Abstracts. 2021 Conference on (Mis)Communication, Translation, and Community

Jane Beal, University of La Verne, CA: The Chaucerian Translator

Chaucer’s narrator is a multifaceted character within most of his works. In The Canterbury Tales, the Chaucerian narrator is best-known to both students and scholars as “Chaucer the Pilgrim,” in order to distinguish him from Chaucer the author. The narrator-pilgrim is an essential part of the “frame narrative,” meeting with Harry Bailey, the host, at the Tabard Inn along with the other pilgrims and telling his own tale on the journey to Canterbury, “Sir Thopas.” Chaucer’s narrator plays a significant role in other works, too:  he appears to be a naivë, over-awed, sleep-deprived dreamer in Book of the Duchess, House of Fame, and Parliament of Fowls; like Troilus, he apparently falls in love with Criseyde himself in Chaucer-the-author’s Trojan romance, Troilus and Criseyde. The distance between the narrator’s and the author’s voice seems to collapse to almost nothing in some of his lyric poems and the Treatise on an Astrolabe, dedicated to “little Louis,” the author’s son, but the distinction between the two still holds. This can be understood in part, from a literary-critical perspective, by the fact that the Chaucerian narrator matures and changes over the course of different literary works by Chaucer the author. This development can be seen in a particular facet of the Chaucerian narrator:  his role as a translator.  

            In the case of many of Chaucer’s literary works, the Chaucerian narrator could easily and perhaps more readily be called the Chaucerian translator when he appears. Clearly, Chaucer the author conceived of himself not only as a “maker,” a poet, but as a translator. He calls the vast majority of his works “translaciouns” in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women (LGW) and in his Retraction.  This self-conception deserves more critical consideration as does the process of development that the Chaucerian translator undergoes between the Legend and the Retraction added to the end of The Canterbury Tales.  

Remarks by the Chaucerian translator throughout Chaucer’s corpus give readers some ideas about how Chaucer the author wanted his audience to perceive how he conceived of the work of translation. To an extent, that conception is traditional and informed by Chaucer’s literary and cultural contexts. First, the translator—especially when acting as a compiler—is dependent upon his authors. However, he is not compelled to acknowledge them, although he may want to do so if he derives authority from them. Second, the Chaucerian translator may act as a fidus interpres (“a faithful translator”) without translating verbum pro verbo (“word for word”)That is to say, for Chaucer’s translator, faithful translation is possible when translating meaning-for-meaning rather than word-for-word.

Third, when Chaucer the author ventriloquizes his pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, such as the Nun’s Priest and the Physician, deliberate mistranslations may serve the purposes of satire or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, sincerity, for a multilingual audience. Finally, the Chaucerian translator, whatever his rhetoric might otherwise imply, ultimately takes responsibility for his translations, which he believes may have a damning or salvific effect for his soul, if we as the audience take his remarks in the Retraction seriously. This is a significant development in the Chaucerian translator’s persona near the chronological end of Chaucer’s literary career. 

While Chaucer the author’s works often tend toward satire, the principles that the Chaucerian translator either articulates or demonstrates clearly establish the expectations Chaucer desires his audience to have:  namely that his translations will be faithful to truth, they will be culturally relevant, and they will be spiritually efficacious. 


Chiara Benati, Dipartimento di Lingue e Culture Moderne, Università degli Studi di Genova: Preventing Miscommunication: Early Modern German Surgeons as Specialized Translators

Whether compiled from authoritative sources or translated – either from Latin or from another vernacular – surgical texts all aim at clarity and accuracy, since any misunderstanding could have severe consequences for both the patient’s health and the practitioner’s reputation. In early modern German surgical literature, the rendering of specialized terminology is particularly relevant in this respect. The strong dependence on Latin (and Greek) specialized terms has already been described by Pörksen (1994, on the basis of the language used by Paracelsus in his lectures by introducing the metaphor of the ‘half-timbered’ language (German Fachwerksprache): the universally recognized and crystallized medical vocabulary of classical origin represents a warranty against any misunderstanding possibly arising from the use of the still precarious and arbitrary German terminology. A series of case studies from both the High and Low German (manuscript and printed) surgical tradition will be presented in this paper in order to highlight the strategies adopted by their authors to translate foreign language sources and convey a completely clear and unequivocal message.



Amina Boukail, University of Jijel-Algeria: Translation ‒ Culture ‒ Alterity in Medieval Iberia: The Case of Kalila wa Dimna in Hebrew and Castilian

Translations played an interesting role in cultural exchanges in the Iberian Peninsula insofar as they allowed the circulation of images, metaphors, and symbols, especially when Alfonso X founded a Schola Traductorum (School of Translation) in Toledo and employed an important team of scholars and translators who translated scores of crucial works of science, astronomy, philosophy, and wisdom literature from Arabic into Castilian, like Kalila wa-Dimna in 1251. In parallel, Kalila wa Dimna was translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Yoel and there is even another translation by Ya’aqob ben El’azar de Toledo from the end of the 12 century. But those translations of this famous work (the book was of Indian origin and it was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Muqaffa) were not just conveying meaning from source-language text to equivalent target-language text, but they became re-writings and reconstructions of the original text in a new context. This is what Translation Studies call “domesticating” in translation. In this case, the translation is inseparable from the political or cultural concerns in the target language system, and many of the practices of translation in this period reflected the relationship between Orient and Western.
          This paper tries to follow the target of translation of “Kalila wa Dimana” into Hebrew and Castilian. I will start with a brief, comparative historical-cultural overview of the versions of the story of Kalila wa Dimna in Hebrew and Castilian. Then I will analyze the strategies and procedures used to translate culture-bound references defining Otherness. Through the examination of several passages from the story “The Encircled Pigeon,” I will conclude by examining how the translation of Kalila wa Dimna contributed to the development of European literature in the late Middle Age


Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona, Tucson: Entertainment and Laughter as a Training Ground for Communication: Heinrich Kaufringer, ca. 1400

Late medieval verse and prose narratives have been regularly recognized as didactic, informative, and entertainment in their purpose, whether we think of Boccaccio or Chaucer, Bracciolini or Margarethe de Navarre. We have not quite understood yet to what extent those tales also served to illustrate to the audiences how people ought to communicate with each other, either within marriage or in public, within the city or in closed social groups. Heinrich Kaufringer's verse narratives from ca. 1400 prove to be most explicit in that regard, but they only address ultimately what most other poets of this kind of texts had obviously in mind.


Wessam Elmeligi, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Dearborn: Reclaiming Their Status through Poetry: A Literary and Digital Textual Analysis of the Medieval Poetry of Arab Women

This study attempts to trace recurrent motifs and themes that reflect how medieval Arab women poets reclaimed their position in society through their writing, thus using poetry as tools of empowerment within a male-dominated society. This paper problematizes the cultural stereotypes of medieval Arab women and poses questions about self-representation in their poetry. The presentation is divided in two parts. The first part categorizes the types of reclaiming status that Arab women poets accomplished in their poems. This is evident in four categories: reclaiming space, reclaiming the body, reclaiming the mind, and reclaiming the narrative. The second part uses digital textual analysis to explore the changing structures of their poems by employing word mapping to underline prevalent words that highlight new motifs. From poetry that is narrowly restricted to genres such as eulogies for male warriors in Pre-Islamic times, to a wider range of genres that encompass love poetry, erotic poetry, and spiritual Sufi poetry, the poetry of Arab women developed in the Umayyad, Abbasid, Andalusian, and even Fatimid and Mamluk eras reflect the changing position of women in their communities. Combining both a stylistic and thematic analysis, the article examines the role of poetry by Arab women as means of communication in their communities.

