ILS Colloquium


20 May 2021
15:30 - 17:00
Online in Microsoft Teams

Jacomine Nortier

Multilingualism in old songs from the Low Countries

The programme for the Colloquium on May 20 has been changed last minute due to our speaker Janet Geipel being ill. Jacomine Nortier has kindly offered to replace her.

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Utrecht University

An intriguing aspect of medieval and early modern songs in the Low Countries is that a small proportion is multilingual. In several databases, songs are found in which Dutch is combined with Latin, French, German or other languages. An example is In Dulci Jubilo of which many versions are known with varying parts in Dutch or German and Latin (from the 14th century on). Much has been written about the functions of multilingualism in the mainly Latin Carmina Burana (originally 12th-13th century, Couwenberg, 2011).

For a sociolinguist specialised in multilingualism, the medieval and early modern songs are an intriguing field where multilingualism serves a multitude of functions.

In spoken language, the use of more than one language may indicate, e.g., lack of knowledge in one of the languages or the expression of belonging to more than one culture. In songs, the functions may overlap with functions of multilingualism in spoken language. There are some differences, though, which may have consequences. Spoken language is spontaneous, there is not always time to look for the best or most appropriate word in one language (L) so the other L can be used, provided that speech partners master the same Ls. However, multilingualism in songs is not used ‘by accident’ but it is used with a purpose. I will show that language manipulation in old songs seems to fulfil the same functions as in contemporary youth languages.

In my paper, I will present a preliminary analysis of functional aspects of multilingualism in old songs. Besides, a linguistic analysis reveals that types of codeswitching that do not occur in contemporary conversations are found in these songs (Gardner-Chloros, 2009).



Couwenberg, Lia (2011) Een Lied voor Elk Seizoen. De Carmina Burana in Beeld. Doctoral Disseration, Utrecht University.

Gardner-Chloros, Penelope (2009) Code-switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Myers-Scotton, Carol (1993) Duelling Languages. Oxford: Clarendon.