"Litteris vulgariter in lingua romana expositis": the use of Old French in the charters of the abbey of Ninove (1137-1350).

Catharina Fernanda Peersman

1: FWO-Vlaanderen, Belgium 2: K.U.Leuven, Belgium


« Litteris vulgariter in lingua romana expositis »: the use of Old French in the charters of the abbey of Ninove (1137-1350).

The former abbey of Ninove, situated in the south of the Dutch-speaking area of Flanders, near the linguistic border, left us a well preserved collection of medieval charters. Within this charter corpus, we examine the circumstances of the rise and use of Old French from the foundation of the abbey (1137) to the end of the Old French period (1350). Our case-study combines, for the first time, a scriptological (1) dialect analysis with a sociolinguistic variation study.

Once all charters and their contemporaneous copies, whether they are written in Latin, Old French or Middle Dutch, have been described in a socio-historic profile based on their content, the Old French charters are subjected to a detailed scriptological analysis in which every dialectal characteristic – e.g. Picardian, Walloon, Norman, Flemish – is inventoried. These two phases allow the combination of socio-historic and linguistic data (content and form) of the charters and thus create various research possibilities.

From a more general perspective, the socio-historic conditions for the rise of the written vernaculars in the corpus can then be analysed. More specifically within the use of written Old French, it is possible to examine to which degree certain dialect variants are linked with socio-historic variables.

For instance, between 1250 and 1350, written Old French first appears next to Latin. Afterwards the lingua romana is joined and then completely dominated by Middle Dutch, the spoken language of the region. Are the different stages of the rise of the written vernacular marked by a new institution, a legal theme or social circumstances? Which factors encouraged the use of written French ? Which particular varieties of French are used ? How do we measure the contrast between big landowners, such as the counts of Flanders, and local landlords, who use clearly distinct dialect variants of Old French?

(1) Scriptology has been a popular method for French dialect analysis of medieval documents (GOSSEN 1967). It helped to locate anonymous literary texts and allowed DEES (1980) to create an atlas of 13th century French word forms and constructions in charters. Since then, however, scriptology has been nothing more.


DEES, A. 1980. Atlas des formes et des constructions des chartes françaises du 13e siècle. (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 178). Tübingen: Niemeyer.

GOSSEN, C.T. 1967. Französische Scriptastudien. Untersuchungen zu den Nordfranzösischen Urkundensprachen des Mittelalters. (Oesterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse. Sitzungsberichte 253). Wien: Böhlau.

Session: Paper session
Sign Langages Archives / History
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 09