The Gift of Tongues

Women's Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages

By (author) Christine F. Cooper-Rompato

Hardback - £65.95

Publication date:

25 January 2010

Length of book:

232 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271036168

Tales of xenoglossia—the instantaneous ability to read, to write, to speak, or to understand a foreign language—have long captivated audiences. Perhaps most popular in Christian religious literature, these stories celebrate the erasing of all linguistic differences and the creation of wider spiritual communities. The accounts of miraculous language acquisition that appeared in the Bible inspired similar accounts in the Middle Ages. Though medieval xenoglossic miracles have their origins in those biblical stories, the medieval narratives have more complex implications. In The Gift of Tongues, Christine Cooper-Rompato examines a wide range of sources to show that claims of miraculous language are much more important to medieval religious culture than previously recognized and are crucial to understanding late medieval English writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Margery Kempe.

“Christine Cooper-Rompato’s fascinating book demonstrates the importance of ‘xenoglossia’ (miraculous language acquisition) for late medieval readers and writers. The Gift of Tongues raises important issues about gender, language, and religious culture. Offering both an overview of the subject and a focused study of its significance for authors such as Margery Kempe and Chaucer, this book makes valuable contributions to our understanding of late medieval religion and literary history.”

—Rebecca Krug, University of Minnesota