Polyglot Encounters in Early Modern English Narratives of Distant Travels 2

Online, November 11, 2020 - November 11, 2020

Organisers: Nandini Das (TIDE, Exeter College, Oxford), Ladan Niayesh (LARCA, University of Paris; Visiting Fellow, Exeter College, Oxford)

In an age of geographic discoveries and colonisation, easier communication, and international trade growing steadily from the mid-16th century, England gradually established itself as an Atlantic and global power, as a prelude to the formation of the British empire. English records of this era of expansion offer multiple examples of linguistic contacts with the wider world, with translations, lexical borrowings, and records of multilingual exchanges between travellers and the peoples they encountered.

These two online evening seminar sessions, jointly organised by TIDE (University of Oxford, ERC) and LARCA (University of Paris, CNRS), aim at exploring some of the practices and strategies underpinning polyglot encounters in travel accounts produced or read in England. Drawing on linguistic, lexicographic, literary and historical methodologies, we will look into some of the contexts and significances of these textual contact zones. Particular attention will be paid to uses of polyglossia in processes of identity construction, defining and promoting national or imperial agendas, appropriating and assimilating foreign linguistic capital, or meeting resistance and limits from linguistic and cultural others refusing to lend themselves to subaltern status.

The event is supported by ERC-TIDE (Oxford), the “Early Modernities” seminar of LARCA (UMR 8225, CNRS, University of Paris), the “Translation and Polyglossia” project (Université Paris Nanterre & Institut Universitaire de France), IHRIM (UMR 5317, CNRS, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon), and the EMRC (University of Reading).


Session 2: Communications and Miscommunications

11 November, 5-6.30PM

Chair: Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (IHRIM, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon)


Donatella Montini (University of Sapienza Rome): Travel and Translation in John Florio’s Two Navigations

Just returned to England by the mid-1570s after achieving his intellectual and linguistic education on the continent, the well-known Anglo-Italian lexicographer and translator John Florio spent several years at Oxford as a language teacher, around the time of the publication of his famous didactic dialogues, Firste Fruites, in 1578. In this period of his early career, Florio also developed a collaboration with the English geographer Richard Hakluyt (1553-1616) (Divers Voyages 1582, Principall Navigations 1589, 1598-1600), a translator himself, a go-between, a key figure in promoting English colonial and commercial expansion in the early modern period. Hakluyt commissioned and paid Florio’s translation of the account of the first two voyages of the French explorer and geographer Jacques Cartier (1494-1554), concerning the 1530s French exploration of Canada. However, Florio – Montaigne’s future translator! – did not work on Cartier’s reports, but on the Italian version translated from French by the Italian humanist Giovan Battista Ramusio. Two Navigations is clearly another typical example of transit and translation in early modern Europe: the focus is on the geographical triangle France–Italy–England this time, and the story of Two Navigations is a story of multiple authors/translators, of multiple and multilingual voices. The aim of my presentation will be to build a case of this less known translation by the young Florio, firstly describing the book and its intertextual connections, that are intercultural as well. As a second step, I will draw on the model of the early modern translations/communications circuit proposed by Brenda Hosington and Marie-Alice Belle in 2017, and try to visualize the interrelated connections of Florio’s translation.


Matthew Dimmock (University of Sussex): “Ylyaoute! English Engagements with the ‘Strange Tongues’ of the Far North”

There was a flourish of interest in the far north in England in the late 1570s and 1580s. Six voyages departed in these years in search of a north-west passage to the inestimable riches of China and were led first by Martin Frobisher and then by John Davis. They generated a great deal of speculation from their own participants as well as those back in England about the nature and sovereignty of the region. This growing interest had been initially fuelled by the potent fantasies of John Dee, who had imagined empty Arctic lands, those ‘least knowen to Christian men’, that could only be conquered by ‘Brytish wisdom, Manhode & Travaile’.

Too often our appreciation of the importance of these voyages and their engagement with the different Inuit populations of Baffin, Labrador and East Greenland is eclipsed by a single narrative: that of Frobisher’s single-minded pursuit of his worthless ‘black ore’. However they are much more important than that. The linguistic record of these polyglot interactions is particularly rich, and the ways in which the English understood the languages they meticulously recorded, and what they chose to record, invariably offer an insight into the tangle of motivations and ethno-religious confusion that underpinned the voyages themselves. And although enlisted to support Dee’s sense of British imperial destiny in the north, I want to consider the ways these recorded Inuit words and voices actually counter that claim, challenging Davis’s accompanying assertion that the Arctic would make the English ‘stars of wonder to al nations of the earth’.


Question and discussion time

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Polyglot Encounters in Early Modern English Narratives of Distant Travels 2
Location: Online
Start Date: November 11, 2020
Start Time: 5:00 pm
End Date: November 11, 2020
End Time: 6:30 pm
Ticket Price: Free
Website: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/yibuf0ab/1