adiaphora22 (adiaphora22) wrote in medieval_liter,

Vernacular Voices

что-то в этом сообществе совсем мало про medieval liter))  а вот в этой книжке-много) делюсь обзором.
Fudeman, Kirsten A. <i>Vernacular Voices: Language and Identity in
Medieval French Jewish Communities</i>. Series: Jewish Culture and
Contexts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. Pp.
xv, 254. $59.95. ISBN: 978-8122-4250-8.

The Medieval Review
Reviewed by Wendy Pfeffer
University of Louisville

Kirsten Fudeman is a linguist, and she brings that training to her
study of the texts composed by Jews in medieval France. Her interests
are not literary but linguistic, as she considers "the roles played by
language in shaping identity and culture" (2). The reader learns early
on the pointed questions that underlie this book: "How did language
affect how Jews thought, how they interacted with one another and with
Christians, and who they perceived themselves to be? What
circumstances and forces led to the genesis of a medieval Jewish
textual tradition in French and helped shape it? Who were the
writers, and how did they choose to write in their vernacular or
Hebrew?" (2). She notes that though individual texts composed in
French by medieval Jews have been studied to date, "there has not yet
been a concentrated attempt to place Hebraico-French texts within the
context of Old French textual production in general or the history of
the Jews in France" (9). Fudeman offers a cogent history of the
development of terms such as Judeo-French; she herself uses the term
Hebraico-French to describe the primary materials of interest to her:
works in Old or Middle French written using Hebrew letters (5).

One of the many merits of Fudeman's work is that she offers detailed
and precise explanations so that a knowledgeable, albeit not
necessarily specialized, reader can understand the book. By way of
example: in a few clear paragraphs, Fudeman explains the linguistic
lay of the land of medieval France, its multiple dialects, the
presence of other languages on territory that was not then controlled
by the French king, the presence of French in other areas of medieval
Europe (9-11). The reader thus has the information needed to follow
Fudeman's arguments. This kind of explanation occurs often in the book
and was a pleasure to spot. Other examples include: the definition of
diglossia (20-23); medieval Jewish literacy (23-25); the objects of
sociolinguistic study (27-28); a mini-history of the study of Jewish
languages (29-36); the definition of code-switching (45-46); an
explanation of the shift from Latin to vernacular languages around the
time of Charlemagne (118-119).

The book consists of but four chapters, followed by an appendix
listing extant Hebraico-French texts and glosses and then a second
appendix, an edition of a heretofore ignored medieval Jewish wedding

The chapter called "Language and Identity" formally sets the stage for
the book. Fudeman discusses Jewish languages, linguistic identity,
that nature of Jewish life in medieval France, linguistic markers of
identity and code-switching for linguistic or literary effect. Fudeman
concludes that Jews living in French-speaking areas of medieval France
used French as their daily language. I particularly appreciated her
description of French as the mother tongue, Hebrew as the father
tongue (13). She offers a Venn diagram (58) to help the reader
visualize the small area of overlap between the Old French and Hebrew
spheres of medieval Jewish existence. Fudeman is expert at finding
contemporary parallels to help the reader better understand medieval
realities. For example, in this chapter, she evokes observations of
Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in Bahrain: the two groups "have spoken
dramatically different dialects for one hundred fifty to two hundred
years despite living in close proximity to one another" (37, citing
Clive Holes).

The next chapter discusses four Hebrew letters that relate events that
took place in the town of Blois in 1171, events that led to what is
known as the Blois massacre. Fudeman sees the discussion of the
circumstances in Blois as an analysis of language itself. "Speech and
verbal interactions between Christians and Jews are central to the
letters' construction of the Blois incident" (69); the authors
contrast secretive, private discourse, which is conducive to deception
and destructiveness, with open, public statements (76). In this
environment, the issue of woman's speech comes into play. Though none
of the letters mentions the woman by name, Pucelline, a member of the
Blois Jewish community, is a significant figure in the story. It is
suggested that she had managed to offend some members of the local
Christian community, and it is reiterated that she was kept from the
local ruler, Thibalt, lest she change his mind. As Fudeman concludes,
"Pucelline and other women like her were neither powerless nor silent,
even if the letter writers' focus on male voices gives that
impression" (85). What is difficult to pull out of the letters is the
French discourse used by all involved in the events. Fudeman reminds
the reader that medieval Hebrew written discourse uses biblical
analogy, vocabulary and imagery, to the point that the Hebrew elegy
composed a century after the Blois events is a cento, "a poem pieced
together from passages from another source" (137). I agree with
Fudeman that the letters relating to the Blois massacre see speech as
a core issue. I am less convinced that we learn about French from
these texts in Hebrew, though the letters do give us insights into the
Jewish community of the time.

Chapter 3, "Texts of Two Colors," considers the choice of authors to
compose in French. Fudeman offers a quick overview of the beginnings
of the French literary tradition before explaining the nature of the
Hebraico-French corpus. The list of literary texts is remarkably
short: an elegy, two bilingual wedding songs, five hymns, and a short
poem on wine and love (91); in addition to these, there are magical
texts or charms, and a large number of glosses. Almost all of these
texts combine French and Hebrew vocabulary to some extent, from the
individual inserted word to much more extensive passages.

