Code-Switching in Medieval English Drama


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Introductory remarks. This essay is an attempt to apply the sociolinguistic concept of code-switching to the analysis of medieval English drama. The study of code-switching began in the 1970s, notably in the work of John J. Gumperz and Dell Hymes which investigates communicative behavior in "speech communities" and has bcome known as the "ethnography of communication."1 Speech communities are defined as groups of speakers who

share knowledge of the communicative constraints and options

governing a significant number of social situations .... [M]embers of

the same speech community need not all speak the same language.

. . . All that is required is that there be at least one language in

common and that rules governing basic communicative strategies be

shared so that speakers can decode the social meanings carried by

alternative modes of communication.2

The term 'code-switching' (hereafter CS) owes its currency largely to an article by Gumperz and Jan-Petter Blom on switching in a small north Norwegian town between Ranamal, the local dialect, and Bokmfil, one of Norway's national standards.3 But the quoted definition makes it clear that CS may also occur between genetically and structurally distant languages.4 The population of medieval England, including of course its drama audiences, can thus be regarded as a (tri-lingual) speech community.5

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.