The Prosthetic Tongue: Printing Technology and the Rise of the French Language

Author: Katie Chenoweth, associate professor of French and Italian

Book cover with image

Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, November 2019

Of all the cultural “revolutions” brought about by the development of printing technology during the 16th century, perhaps the most remark-able but least understood is the purported rise of European vernacular languages. Chenoweth explores the relationship between printing and the vernacular as it took shape in 16th-century France, when the French language underwent a remarkable transformation, as printers and writers began to reimagine their mother tongue as mechanically reproducible. This was, Chenoweth argues, a veritable “new media” moment. No less than the paper book issuing from 16th-century printing presses, the modern French language is a product of the age of mechanical reproduction.