• Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Tagged as:

No tags for this article
Home | Studying Russia | Slavonic studies at Oxford: A brief history

Slavonic studies at Oxford: A brief history

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

Prehistory: Latin versus vernacular

In the Middle Ages the language in which Englishmen conversed and corresponded with the Slavs of western Christendom, on the rare occasions when they came into contact with them, was Latin. The existence of an international language was of great convenience to both sides, obviating the necessity to learn or take any interest in vernacular languages. An example of how it was possible to live in a Slavonic environment using only Latin is provided by the Wycliffite Peter Payne, Principal of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, who in 1413left England and settled in Bohemia There he was able, speaking and writing in Latin, to assume an influential position in the world of learning and religion. His English pronunciation, it is true, did not go unnoticed, but this did not prevent him participating to great effect in public debate and swaying his audiences. Even after thirty years residence in the Czech lands he still contrived to remain ignorant of the vernacular, to judge from theaccusation made against his opponent at a Prague synod in 1444 of having deliberately spoken Czech so that Payne could not understand him (Šmahel 2004).

In Early Modern times too the study of the Slavonic languages (no less than that of other modern European vernaculars) was inhibited by the status and convenience of Latin, but the situation changed suddenly and drastically, when in 1553 England established contact with Slavs of the Eastern Rite following the unexpected arrival of Richard Chancellor’s ship the Edward Bonaventure at the port of St Nicholas on the White Sea. Finding themselves outside the world where Latin was common currency, the English, beginning with Chancellor’s crew, immediately set about learning Russian, and within a few years they had competent interpreters. There is also evidence, well before the end of the sixteenth century, of a burgeoning philological interest in the language among English travellers to Russia(Pennington 1967), and only a few years later philological field work of a remarkable kind was being carried out in northern Russia by the first Oxford Slavist. ...

For the full article please download the attached copy