Language Mixing as a Persuasive Strategy in Oxford, MS Bodley

Halmari, Helena
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Medieval Worlds

One of the salient features of Oxford, MS Bodley 649, a fifteenth-century sermon collection, is its frequent switching from Latin to English - and back to Latin again. Building on Wenzel’s (1994) groundbreaking work on macaronic sermons, I discuss the rhetorical characteristics of English elements in MS Bodley 649, with the purpose of showing that language mixing in this collection is not random but rather one of the rhetorical devices that the author uses for persuasion. The English elements are frequently used to build grammatical cohesion through structural parallelism. Also, lexical and semantic cohesion are achieved via repetition of the same words in both languages or through English paraphrases of Latin scriptural content. Alliteration, another rhetorical device, often coincides with language switches within the sermons. I hope to show that, together with other rhetorical strategies, mixing English into Latin constitutes one means within an entire bundle of linguistic devices that all contribute to the persuasive purpose of the genre. As a preliminary finding of some work in progress, I report on the nature of the English words mixed into these highly scholastic and often allegorical sermons. The English elements within the sermons tend to provide content that is mundane, or objectionable (from the point of view of Christian conduct and goals), or even merely negative (if not repulsive). An important conclusion is that none of the rhetorical strategies that overlap with code-switching into English are used mechanically and systematically by the sermonist; the coincidence of the bundled persuasive features is never predictable. However, this does not mean that mixing English elements into Latin in MS Bodley 649 should be characterized as random. A persuasive sermon is not tamely predictable in its delivery; it must offer surprises as audience-engagement strategies. The most salient surprises in MS Bodley 649 are provided by the English elements.

Article originally published by Medieval Worlds in 2021
macaronic sermons, Oxford MS Bodley, code-switching, persuasion, cohesive devices, alliteration, repetition, structural parallelism
Halmari, Helena. 2021. Language mixing as a persuasive strategy in Oxford, MS Bodley 649. Medieval Worlds 13 (July 1). 177–194. doi: 10.1553/medievalworlds_no13_2021s177