PhD research: Erin McKinney

Linguistic Code-Switching in Bethu Brigte, the Old Irish Life of St Brigit

Bethu Brigte, the Old Irish Life of St. Brigit, is a ninth-century composition written in a fascinating blended language, mixing Latin and Old Irish. Barbara Bullock and Almeida Jacqueline Toribio in The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-Switching define “code-switching” as “the alternating use of two languages in the same stretch of discourse by a bilingual speaker.” Historical code-switching is a new and evolving field which is currently witnessing a substantial rise in international scholarly attention. Ecclesiastical communities wrote in mixed Latin and Irish in the early Middle Ages, centuries before this mixing occurs in Western Europe. Much remains to be answered as to why this linguistic blending should occur in Ireland several centuries before similar phenomena occur on the continent; apparent and significant linguistic differences clearly exist between Latin and Irish, while the vernacular languages of Italy, France, and Spain derive from Latin. The colourful language of Bethu Brigte, as survived in its single extant manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson B 512), is roughly one-third Latin; Latin words, phrases, dialogues, even entire chapters are interspersed throughout this Irish text. The purpose of this research is to assess why and how Bethu Brigte alternates between Latin and Old Irish to such a varied and extreme degree, by applying methodologies developed within the linguistic study of code-switching in both contemporary and historical contexts. Accordingly, a linguistic study of code-switching in Bethu Brigte can make a significant and unique contribution to this growing research area and will help us answer long-unanswered questions about this and other texts connected with St. Brigit. Such an interdisciplinary study would be timely and relevant within the fields of both Medieval Latinity and Early Irish, in as well as in the currently expanding fields of pre-modern multilingualism and historical sociolinguistics.

Supervisor: Dr Jacopo Bisagni

Research area: cross-cultural encounters