Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 August 2022
This chapter traces three stages in the formation of a French literary tradition that take place in the early Middle Ages. The first is the awareness that a vernacular language distinct from spoken Latin exists (which would of course pertain to all Romance languages); the second, the appearance of this language in written form; the third, the establishment of a solidified written tradition of literary works, both devotional and secular, translations of Latin works as well as transcriptions of hitherto orally transmitted poetic works. The first stage occurs early in the ninth century with the first documented acknowledgments of a Romance vernacular distinct from Latin in Gaul. A mere handful of written texts of modest size in the vernacular have survived from the following three centuries, predominantly in the margins of Latin manuscripts. Autonomous secular texts in Old French start appearing in the early twelfth century, most notably in England, within a couple of generations of the Norman Conquest. The balance of the chapter deals with the insular social dynamic of the twelfth century in England that differentiated its interests from those on the Continent, where innovations in courtly love literature thrived, whereas they were ultimately sidelined in England.