"Kek kek": Translating Birds in Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls

Michael Warren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Downloads (Pure)


This essay engages recent thinking in animal studies in order to give fuller attention to birds’ voices in the Parliament of Fowls than has previously been admitted. In the context of allegory and medieval theories of articulate voice (both of which traditionally deny intrinsic meaning to nonhuman voices), I focus on the well-known, intrusive bird calls line to argue how Chaucer engages with issues of translation - an act which serves as an imagined opportunity to understand and appreciate what other species might have to say, which, in this respect, might be seen as a form of 'biotranslation' (the principle that genuine communication and translation between biological species is possible). I propose that Chaucer asks us to consider real birds’ voices at line 499 because they momentarily take us by surprise, crying forth in a strange semiotic mode. Linguistic translation is brought forcibly to our attention here because it momentarily breaks down, raising queries about categories of species and voice and, indeed, the poem's allegory. Exploring linguistic translations in the poem, that is, can have profound implications for the 'translation' acts that allegory performs upon the animal figure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-132
Number of pages24
JournalStudies in the Age of Chaucer
Publication statusPublished - 29 Dec 2016


  • Chaucer
  • Parliament of Fowls
  • birdsong
  • birds in medieval poetry
  • translation theory
  • animals studies
  • ecocriticism
  • medieval ornithology

Cite this