Macaronic refers to text using a mixture of languages, particularly bilingual puns or situations in which the languages are otherwise used in the same context (rather than simply discrete segments of a text being in different languages). The term can also denote hybrid words, which are effectively "internally macaronic". A rough equivalent in spoken language is code-switching, a term in linguistics referring to using more than one language or dialect within the same conversation.
The word macaronic comes from the New Latin macaronicus which is from the Italian maccarone ("dumpling", regarded as coarse peasant fare). The term can have derogatory overtones, and is usually reserved for works where the mixing of languages has a humorous or satirical intent or effect. It is a matter of debate whether the term can be applied to mixed-language literature of a more serious nature and purpose.
Mixed Latin-vernacular lyrics in Medieval Europe
Texts that mixed Latin and vernacular language apparently arose throughout Europe at the end of the Middle Ages—a time when Latin was still the working language of scholars, clerics or university students, but was losing ground to vernacular among poets, minstrels and storytellers.
Tesi samanunga was edele unde scona
et omnium virtutum pleniter plena
Translated: This community was noble and pure, and completely full of all virtues.
The Carmina Burana (collected c.1230) contains several poems mixing Latin with Medieval German or French. Another well-known example is the first stanza of the famous carol In Dulci Jubilo, whose original version (written around 1328) had Latin mixed with German, with a hint of Greek. While some of those early works had a clear humorous intent, many use the language mix for lyrical effect.
A number of English political poems in the 14th century alternated (Middle) English and Latin lines, such as in MS Digby 196:
The taxe hath tened [ruined] vs alle,
Probat hoc mors tot validorum
The Kyng þerof had small
fuit in manibus cupidorum.
yt had ful hard hansell,
dans causam fine dolorum;
vengeaunce nedes most fall,
propter peccata malorum
Nolo mortem peccatoris; Haec sunt verba Salvatoris.
Father I am thine only Son, sent down from heav’n mankind to save.
Father, all things fulfilled and done according to thy will, I have.
Father, my will now all is this: Nolo mortem peccatoris.
Father, behold my painful smart, taken for man on ev’ry side;
Ev'n from my birth to death most tart, no kind of pain I have denied,
but suffered all, and all for this: Nolo mortem pectoris.
Translated: "I do not wish the death of a sinner"; These are the words of the Saviour.
Latin–Italian macaronic verse
The term macaronic is believed to have originated in Padua in the late 14th century, apparently from maccarona, a kind of pasta or dumpling eaten by peasants at that time. (That is also the presumed origin of maccheroni.) Its association with the genre comes from the Macaronea, a comical poem by Tifi Odasi in mixed Latin and Italian, published in 1488 or 1489. Another example of the genre is Tosontea by Corrado of Padua, which was published at about the same time as Tifi's Macaronea.
Tifi and his contemporaries clearly intended to satirize the broken Latin used by many doctors, scholars and bureaucrats of their time. While this "macaronic Latin" (macaronica verba) could be due to ignorance or carelessness, it could also be the result of its speakers trying to make themselves understood by the vulgar folk without resorting to their speech.
An important and unusual example of mixed-language text is the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of Francesco Colonna (1499), which was basically written using Italian syntax and morphology, but using a made-up vocabulary based on roots from Latin, Greek, and occasionally others. However, while the Hypnerotomachia is contemporary with Tifi's Macaronea, its mixed language is not used for plain humor, but rather as an aesthetic device to underscore the fantastic but refined nature of the book.
Tifi's Macaronea was a popular success, and the writing of humorous texts in macaronic Latin became a fad in the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly in Italian. An important example was Baldo by Teofilo Folengo, who described his own verses as "a gross, rude, and rustic mixture of flour, cheese, and butter".
Other mixed-language lyrics
Macaronic verse is especially common in cultures with widespread bilingualism or language contact, such as Ireland before the middle of the nineteenth century. Macaronic traditional songs such as Siúil A Rúin are quite common in Ireland. In Scotland, macaronic songs have been popular among Highland immigrants to Glasgow, using English and Scottish Gaelic as a device to express the alien nature of the anglophone environment. An example:
When I came down to Glasgow first,
a-mach air Tìr nan Gall.air iomrall 's doll air chall.
I was like a man adrift,
Macaronic verse was also common in medieval India, where the influence of the Muslim rulers led to poems being written in alternating indigenous Hindi and the Persian language. This style was used by the famous poet Amir Khusro and played a major role in the rise of the Urdu or Hindustani language.
The Sublime song "Caress Me Down" alternates between English and Spanish lyrics, at some points between verses, at others between lines within a verse, and occasionally between phrases within a line.
