AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

De ongetemde tong : Opvattingen over zondige, onvertogen en misdadige woorden in het Middelnederlands (1300-1550)

by M.D. Veldhuizen

Institution: Universiteit Utrecht
Year: 2013
Record ID: 1265026
Full text PDF: http://dspace.library.uu.nl:8080/handle/1874/284293


This book examines medieval notions of harmful speech conduct (1300-1550) in Western Europe as reflected in Middle Dutch textual sources. Insights are drawn from an in-depth analysis of Middle Dutch ecclesiastical, secular-ethical, and legal textual sources of harmful speech. I aim to make a contribution to research concerning harmful speech conduct in the late Middle Ages. As modern medievalists have repeatedly established, harmful speech conduct aroused considerable interest among medieval authors. Lying, boasting, flattering, railing, backbiting, grumbling, false swearing, garrulous and incendiary speech were but a few of the speech acts that provoked moral condemnation all over Western Europe from the thirteenth century onward. A tongue was able to ‘break bones’ and to inflict considerable damage on the speaker, the listeners and other relevant participants of speech situations. Harmful speech even became its own category within the ecclesiastical system of the deadly sins. The tongue was held responsible for moral pollution within the spiritual realm but was also considered in need of correction in the secular-ethical and legislative realm. Indeed, harmful speech was treated as a sin, as moral misbehaviour, and as a crime. This research has two aims, both of which are innovative. First, the subject will be systematically analysed in three different domains in order to discover an overarching discourse. No such comparative research into medieval notions of harmful speech conduct is yet available. Second, notions of modern language theory will be used to analyse the textual sources. Until now, medieval perceptions of harmful speech conduct were primarily researched by close reading or limited use of linguistic theories; my method, however, combines a number of insights by linguistic scholars and applies them in a systematic way. The research reveals the following outcomes. Based on the analysis of Middle Dutch ecclesiastical, legal, and secular-ethical textual sources, there appears to be an overlap between the domains in the construction of harmful speech. Granted the many complications and ramifications thereof, an overarching discourse of perceptions of harmful speech can be found in the Middle Dutch textual sources of the ecclesiastical, legal, and secular-ethical domains. However, the judicial domain reveals some profound differences in comparison with the other two domains. The overarching discourse is coined in this study as ‘the discourse of the untamed tongue’. In this discourse, the tongue is depicted as a body part with a life of its own, apart from that of the ‘owner’. The tongue is inclined to do bad things instead of good. Therefore it has to be controlled, or even better: ‘tamed’. A certain amount of suspicion must always surround the tongue for it can never be totally controlled. A moment of inattention on the part of the ‘tamer’ can cause great harm to him and others. Not only will the tongue blurt out all the words impulsively, it will behave in an immoral way. The inability to tame the tongue is…