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From Literacy to LiteratureEngland, 1300–1400$
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Christopher Cannon

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198779438

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779438.001.0001

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Grammaticalization and Literary Form

Grammaticalization and Literary Form

(p.125) 4 Grammaticalization and Literary Form
From Literacy to Literature

Christopher Cannon

Oxford University Press

Middle English poetry was grammaticalized because it sometimes took the form of basic exercises of literacy training. This is apparent in William Langland’s Piers Plowman, which can look at times–which was at times–a sequence of translation exercises joined together by an overarching grammatical metaphor. The movement from Latin to English verse in Piers Plowman also makes clear how these basic exercises trained the schoolboy to write his own English poetry. Although we often describe the “birth of Middle English poetry” as the function of some large-scale development in language or cultural history, that birth necessarily occurred again and again, in the exercises of an individual schoolboy who responded to a Latin prompt with English verse of his own. The frequent translation of English into Latin in Piers Plowman also makes clear that many of the “quotations” in this poem previously impossible to source were written by Langland himself.

Keywords:   grammatical exercises, grammatical metaphor, translation, William Langland, Piers Plowman, birth of Middle English poetry, quotations

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