chapter  9
12 Pages

Listening to the Emissary in Middleton’s No Wit, No Help Like a Woman’s

ByMarianne Montgomery

When the English traveler Fynes Moryson visited Amsterdam in June of 1593, he found the Dutch a hungry people, poor in natural resources but ‘eating up all nations’ in trade and traffic.1 He notes that, as a logical result of their commercial position, they have learned multiple languages: ‘It stands with reason, that they who are very industrious in traffic, and having little of their own to export, (except linen) do trade most with the commodities of other nations, should themselves learn many languages, whereas other nations have not the same reason to learn the Flemish tongue.’2 Languages in effect become another commodity to be traded, so that the Dutch carry on their tongues speech equivalent to the goods carried in the holds of their ships. Most merchants, Dutch and English, spoke multiple languages to facilitate their trade, since each trading area had its own lingua franca and frequently merchants spoke to foreign clients in their native tongues.3 This multilingualism makes merchants more than traders in goods. They trade also in cultural representations, and so are well-positioned to be emissaries across national and civic borders. Language facilitates economic transactions, and so the Dutch, who carry the goods of other nations rather than their own, especially need to know many languages.