Understanding Hawk-Latin: Animal Language and Universal Rhetoric

  • Carolynn Van Dyke
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Van Dyke argues that the attribution of human speech to animals and birds—what one Chaucerian narrator calls “haukes ledene”—should not be read as merely conventional. Instead, human and nonhuman self-expressions overlap in varying and unstable configurations, many of which “reinscribe” language (to paraphrase Jacques Derrida) “in a network of possibilities” that “are themselves not merely human.” Van Dyke discusses three particularly successful ways in which medieval writers represent nonhuman language: existential (creatures’ assertions of their material presence and actions, as in Anglo-Saxon riddles), onomatopoeic (phonological imitations of nonhuman vocalizations), and catachrestic (implausibly anthropomorphic speech). She argues that in texts by Geoffrey Chaucer, John Lydgate, and Robert Henryson, instances of the third method constitute apt neologisms—powerful metaphoric formulations with no nonmetaphoric alternatives.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolynn Van Dyke
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishLafayette CollegeEastonUSA

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