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Translation and the Untranslatable in Medieval Francophone Texts and Manuscripts

This project draws on scholarship in postcolonial and translation studies to consider a range of twelfth- and thirteenth-century material, including works attributed to Marie de France, romances by Continental authors (e.g. Chrétien de Troyes, Philippe de Rémi), thirteenth-century jargon texts, and Anglo-Norman bestiary manuscripts, as well as saints' lives and devotional literature.

Unlike many studies of medieval translation, the project is not primarily about the practice or theory of vernacular translation. Instead, it considers two issues:

  1. How translation is not necessarily about transfer of meaning between texts.
  2. How redefining translation in this way enables a more expansive exploration of uses of translation that fall outside the more studied model of Latin to French translation.

Translation from Latin is thus considered alongside other kinds of translation either between French and other vernacular languages or between different kinds of French. Similarly, translation between texts is considered alongside other types of translation occurring within a single text, with or without any reference to sources (e.g. through the glossing of terms in other languages or through the use of jargon).

As part of this investigation, the project considers how translatability and untranslatability are mutually implicated in medieval texts and how writers, as well as being concerned with what can or must be translated, also make use of the untranslatable (in the form of the impossibility or failure of translation).

What this approach contributes to more established source-based analyses of medieval translation is a focus on how medieval writers are not always primarily concerned with translating the meaning of a source text – they can, for example, be attempting to translate meanings that wholly or partially escape linguistic expression or may be using the failure of translation deliberately to comment on themes developed in the texts they're writing.