International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, 5/12-5/15
Language provides a particularly rich locus for the exploration of the categories “human” and “animal” in the Middle Ages. Drawing on a tradition stretching back to Genesis, many medieval writers identified the capacity for language as evidence of possession of reason, that faculty which was seen to separate humans from all the rest of God’s creation. At the same time, many animals were understood to possess language of their own and in some cases to participate in human language. Although medieval philosophers generally deny intention and significance in animal vocalizations, a range of medieval textual traditions suggests that animals were commonly seen to communicate within and between species.
This panel seeks papers from all fields of medieval studies exploring language, broadly construed, as part of the continued interrogation of the boundaries of human and nonhuman animals in the Middle Ages. How, when, why, and with whom did animals talk in the medieval world? What kinds of communicative strategies did medieval people recognize in the animal world, and how were they interpreted? How was human meaning imposed on animal vocalizations? How does the use of animals as symbolic language in verbal and visual texts draw upon empirical understanding of nonhuman communication (body language, etc.)? How might nonhuman animals remind us of the embodied nature of language itself?
Please submit an abstract for a 15-20 minute presentation and a Participant Information Form (link below) to Alison Langdon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for proposals is September 15, 2015. Accepted papers may be considered for the proposed volume Animal Languages: Interspecies Communication in the Middle Ages.
Participant Information Form: