power, as a prelude to the formation of the British empire. English records of this era of expansion offer multiple examples of linguistic contacts with the wider world, with translations, lexical borrowings, and records of multilingual exchanges between travellers and the peoples they encountered.

These two online evening seminar sessions, jointly organised by TIDE (University of Oxford, ERC) and LARCA (University of Paris, CNRS), aim at exploring some of the practices and strategies underpinning polyglot encounters in travel accounts produced or read in England. Drawing on linguistic, lexicographic, literary and historical methodologies, we will look into some of the contexts and significances of these textual contact zones. Particular attention will be paid to uses of polyglossia in processes of identity construction, defining and promoting national or imperial agendas, appropriating and assimilating foreign linguistic capital, or meeting resistance and limits from linguistic and cultural others refusing to lend themselves to subaltern status.

The event is supported by ERC-TIDE (Oxford), the “Early Modernities” seminar of LARCA (UMR 8225, CNRS, University of Paris), the “Translation and Polyglossia” project (Université Paris Nanterre & Institut Universitaire de France), IHRIM (UMR 5317, CNRS, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon), and the EMRC (University of Reading).

Session 1: Global Threads and Tangles

9 November, 5:00-6.30PM

Chair: Laetitia Sansonetti (Université Paris Nanterre & Institut Universitaire de France)

5:00-5.30PM

Andrew Hadfield (University of Sussex): “The Madoc Legend, Language and Race at the Dawn of The First British Empire”

The story of Madoc, the Welsh prince who discovered America before Columbus, has had a wide resonance and a number of historical moments. It was used to assert that the British had the real claim to the New World, predating that of the Spanish. In a relatively benign form the myth has been used to bolster Welsh national pride, proclaiming that the nation outdid the much-vaunted achievements of its bullying Saxon neighbours. In a more sinister version the stories of the descendants of Madoc have been used to search for ‘White Indians’, more civilized than the real natives of the Americas, justifying colonial domination and genocide. In between these two positions lies a confection of conspiracy theories, pseudo-scholarship, fantasies and tales of wonder. In this paper I will concentrate on the basis for the Madoc myth, the apparent survival in Mexico of Welsh-speaking natives, testimony to the presence of an intrepid medieval Celtic explorer. The identification of a few words from a language of a nation that had already been absorbed into a larger political entity was then used to by the Anglo-British state to justify its proposed imperial expansion, a splendid example of how apparently serious principles of humanist scholarship could be deployed.

5.30-6:00PM

Sarah Knight (University of Leicester): “‘Their Garments variegate like ye fishes in ye Euxine sea’: fashion, languages and perceptions of the Ottoman world at the early modern English universities”

In May 1631 Thomas Crosfield, Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, invited Thomas Dallam, artisan organ-maker, to visit him at university and recount ‘his great entertainement by ye Turkes in their Court’. In the lively bilingual diary he kept from 1626 onwards, Crosfield’s account of Dallam’s observations is the longest of several entries on contemporary Ottoman politics and culture, including details of ‘News in a Curranto’ he read in 1626. Crosfield demonstrates a marked interest in clothes: he is curious about ‘turbants’, and contrasts the ‘Garments variegate’ of ‘ye Turkes’ with what Dallam tells him about the value placed in contemporary Istanbul on ‘our English Garments, as broadcloath for vests’.

Crosfield’s interest follows what we know of the contemporary cloth trade as described in the travel narratives of Hakluyt and others, but also reflects a widespread literary tendency at the early modern English universities to understand and represent cultural and linguistic difference through sartorial analogy. Late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Oxford and Cambridge witnessed an increasing curiosity about languages less familiar to humanistically educated students, long before formal teaching positions or degree structures were established, and of wide-ranging geographical origin. Such curiosity encompassed both newer vernaculars and older languages other than Greek and Latin, and was articulated by young students and mature scholars alike in their diaries, speeches and plays in English and in Latin.

6:00-6.30PM:

Question and discussion time

Session 2: Communications and Miscommunications

11 November, 5-6.30PM

Chair: Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (IHRIM, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon)

5:00-5.30PM

Donatella Montini (University of Sapienza Rome): Travel and Translation in John Florio’s Two Navigations

Just returned to England by the mid-1570s after achieving his intellectual and linguistic education on the continent, the well-known Anglo-Italian lexicographer and translator John Florio spent several years at Oxford as a language teacher, around the time of the publication of his famous didactic dialogues, Firste Fruites, in 1578. In this period of his early career, Florio also developed a collaboration with the English geographer Richard Hakluyt (1553-1616) (Divers Voyages 1582, Principall Navigations 1589, 1598-1600), a translator himself, a go-between, a key figure in promoting English colonial and commercial expansion in the early modern period. Hakluyt commissioned and paid Florio’s translation of the account of the first two voyages of the French explorer and geographer Jacques Cartier (1494-1554), concerning the 1530s French exploration of Canada. However, Florio – Montaigne’s future translator! – did not work on Cartier’s reports, but on the Italian version translated from French by the Italian humanist Giovan Battista Ramusio. Two Navigations is clearly another typical example of transit and translation in early modern Europe: the focus is on the geographical triangle France–Italy–England this time, and the story of Two Navigations is a story of multiple authors/translators, of multiple and multilingual voices. The aim of my presentation will be to build a case of this less known translation by the young Florio, firstly describing the book and its intertextual connections, that are intercultural as well. As a second step, I will draw on the model of the early modern translations/communications circuit proposed by Brenda Hosington and Marie-Alice Belle in 2017, and try to visualize the interrelated connections of Florio’s translation.

5.30-6:00PM

Matthew Dimmock (University of Sussex): “Ylyaoute! English Engagements with the ‘Strange Tongues’ of the Far North”

There was a flourish of interest in the far north in England in the late 1570s and 1580s. Six voyages departed in these years in search of a north-west passage to the inestimable riches of China and were led first by Martin Frobisher and then by John Davis. They generated a great deal of speculation from their own participants as well as those back in England about the nature and sovereignty of the region. This growing interest had been initially fuelled by the potent fantasies of John Dee, who had imagined empty Arctic lands, those ‘least knowen to Christian men’, that could only be conquered by ‘Brytish wisdom, Manhode & Travaile’.

Too often our appreciation of the importance of these voyages and their engagement with the different Inuit populations of Baffin, Labrador and East Greenland is eclipsed by a single narrative: that of Frobisher’s single-minded pursuit of his worthless ‘black ore’. However they are much more important than that. The linguistic record of these polyglot interactions is particularly rich, and the ways in which the English understood the languages they meticulously recorded, and what they chose to record, invariably offer an insight into the tangle of motivations and ethno-religious confusion that underpinned the voyages themselves. And although enlisted to support Dee’s sense of British imperial destiny in the north, I want to consider the ways these recorded Inuit words and voices actually counter that claim, challenging Davis’s accompanying assertion that the Arctic would make the English ‘stars of wonder to al nations of the earth’.

6:00-6.30PM:

Question and discussion time

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