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A History of European LiteratureThe West and the World from Antiquity to the Present$
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Walter Cohen

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198732679

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198732679.001.0001

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The Vernacular

The Vernacular

Chapter:
(p.83) 4 The Vernacular
Source:
A History of European Literature
Author(s):

Walter Cohen

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198732679.003.0004

The collapse of the classical empires opens the way to the rise of the vernacular, arguably the turning point in the history of European and world literature. The replacement of one spoken vernacular by another is the result of conquest, but, almost always, only if the invaders represent a large enough percentage of the resulting population to prevail. Though the emergence of written vernaculars exhibits recurrent causes and characteristics across Eurasia, systematic differences result in multiple vernaculars in some regions, no more than one in others. On this basis, a distinctive feature of medieval European literature emerges—the importance of intra-vernacular literary leadership. That literature is best understood through the tension between Latin Christendom’s restrictive self-definition and a more expansive definition of Europe based on the present-day contours of the continent.

Keywords:   spoken vernacular, written vernacular, medieval European literature, intra-vernacular literary leadership, Latin Christendom

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