Grammars and Rhetorics

To appear in the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain, ed. by Siân Echard and Richard Rouse (forthcoming, August 2017)

opening paragraph: What is called western civilization is, perhaps, a fusion of the Roman imperial state and an Abrahamic religion of salvation. Both components of this geminate cultural form depend profoundly on the written word; western societies have therefore required, at minimum, a continuous supply of literate servants, and this need was met during the Middle Ages by the teaching of Latin. Latin was the language of the western Church; it was also the language in which secular authorities across most of medieval western Europe conducted their core literate activities. The treatises developed for and employed in the teaching of elementary and advanced Latin literacy are here termed grammars and rhetorics. By their shifting shapes and contents, they track deep changes in the social conditioning of literacy and social demands upon it. They had an intimate and formative relation with specifically literary practices of reading and writing.

abstract: Grammar and rhetoric were the disciplines charged with teaching correct and effective use of language in antiquity. In the Middle Ages, these disciplines served to maintain Latin as a language of culture, religion, and administration over much of Europe. Grammatical studies flourished in medieval England following the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Subsequent developments in grammatical and rhetorical studies in Britain in the Middle Ages track deep changes in the social conditioning of literacy and social demands upon literacy. Among the medieval English innovations in these disciplines were the teaching of Latin as a foreign language, the cultural accommodation of grammar and rhetoric to Christianity, the creation of new genres of rhetorical textbooks, and the development of bilingual pedagogies that paired Latin with vernacular languages.

section outline: 1. Inheritance and innovation: an overview — 2. After empire (beginnings to 600) — 3. Missionary grammar (600-800) — 4. Losses and recoveries (800-1150) — 5. An expanded field (1150-1450) — 6. Plague, print, and humanism (1350-1542)

I have also created a zotero bibliography on this topic.

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