Amany El-Sawy, Alexandria University, Egypt: Community and the Others: Crossing Boundaries in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Early modern Venice was governed by rough proto-Enlightenment ideals and traditionally sanctioned principles about acceptance and community. That is, anybody who did not belong to the mainstream white Christian patriarchal society was regarded as the "other" and was not accepted. The conflict and opposition of the different ideologies made Venice’s social and religious boundaries much more ambiguous and difficult to assess than Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice would lead us to believe. Despite the fame of  The Merchant of Venice and its widely recognized depictions of Shylock, the ‘merciless’ Jew, we often fail to appreciate the deeper themes and observations that Shakespeare develops about religion, gender, and how socio-economic factors mixed and divided social groups. In the world of the superior patriarchal Christian Venetian community, "others" like Shylock, Jessica and Portia have to cross boundaries in order to be seen and to be accepted. Religion and gender are the boundaries hindering Shylock, his daughter, and Portia from belonging to and from communicating properly with their community. Thus, this paper intends to investigate the different boundaries crossed that Shakespeare develops in The Merchant of Venice in order to understand how socio-religious groups defined themselves in the Venetian community.


Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University, Nebraska: Proscribed Communication: The Obscene Language of the Troubadour William IX of Aquitaine

The songs of William IX (1071-1126), Duke of Aquitaine and VII Count of Poitiers, are famous as the earliest known Romance vernacular lyrics. They are also infamous for their author's penchant for the use of decidedly obscene language and rather explicit terms in his references to the human body and sexuality. Ever since the earliest commentaries on troubadour literature, and even in his own time, his works have been subjected to greater or lesser degrees of criticism, censorship and/or suppression. Even canonical editions, such as those of Alfred Jeanroy, in the early twentieth century, drew the line at certain expressions, and even whole poems, presenting them in the original Occitan language but refusing to translate them into modern French. The same has been true of many other modern scholars who have felt repelled by William's language and also embarrassed to speak in as free a manner as the first troubadour did. As recently as 2011, while I presented a paper on William at the International Medieval Studies Congress in Kalamazoo, a member of the audience became irate at my translating into modern English the word con, which William uses in expressions like "leis de con" and "cons gardatz," and which is also employed by the highly moralistic troubadour, Marcabru. As it turned out, the anger was not confined to an isolated individual and was shared by a number of colleagues who considered it scandalous and unacceptable to use such words, even in a scholarly discussion dealing with the historical use of the words in medieval literary texts. The situation is not unlike that of the recently reported firing of New York Times reporter, Donald McNeil Jr., who used the N-word during a discussion of the use of such language. Although the intention was not racist but clearly aimed at having an open and honest discussion of racist language, the Executive Editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, and the Managing Editor, Joe Kahn, announced that McNeil was leaving the paper and unequivocally stated that, "We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent" (5 February, 2021). In that context of suppression of language (and implicitly of ideas), in medieval and contemporary contexts, this paper aims to explore its possible reasons and implications. It may turn out that, since the works of William were created at a key moment in the formation of modern western subjectivities, the reactions of various audiences to those works might be able to tell us something significant about ourselves, likely something we do not want to face.


Filip Hrbek, University of J. E. Purkyně, Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic: The Physicians’ Community in Pre-Thirty Years’ War Bohemia

The medical profession or community has always been a subject of criticism by other social or professional groups. There were several reasons for this. At first, physicians are those who interfere in the lives of other people by working for the health of all the people. Second, advancing deeper into the human body was in medieval and early modern society a de facto breaching of a certain taboo, which became another factor contributing to the exclusive status of members of the medical profession. A physicians’ community formed in this way was under certain circumstances viewed rather critically by other social or professional groups. This negative opinion aimed at making a community of physicians responsible (justly or unjustly) for an unwanted state of public health or social pathology. Such opinions emerged particularly since the middle of the fourteenth century in the wake of many waves of plague epidemics, against which the medical profession did not know any effective remedies. Such tensions between physicians and Church authors in times of plague epidemics are interesting for us mainly because of two reasons. At first, it shows us the different approaches by clergymen and physicians how to deal with plague epidemics, where the clergymen point to the importance of social functioning of the community whereas physicians are in favor of pure epidemiological measures disregarding their social impact. This is most evident in the question if a healthy person has the right to flee before the plague or not. Second, as this intellectual conflict between these two groups of authors erupts, the Church authors start to question the existence of the physicians’ profession standing outside of the authority of the clergymen. The objective of this paper will be to analyze Czech-language plague (anti-plague) texts mainly by Church authors to show how the community of early modern physicians was judged by the Church authors and who communicated their point of view to the majority of the population of early modern Bohemia. Thus, this paper should also answer the question regarding the social status of physicians in early modern society.

