Language Innovation and Meaning in the French Renaissance: Des Périers, Esrienne, and Montaigne

Shangler, Nicholas Pope, Department of French, University of Virginia
McKinley, Mary, Department of French, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the way three authors of the French Renaissance – Bonaventure Des Périers in his Nouvelles récréations et joyeux devis, Henri Estienne in the Deux dialogues du nouveau langage françoys, and Michel de Montaigne in his Essais – examine language and its ability to carry meaning. These writers each call attention to problematic attempts at communication. I argue that they deploy these instances of miscommunication in order to investigate the operation of language. Specifically, they all pose the underlying question of whether words connect to anything outside of language. Set against the backdrop of the religious, political, and cultural changes that characterized the sixteenth century in France, the articulation of a different understanding of language would have real consequences for the structure of their world. Each chapter of this project proposes a detailed examination of passages from the selected works. In each instance, I am interested both in how the author uses language and what he or his characters say or reveal about language. I show how Des Périers both invents stories and adapts earlier tales in such a way that they test how language can both facilitate and hinder communication. A central thread throughout these stories is the examination of the contextualization of words and its effectiveness in eliminating ambiguity and establishing meaning. I show in chapter two how Estienne blends his linguistic study with a political invective as he attacks the popular practice among courtiers of combining French and Italian words. He decries the potential for miscommunication and the resulting political and cultural damage. Montaigne's Essais attest to the need to deform grammar and syntax in order to more accurately reflect the contours of his being. I argue that Montaigne engages with the connection between language and thought as he strives to produce a written representation of himself. Ultimately, I reveal a discourse among French writers from the Renaissance regarding the operation of language, the creation and communication of meaning, and the framing of the world and of thought by language.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF text

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: