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Modes of Multilingualism: Contemporary Language Theory and the Works of John Gower Open Access

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This project is an attempt to draw attention to the ways in which contemporary formations of language ideology have influenced contemporary readings of the multilingual practice of the fourteenth-century English author John Gower. By unpacking the relationship between his role as an “English” author with his linguistic practice, each chapter draws attention to the relationship between the operations of language and the operations of cultural ideology. My project aims to provoke a reconceptualization of how we think about multilingualism, recognize when and where contemporary language ideology is structuring our expectations of the operations of language, and revisit our unmarked assumptions about language and cultural identity. Further, my project aims to show that focusing in on textual moments of Gower’s work serves to build a picture of his multilingualism that is more true to the operations of language, rather than the operations of language ideology. By distinguishing between his ideological investments and the operations of language at each of these textual moments, this project seeks to attend to the operations of language without succumbing to contemporary language ideologies. This project, like Gower’s work, aims to think about language cross-historically: it provides a critical vocabulary to describe the disjunctions between present-day multilingual contexts and Gower’s own medieval literary practice. Each chapter offers a case study from Gower’s work that thematizes linguistic change and mobility and challenges dominant models of contemporary language ideology. The first chapter dismantles the conflation between language and nation. The second chapter tackles the concept of English as a global language and its influence on shifting definitions of cultural identity. The third chapter reconceptualizes the relationship between “living” vernaculars and “dead” languages. The fourth chapter nuances how we understand a translation as a linear descendent from its source text. The ensuing comparative literary analysis in each chapter exposes unacknowledged political implications in modern critical discourse about Gower’s language use and literary output. In reading Gower alongside modern language theory, this project develops a framework for discussing medieval multilingualism in ways that is both mindful of historical language use and present-day language politics.

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