In dulci jubilo

11 March 2009 at 5:42 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Using “foreign” words in a mother-tongue work has a long tradition. One of the earliest known successful efforts is In Dulci Jubilo (ca. 1328), the popular Christmas carol, written at the time when Latin was the language of schools in most parts of Europe:

In dulci jubilo,
Nun singet und seid froh!
Alle unsre Wonne
Liegt in praesepio;
Sie leuchtet wie die Sonne
Matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O!

Usually called (and sometimes derided as) “macaronic verse,” this precursor to Taglish (and other code-switching or pidgin varieties) assumes that readers (in this case, singers and audiences) know Latin, German, and Greek well enough to appreciate the rhyme, meter, allusions, and other poetic devices. In bilingual or multilingual societies (which inevitably develop when the languages of instruction are different from the language of the home), poets have a much larger well of words to dip in than their language-challenged counterparts in monolingual societies. “In dulci jubilo,” when sung today in an all-English version, is a victim of linguistic imperialism, that is, of languages (in this case, Latin and classical Greek) dying because of the economic power of so-called international languages. Together with the languages dies the literary power of the original.

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