The gift of tongues: Women's xenoglossia
in the Later Middle Ages.
Other descriptions include access to hidden knowledge (gnosis) and foreign languages (xenoglossia
), drastic changes in vocal intonation and facial structure, the sudden appearance of injuries (scratches, bite marks) or lesions, and superhuman strength.
Thus curatorial experience should stress this process, which is also reflected in the works themselves, as in the Johannesburg collective the Center for Historical Reenactrnents's Xenoglossia
, Reenactments's Xenoglossia
In this impressively researched, focused study, Christine Cooper-Rompato investigates medieval witnesses to the phenomenon of xenoglossia, "the sudden, miraculous ability to speak, to understand, to read, or to write a foreign language" (1).
Associated ever after with the Pentecost miracle account in Acts 2, xenoglossia serves at once to facilitate the spread of Christianity and to mark its recipients as divine vessels, both of which functions Cooper-Rompato finds operative in the hagiographical literature that she interrogates in the book's first half.
Cooper-Rompato makes a subtle argument with respect to the Man of Law's Tale: since the story of the impeccable Custance's abandonments at sea clearly owes imagery and plot to the genre of the saint's life, then the insufficiently explained manner by which the Northumbrians manage to understand her "Lawn corrupt" ("corrupt Latin") when she shows up on their shores is to be read as an ongoing miracle of xenoglossia. This argument seems reasonable enough, yet the absence of clear explanation and the presence of other genre codes within the tale come to complicate any firm assumption of xenoglossia.
The instantaneous ability to communicate in a language one does not know is called xenoglossia. Christine F.
The book's admirable first half is essential for further work on medieval accounts of xenoglossia. Expanding the list of medieval holy men and women reputed to be xenoglossic from the representative dozen studied by Stanley Burgess ("Medieval Examples of Charismatic Piety in the Roman Catholic Church," in Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism, ed.
"X is for XENOGLOSSIA
, which the dictionary explains as 'an ability claimed by the likes of mediums and clairvoyants to speak a language with which they are unfamiliar.'" Quite.
The paper argues that Custance's being understood is best explained by recognizing the tale's reliance on the hagiographical trope of xenoglossia, the sudden, miraculous ability to speak or understand a foreign language.
I argue that in rewriting Custance from his sources, Chaucer creates a monolingual, Latin-speaking woman whose words are translated into English by means of a miracle usually experienced by medieval saints, the gift of xenoglossia, or the miraculous ability to speak, understand, or be understood in a foreign language that the recipient has never learnt formally.
Cooper-Romparto, Christine F., The Gift of Tongues: Women's Xenoglossia
in the Later Middle Ages.