Dr Emma Campbell, University of Warwick


The cultural and linguistic landscape in which medieval translation has traditionally been thought has undergone major shifts in recent decades, suggesting that the way in which translation is conceptualised and used in medieval textual cultures is in urgent need of revisiting. It increasingly looks as if modern notions of what translation is and how it is used fail adequately to describe what is occurring in medieval texts and manuscripts, which function in complex multilingual contexts and which frequently fail to distinguish authorship, translation, and adaptation. Although medievalists have been aware of this for some time, the majority of studies of medieval translation to-date have been reluctant to explore the more radical implications of medieval culture’s resistance to modern notions of translation, by focusing on a more recognisable relationship of translation (or ‘translatio’) between Latin and vernacular languages. This project addresses this by critically reconsidering medieval translation in light of recent developments in medieval studies and in modern postcolonial and translation studies. Rather than focusing on sources for vernacular texts, the project explores how, in the context of a changing picture of medieval language and culture, translation can be seen to function practically and conceptually in francophone texts and manuscripts. Within this setting, I argue greater attention should be paid to how medieval vernacular writers make use of untranslatability in the form of the impossibility or failure of translation. This extends the more usual source-based approach by focusing attention less on how sources are translated and more on the cultural, linguistic, and conceptual functions that medieval translation performed, which are often significantly shaped by a relationship to the boundaries of the culturally or humanly intelligible. The project is unconventional in bringing manuscript and other medieval textual evidence into dialogue with modern theoretical models, looking at examples ranging from saints’ lives to bestiary manuscripts. The project thus demonstrates how translation in medieval francophone contexts is much more than simply a matter of relations between texts and languages; in doing so, it breaks new ground in a well-established area of medieval studies and offers ways of defining and approaching translation that also have a relevance to more modern debates.​



Dr Emma Campbell

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