Unintentional macaronic language
Occasionally language is unintentionally macaronic. One particularly famed piece of schoolyard Greek in France is Xenophon's line "they did not take the city; but in fact they had no hope of taking it" (οὐκ ἔλαβον πόλιν· άλλα γὰρ ἐλπὶς ἔφη κακά, ouk élabon pólin; álla gàr elpìs éphē kaká). Read in the French manner, this becomes "Où qu'est la bonne Pauline? A la gare. Elle pisse et fait caca." ("Where is young Pauline? At the [train] station. She's pissing and taking a shit.") In English literature, the untranslated line makes an appearance in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.
Modern macaronic literature
Macaronic text is still used by modern Italian authors, e.g. by Carlo Emilio Gadda. Other examples are provided by the character Salvatore in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and the peasant hero of his Baudolino. Dario Fo's Mistero Buffo ("Comic Mystery Play") features grammelot sketches using language with macaronic elements.
The 2001 novel The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt includes portions of Japanese, Classical Greek, and Inuktitut, although the reader is not expected to understand the passages that are not in English.
Macaronic games are used by the literary group Oulipo in the form of interlinguistic homophonic transformation: replacing a known phrase with homophones from another language. The archetypal example is by François Le Lionnais, who transformed John Keats' "A thing of beauty is a joy forever" into "Un singe de beauté est un jouet pour l'hiver": 'A monkey of beauty is a toy for the winter'. Another example is the book Mots d'Heures.
Two well-known examples of non-humorous macaronic verse are Byron's Maid of Athens, ere we part (1810, in English with a Greek refrain); and Pearsall's translation of the carol In Dulci Jubilo (1837, in mixed English and Latin verse).
An example of modern humorous macaronic verse is the anonymous English/Latin poem Carmen Possum ("The Opossum's Song"), which is sometimes used as a teaching and motivational aid in elementary Latin language classes. Other similar examples are The Motor Bus by A. D. Godley, and the anonymous Up I arose in verno tempore.
Recent examples are the mużajki or 'mosaics' (2007) of Maltese poet Antoine Cassar mixing English, Spanish, Maltese, Italian, and French; works of Italian writer Guido Monte; and the late poetry of Ivan Blatný combining Czech with English.
Brian P. Cleary's "What Can I C'est?" makes use of macaronic verse, as do other poems in his book "Rainbow Soup: Adventures in Poetry":
My auntie Michelle is big in the BON
(As well as the hip and the thigh).And ride on the wind of VERSAILLES.
And when she exhales, OUI haul out our sails
A whole body of comic verse exists created by John O'Mill, pseudonym of Johan van der Meulen, a teacher of English at the Rijks HBS (State Grammar School), Breda, the Netherlands. These are in a mixture of English and Dutch, often playing on common mistakes made when translating from the latter to the former.
'Macaronisms' are frequently used in films, especially comedies. In Charlie Chaplin's anti-war comedy The Great Dictator, the title character speaks English mixed with a parody of German (e.g. "Cheese-und-cracken"). This was also used by Benzino Napaloni, the parody character of Benito Mussolini, using Italian foods (such as salami and ravioli) as insults.
Other movies featuring macaronic language are the Italian historical comedies L'armata Brancaleone and Brancaleone alle crociate (d. Mario Monicelli), which mix modern and medieval Italian as well as Latin (sometimes in rhyme, and sometimes with regional connotations, such as the Italo-Normans using words from modern Sicilian).
- List of macaronic languages
- Amir Khusro
- Boar's Head Carol, Christmas carol in English/Latin language
- Contemporary Latin
- Creole language
- Dog Latin
- Faux Cyrillic
- Guido Monte
- Mater si, magistra no
- Nadsat, a fictional English/Russian language, from the novel A Clockwork Orange
- Phono-semantic matching
- UEFA Champions League Anthem
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- The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, Oxford University Press (1996)
- "Teofilo Folengo in The Catholic Encyclopedia". Newadvent.org. 1909-09-01. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
- [dead link]
- Arbre d'Or eBooks. "Pluton ciel que Janus Proserpine...". (French)
- Genette, Gérard & al. Palimpsests, p. 41.
- FinnegansWiki. "Ouk elabon polin".
- DeWitt, Helen. The Last Samurai (Chatto and Windus, 2000: ISBN 0-7011-6956-7; Vintage, 2001: ISBN 0-09-928462-6)
- Genette, Gérard; Newman, Channa; Doubinsky, Claude. Palimpsests. pp. 40–41.
- Byron, George. "Maid of Athens". readytogoebooks.com.
- Grech, Marija. "Mosaics: A symphony of multilingual poetry", The Daily Star (Kuwait), 25 August 2007
- "see for ex.". Wordswithoutborders.org. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
- Wheatley, David. "The Homeless Tongue: Ivan Blatný". Contemporary Poetry Review, 2008.
- Posen, I. Sheldon. "English-French Macaronic Songs in Canada – A Research Note and Query in Folksongs". celat.ulaval.ca.
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