The word “Occitan” may be unfamiliar to many; it is an endangered language now spoken in southern France, Monaco, and northern Spain. It is also the central topic studied in Coco Huang ’21’s Modern and Classical Languages Department Study last semester, reading some Occitan literature and connecting these works to the time periods they were written in. Having taken both advanced level French courses offered in the first semester, Coco saw the opportunity to develop her passion for learning the Occitan language.

She shared, “Sometimes my [departamental study] advisor [Sara Bellini] and I read a little Occitan and its French translation. In Occitan, you can find a lot of things that get lost in the French translation. For example, in Arnaut Daniel’s poem, if you read the Occitan work you can see the mirroring rhymes and how wittily he put all the words together, which reflect his personality. But you can’t see these in the French translation, which is why it’s important to look at the original version.”

This discrepancy between translations and the original works led to some challenges during Coco’s departmental study. Her initial plan was to read a collection of troubadour poems in the medieval times, which are classic Occitan literature, and early modern Occitan works mainly in French, having learned Occitan for just a year. However, as she delved deeper into her analysis, she had to go back to the original Occitan versions various times to find the most accurate information. With the additional burden of lack of time due to her Short Terms at Concord (STAC) schedule, she had to condense her plan and thus, selected only a few typical works: troubadour poems by Bernard de Ventadour, Jaufre Rudel, and Arnaut Daniel for STAC 1, and Mirèio by Frédéric Mistral for STAC 2.

Interestingly, Coco has found a connection between her English class, Literature of the Infernal, and her departmental study. The class was reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, which included two troubadour poets, and one was Arnaut Daniel. Coco explained, “Dante really praises him, he preserved Arnaut’s line in Occitan instead of Italian, and these are the only foreign words in the entire Divine Comedy. This really shows Dante’s respect and admiration of both Arnaut Daniel and Occitan literature.”

Throughout her departmental study, Coco met weekly with her departmental study advisor, Sara Bellini, to exchange ideas about the poetry read and formulate analysis questions. Coco reflected, “It is so inspiring and interesting that I get the opportunity to explore a topic that I’m interested in and that I haven’t got to look into yet. I’ve only looked at Occitan from a language endangerment and preservation perspective. Now, all the readings I’ve done bring me insights about this language and its culture, and how the troubadours are at the core of this entire culture.”

Having developed and carried out an impressive and enriching departmental study, Coco has two suggestions for departmental study proposals. The first is to find the right teacher who knows a lot about the topic of interest. She explained, “My advisor may not know a lot about Occitan, but she has great insights about poetry and linguistics, which is why we can really connect on this topic.” The second is to create a solid proposal, planning out everything ahead of time. She concluded, “You might change it during the process, but I really think that the planning out process is super important.”