Fudeman puts some emphasis on the glosses; she reminds us that "they
are found in virtually every kind of prose text written by French-
speaking Jews" (104) from exegetical works to correspondence to
recipes. Glossaries were deemed fairly important by the medieval
community; several large ones are still extent (104). Fudeman may be
the first student of the Hebraico-French corpus to bring the glosses
into discussion of the literary works. Fudeman observes that
glossators could use translation to bring a word to life, using the
example of Joseph Kara (c. 1050?c. 1125). This medieval French scholar
translated the Hebrew word <i>re'alot</i> (veils) as both
<i>guimple</i>, "wimple" and <i>molechin</i> "a fine oriental fabric
(mousseline); the garment made from it (also veil)" (104), thereby
giving the reader "a precise and vivid image of biblical women dressed
in medieval garb" (105). Fudeman observes rightly that in some Hebrew
texts, "a specific item from the vernacular culture must be given a
vernacular name" (107), the counterpart to her earlier observation
that "Jews writing in Old French regularly called the bride
<i>kallah</i> and the bridegroom <i>hatan</i> can be argued
that these have no real vernacular equivalents, because they denote a
specifically Jewish bride and bridegroom" (47).

Fudeman suggests in passing that the interest in glossaries,
particularly an extensive glossary of bird names, "may reflect the
influence on Jewish scholars of medieval Christian encyclopedia
culture" (115), but I am not convinced by her arguments on this point.
Fudeman speaks briefly about a text whose opening line is "Alo[n]s nos
colcher car je tant mengai" (this is her "short poem on wine and
love"). Here is Fudeman's translation (117):

Let us go to bed because I have eaten so much, and drunk as
if to my heart's content;
I am as drunk as a piece of bread soaked in wine--I found my
cup at school.
Let us go to bed because we believed, you and I.

I was disappointed that she did not connect this text to the Goliardic
culture it seems to emulate. If Fudeman wants to put Jewish authors
into the larger textual community, then a reference to the Goliards, a
another medieval diglossic group, would have been in order here.

By the same token, I find Fudeman's discusssion a bit lacking when she
ties French literary works to the Hebraico-French corpus. The author
suggests that French Jews did not create a vernacular literary
tradition because Hebrew literacy was widespread (120); at the same
time, she allows that "Jews also had access to Christian-authored
texts in French" (120). Given the implicit and explicit references to
Old French texts in the Hebraico-French corpus (references are found
to the <i>Chanson de Roland</i>, the <i>Roman de la Rose</i>, the
<i>Roman d'Alexandre</i>, at the least), the second statement may
explain why there did not develop a distinct Hebraico-French
literature -- there may have been little need perceived for a
specifically Jewish vernacular literature. Fudeman adds "Old French
texts in Hebrew letters remained bound to their Hebrew context" (123).
In truth, she comes back to this theme in a later section, noting that
Hebraico-French texts appear in the thirteenth-century in northeastern
France as a "Jewish response to their fears and anxieties and to the
ways in which they were being singled out or shut out from the society
in which they had long dwelled" (149).

The last chapter is devoted to two macaronic wedding songs, which
Fudeman considers "for insights into values and attitudes shared by
all members of the community, educated and uneducated alike" (133).
The two songs bring together "two languages and two cultures" (135,
citing Samuel Rosenberg). Nonetheless, "the Hebrew lines are
essentially the expression of Jewish knowledge and tradition, whereas
the French lines showcase vernacular cultural influences" (136). This
chapter contains the most literary analysis to this point, as Fudeman
explains first the Hebrew imagery and references used by the poet and
then the vernacular parallels. Fudeman makes this profound
observation, "By depicting a hero and maiden who are very much like
the figures in medieval French texts but who are Jewish, the wedding
songs remove religion as an essential characteristics of the knightly
hero and as the defining factor behind the <i>imaginaire</i> of France
and of French identity" (145). This point is important, though one
might ask if any individual in thirteenth-century Champagne or
Lorraine considered himself French, as opposed to Champenois or
Lorrain. It would be interesting to know Fudeman's take on Elia
Levita's <i>Bovo d'Antona</i>, a retelling with Jewish spin of the
<i>Bevis of Hampton</i> story.

Fudeman concludes with a brief epilogue, noting that the texts
discussed in this book were "captives of their Hebrew context" (151).
She argues that "the choice to write in French can . . . be considered
a voluntary, creative act of identity, a declaration of Jewish
membership in the vernacular community during a time when the Jews'
very presence there was threatened" (153).

Given the nature of the primary sources used for this book, texts
conceived in French and recorded in Hebrew letters, often but not
always vocalized, the art of editing these texts takes a strong
combination of linguistic and paleographic training, combined with a
good dose of intuition. Fudeman demonstrates her skill as an editor in
the presentation of a song that mixes French and Hebrew: "'Uri
liqra'ti yafah, gentis kallah einoreie" (Appendix 2: 159-173).

I think this is a fine book. Fudeman's linguistic training is her
strong suit; her literary analyses are not always as well developed as
her linguistic explanations. I am not fully convinced Fudeman answered
the tough questions she posed at the beginning of her volume, but I am
also not convinced that a corpus this limited would allow us to know
the answers. For the most part, one need not be familiar with the
Hebraico-French literary canon to follow Fudeman's arguments, although
such knowledge certainly helps. The circle of scholars already
familiar with these texts was fairly small; one great merit of this
book is that it will allow scholars of medieval French history,
literature and language to become more familiar with this cultural and
linguistic community.
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