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Lecture | Sociolinguistics Series

Multilingualism in old songs from the Low Countries

Friday 18 December 2020
Sociolinguistics & Discourse Studies Series
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An intriguing aspect of medieval and early modern songs in the Low Countries is that a small proportion is multilingual. In several databases, songs are found in which Dutch is combined with Latin, French, German or other languages. An example is In Dulci Jubilo of which many versions are known with varying parts in Dutch or German and Latin (from the 14th century on). For a sociolinguist specialised in multilingualism, the medieval and early modern songs are an intriguing field where multilingualism serves a multitude of functions.

In spoken language, the use of more than one language may indicate, e.g., lack of knowledge in one of the languages or the expression of belonging to more than one culture. In songs, the functions may overlap with functions of multilingualism in spoken language. There are some differences, though, which may have consequences. Spoken language is spontaneous, there is not always time to look for the best or most appropriate word in one language (L) so the other L can be used, provided that speech partners master the same Ls. However, multilingualism in songs is not used ‘by accident’ but it is used with a purpose.

In my paper, I will present an analysis of functional aspects of multilingualism in old songs. Besides, a linguistic analysis reveals that types of codeswitching that do not occur in contemporary conversations are found in these songs. I will discuss whether Myers-Scottons Matrix Language Frame model (1993) is useful in the study of old multilingual songs.

The analyses will be based on a collection of songs mainly selected from the Liederenbank (Meertensinstituut, Amsterdam).


  • Myers-Scotton, Carol (1993) Duelling Languages. Oxford: Clarendon.

LUCL Sociolinguistics Series website

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