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TBJM's presentation of Jews has presented a problem for critics who seek to offer a cosmopolitan reading of the work.
Unlike many of TBJM's other languages, Hebrew serves as an incontrovertible marker of identity--that is, only Jews speak Hebrew, and all Jews speak Hebrew.
One of the most memorable moments in which TBJM pays attention to language is in Sir John's conversation with the sultan in Egypt and the exchange in French that follows.
TBJM's account of the Quran highlights its similarities to the Bible; rather than giving the Quran validity unto itself, Sir John's description further emphasizes the convertibility of Saracens.
This connection imposes Christian history onto the Saracen-controlled Egyptian landscape, what Iain Higgins calls TBJM's Christian topography (39) These descriptions mark the area as previously (and thus rightly) Christian, in spite of the Saracen and Hebrew presence and implied cultural diversity of the place.
The most notable feature of language in Egypt is its diversity, particularly TBJM's, attention to multilingualism, with multiple languages represented alphabetically in the text.
(13) Across all these variants, of course, the alphabets are subject to the same shifts and changes in copying as the rest of the manuscript, and they are commonly carried over into early print editions of TBJM, where their reproduction both creates a technical challenge and allows a space for play.
(17) Indeed, linking these alphabets only to source texts or analogues overlooks the important point raised by Goldie, namely that "ancient and foreign letter forms were clearly visible in nearly all public venues in the Latin West on buildings, sculptures, and on altarpieces and other artworks"; thus, encountering unreadable letters might not be an unusual experience for TBJM's readers.
Constantinople is held in an odd sort of tension in TBJM; the work attempts to align the city with England, through relics and writing and through shared history, particularly in opposition to France.
These associations hold particular significance in the moment of the so-called "Babylonian Captivity," the era of the Avignon popes, during which TBJM was produced.
Alphabets, inscriptions, and holy books appear throughout TBJM, and Sir John becomes a veritable collector of languages, the alphabets of which he shares with his readership within his narrative.
The idea of TBJM offering a critique of Christianity through the narrator's encounter with others is not new; (3) here, I build on this ongoing discussion to demonstrate the central role that language and linguistic difference plays in Sir John's ongoing negotiation between England and its Others.
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