Nere Jone Intxaustegi Jauregi, University of Deusto, Spain: Communication and Translation in Early Modern Basque Society. The Role Played by the Notaries Public

The public notaries were worldwide very important; not only in the apparatus of the state but also in the daily organization of people’s lives. They were, among other things, in charge of writing testaments, codicils, labor contracts, dowries, or loans. Therefore, communication was a key element of their job, since they had to write down names, dates, and personal information that the clients gave them. However, a communication problem could arise when the clients did not speak the administrative language. In our case, the Basque territories belonged to the Castilian Crown, but Basque and Castilian are completely different languages. Besides, the number of Basque monolingual speakers was around 90% of the society. For that reason, the notaries public in the Basque territories had more responsibilities, since they also had to perform the task of the translator. 

So, this paper will address the translator’s tasks carried out by the notaries public and it will analyze the training of the notaries public, and the demand of those linguistic skills among men and women, and also in urban and rural spaces. In order to achieve that, archival records will be used.


Chiara Melchionno, Scuola Superiore Meridionale - University of Naples “Federico II”, Italy: Paremiac Expressions: A Touch of Color in the Ambassadors’ Diplomatic Correspondence in the Fifteenth Century

Is it possible – and, if so, how – to explain the presence of paremiac expressions – (proverbs strictu sensu, sayings and locutions) – in the correspondence of Italian ambassadors? A distinction recently introduced in the discourse on proverbs, sayings and locutions defines a paremia as a sequence of syntagms constituting a single verbal act; a short, conventional, polysemic, and exhaustive expression, based on a logical-rhythmical and binary opposition, which is typical of the oral tradition and is aimed at explicating a piece of advice. Pertaining to the oral dimension, it would seem almost paradoxical that these expressions can be found in such formal texts as the ambassadors’ letters.
            Actually, paremiac expressions mirror the communicative praxis of the Middle Ages, when orality and writing went hand in hand: the former was the predominant method of communication, but they both derived from the same rhetorical models, being therefore complementary and not opposites.                   This paper intends to investigate the presence of paremias within a number of diplomatic letters exchanged between the State of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples in the fifteenth centuryin order to understand what was their linguistic and communicative function and how greatly they influenced (and changed) the nature of Italian diplomatic letters itself.
            A series of case studies, deriving from the letters kept in the State Archive of Milan and exchanged between Galeazzo Maria Sforza (lord of Milan) and Francesco Maletta (his ambassador to Alfonso of Aragon in Naples) will be presented in order to better highlight the uniqueness of this correspondence, which lies in its composite linguistic features (a mix of Latin and Italian vernacular) and in the political and historical relevance of its content.


David Tomíček, Usti na Labem, Czech Republic: Communication about the Health Risks in the Czech Written Medical Sources of the 15th and 16th Centuries.

Medieval medicine, grounded on the authoritative Greek humoral theory later deepened by Arabic scholars and “modern” commentators, was firmly determined for centuries by Latin terminology and the classical scientific ways of thinking. Through the theories about the generation and corruption of the human body, it was part of the abstract philosophical concept of nature. During the late medieval period, medicine left the limited field of clerical thinking and became a part of the public space of vernacular discourse and opened itself up to the understanding of laypeople lacking both terminological and conceptual framework in that field. New possibilities of printed books emphasized the challenge of how to communicate the medical topics to the broader audience. In my paper I will examine the medical sources composed in the Czech language, both manuscripts and prints, to answer the question about the new argumentative strategies and even manipulative techniques used to underline the importance of physicians and medical science to enjoy a long and healthy life.