Nov 16 2020
‘Polyglot Encounters in Early Modern English Narratives of Distant Travels’ Report

On November 9 and 11, ERC-TIDE hosted a series of two online seminars coorganised with the LARCA research centre (UMR8225, Université de Paris) on “Polyglot Encounters in Early Modern English Narratives of Distant Travels”. With more than 300 participants from around the world for each session, the topic and attendance were very much in resonance! The speakers took us from the nearly-next-door of Richard Hakluyt’s Christ Church and Thomas Crosfield’s Queen’s College in Oxford to the New World of explorers Jacques Cartier, John Davis, and Thomas Frobisher, with mediator figures ranging from translator John Florio to the supposed Indian descendants of the legendary Welsh prince Madoc. Meanwhile attendance at the seminar ranged as wide as Islamabad, Bogota, Montreal, Dijon and Rome for fruitful exchanges on transculturality and multilingualism in the period.

The two sessions aimed at exploring the practices and strategies underpinning polyglot encounters in travel accounts produced or read in England. Drawing on linguistic, lexicographic, literary and historical methodologies, we looked into some of the contexts and significances of textual contact zones and communication circuits. Particular attention was paid to uses of polyglossia in processes of identity construction, defining and promoting national and imperial agendas from commercial to university circles, appropriating and assimilating foreign linguistic capital, but also meeting resistance and limits from linguistic and cultural others refusing to lend themselves to subaltern status.

For the first session, Andrew Hadfield (University of Sussex) beautifully guided us through some of the ways in which the Madoc legend, propped up by fanciful etymologies of Indian words, was enlisted to serve the Anglo-British agenda of imperial expansion. Sarah Knight (University of Leicester) aptly followed on the commercial and scholarly ramifications of imperial thinking, unpacking early modern English universities’ rhetoric in addressing cultural and linguistic difference through sartorial analogy.

For the second session, Donatella Montini (University of Sapienza Rome) cogently complicated existing models of translation/communication circuits by considering the case of deliberate retranslations, focusing on the textual journeys of Cartier’s account of his Canadian voyages through Florio’s choice of translating them out of the Italian of Ramusio’s Delle Navigationi e Viaggi rather than their original French for Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations. Mat Dimmock (University of Sussex) brilliantly nuanced questions of identity and authority by looking at the records of Inuit vocabulary in accounts of Frobisher’s and Davis’s journeys in the Far North, with natives turning the tables around on their “discoverers” by pointing at their difference and their singularity.

These two engagingly rich sessions were chaired respectively by Laetitia Sansonetti (Université Paris Nanterre, Insitut Universitaire de France) and Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, IHRIM). The material covered throughout will be part of the larger project of “Translation and Polyglossia in Early Modern England” and its “Polyglot Encounters” series with Brepols Publishers, under the general editorship of Ladan Niayesh and Laetitia Sansonetti.

For the practical organization of these events, we are much beholden to Rachel Willie and the Society for the Renaissance Studies, opening to us the beautiful showcase of the SRS Crowdcast platform, where recordings of both sessions will be kept:

First session

Second session

Ladan Niayesh