USES OF THE USELESS
Historians of Europe have sometimes drawn a rather simple contrast between a Middle Ages in which scholars and churchmen used Latin to communicate with one another and a modern period characterized by the rise of the vernacular. They have described the sixteenth century as the age of Ariosto, Montaigne, Shakespeare and Cervantes and drawn attention to Luther’s decision to write his pamphlets in German; to Paracelsus daring to lecture in the university in the same language; to Du Bellay’s defence of French as a fit idiom for poetry, and to a group of scholars from Portugal to Poland who published treatises in praise of their respective mother tongues. Thus the American scholar Richard Jones called his classic study of attitudes to English between 1460 and 1660 The Triumph of the English Language, while Ferdinand Brunot offered an equally patriotic account of linguistic change in his multi-volume Histoire de la langue française.
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