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Latin in Medieval Britain$

Richard Ashdowne and Carolinne White

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266083

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266083.001.0001

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(p.xiv) Preface

(p.xiv) Preface

Latin in Medieval Britain
Richard Ashdowne, Carolinne White
British Academy

In 1913, through the instigation of Robert J. Whitwell, a proposal was made to the Council of the British Academy stating the need for ‘an adequate and complete dictionary of the language, based on the best authorities and compiled on modern scientific principles’. A century later, in December 2013, scholars from across Europe gathered in Oxford to celebrate the completion of a dictionary that Whitwell inspired, the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (DMLBS). Over that century hundreds of volunteers and some two dozen editorial staff put in tens of thousands of hours of work researching and publishing nearly 4,000 pages that contain around 60,000 entries and 420,000 illustrative quotations covering the use of Latin in Britain from the mid-6th century to the end of the 16th. The story of the DMLBS is told elsewhere,1 but its completion marked a significant point for the study of Medieval Latin and that of Britain in particular. The events held in celebration, which comprised an academic conference, a public lecture, and a display of dictionary materials and original sources at the Bodleian Library, took the Latin of medieval Britain as their focus, and the aim was to show some of the ways in which due attention to the diversity of the use of that language, now made so much more accessible through the existence of the completed dictionary, could bear fruit.

The topics for the conference presentations were arranged in three main strands, seeking to chart the use of Latin at different times and for different functions in medieval Britain and to consider the relationship of Latin to the other languages of medieval Britain. This collection follows the same broad theme and division into three parts (use in different periods, use for different functions, and the relationship to the other contemporary languages), with the majority of the papers given at the conference appearing here in revised form together with some additional chapters dealing with further areas of use. Together they offer an insight into the place of Latin in the life of medieval Britain, considering such questions as who was choosing to use the language for what purpose and in what circumstances.

We should like to record our thanks to the Bodleian Library, the Oxford University Faculty of Classics, and the OUP John Fell Research fund for (p.xv) supporting the conference from which this volume arises; we are also grateful to the speakers and audience who attended and made the occasion so successful and memorable, and to our DMLBS colleagues who helped organise the events, namely Kathrin Gowers, Giuseppe Pezzini, Shelagh Sneddon, Mark Thakkar, and Tom Wrobel. The present volume would not have been possible without contributions, assistance, expertise and guidance from many quarters, and in addition to the contributors we thank by name Robert Bartlett, Margaret Bent, Thomas Charles Edwards, Paul Kunitzsch, Michael Reeve, Tobias Reinhardt, Mark Thakkar, Geert De Wilde, and Michael Winterbottom.

We record here our deep sorrow at the death in 2015 of one of our contributors, David Trotter. David was a distinguished scholar and lexicographer, as long-serving chief editor of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary and author of numerous papers about Anglo-Norman French and the relationship between it and the other languages of medieval Britain; he was also a generous and staunch supporter of the DMLBS enterprise over many years. His contribution to the DMLBS project in particular and to the study of the languages of medieval Britain more broadly has been immeasurable, and his death is an immense loss to scholarship.

Finally we hope that in a British Academy volume it is not inappropriate to express thanks to the British Academy itself for its century of support for the DMLBS project as a whole. In the final part of his keynote lecture at the conference, which appears here revised as chapters 2 and 15, David Howlett, who was the second and longest-serving editor of the DMLBS (from 1979 to 2011), said: ‘Let us now praise famous men and our fathers who begat us, beginning with the authors, named and anonymous, on whose works we have based our Dictionary, struggling to understand whose thoughts and expressions we have been stretched, enriched, and illuminated. Let us remember with gratitude those who imagined and fostered our enterprise but did not live to enjoy its completion.’ We hope that both the Dictionary and this volume can be said to have done justice to them and we acknowledge the central role of the Academy in enabling them to happen.

Richard Ashdowne and Carolinne White

Oxford 2016 (p.xvi)


(1.) See, for instance, R. Ashdowne (2014), ‘Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources’, British Academy Review 24: 46–53; D. Howlett (this vol., ch. 15) also relates some of the history of the project.