The English Language in the Middle English Period An Introduction

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  • Slide 1
  • The English Language in the Middle English Period An Introduction
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  • Middle English (1066-1500) Many more texts than OE period No standard variety of English Dates: 1066Norman Conquest 1100Round number! 1476First printing in England (Caxton) 1485Accession of Henry VII (Tudor) Germanic, highly inflected hybrid (many loans), lightly inflected
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  • Chaucer, Reeves Tale (late 14th c.): How fare thy fair daughter and thy wife? And John also, how now, what do ye here? lfric, Preface to Genesis (late 10th c., modernized characters): Tha wande he ongean to tham cynge. God gesceop us twa eagan and twa earan. also, literary familiarity (Chaucer, Christmas carols, folk songs, lullabies, nursery rhymes) 30 days hath September
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  • But! Continuity OE texts copied in ME period: laws, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, homilies, psalters, medicinal texts, etc. early ME carol: Sumer is icumen inSpring has come in Lhude sing cuccu-Loudly sing, cuckoo! Growe sed and blowe medSeed grows and meadow blooms And spring e wude nu-And the forest springs up now. Sing cuccuSing, cuckoo! Awe blete after lomb-Ewe bleats after lamb, Lhou after calue cu-Cow lows after calf, Bulluc sterte bucke uerteBullock leaps, buck farts, Murie sing cuccu-Merrily sing, cuckoo! Cuccu cuccu-Cuckoo, cuckoo, Wel singes u cuccuYou sing well, cuckoo. Ne swik u nauer nu-Nor cease you never now! Sing cuccu nu sing cuccu-Sing cuckoo now, sing cuckoo! Sing cuccu sing cuccu nu-Sing cuckoo, sing cuckoo now!
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  • Why were OE texts updated? Antiquarian interest Religious texts of practical use for sermons, devotional reading Ongoing oral tradition between OE and ME - formula, aphorism
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  • Why didnt English die? Political dominance usually accompanied by linguistic dominance By Chaucers die, French was foreign again By 1076, English rebellion crushed - French the language of power (barons, bishops, abbots) Anglo-Norman French Kings spent a lot of time in France Richard I: 6 months in England William I couldnt learn English
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  • The Reasons: Extensive written literature, strong oral tradition Vibrant vernacular religious tradition Anglo-Saxon texts in 11th c. manuscripts (Beowulf) Political uncertainty, continuing French/English strife - brutal occupation in 11th c. 100 Years War (1337-1453) - French the language of the enemy Not enough Normans in England (10-15,000 of 1.5 million) 3 million by 1300 Most had no contact with French Bilingual class (aristocracy, senior clergy, merchants): small Pressure to learn English: baronial staff, clergy Few French women came to England - lots of intermarriage - bilingual kids
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  • Lots written in Latin, restricted sphere of French French used in formal domains (law, literature, arts) but never the sole official language Role of English sharply defined: second-class in speech, rare in writing Triglossia: 1 low status, 2 competing high-status languages (cf. Tunisia: French, Classical Arabic, colloquial Arabic) diglossia (Latin/Eng) monoglossia By 1200, noble children speak English, learn French But by ca. 1350, still very little English writing
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  • The Impact of French English had to adapt to new functions - no suitable English for many domains Old English now archaic Law, architecture, estate management, music, literature - specialized vocabulary Loans: not individual, but clustered New words change pronunciation New spellings Foreign compounds, idioms, formulas
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  • Expansion of Written English: From Memory to Written Record Many new churches: more scriptoria, more scribes, more MSS New monastic rules/guidelines More preaching, pastoral work (English needed) Writs/charters: 2,000 in OE period, hundreds of thousands in ME period Records of apprenticeship, guild membership, military conscription, court records, parish registers, manorial records, tax records, accounts of royal income - mostly Latin, but soon in English
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  • 12th Century Renaissance New language in theology, philosophy, logic, law, cosmology, medicine, mathematics Renewal of interest in Classics (Latin, Arabic, Greek) Translations into English English secular music/lit: poet-musicians influenced by Continental traditions
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  • From Anglo-Norman to French 13th c.: French an international language of culture/fashion, but Parisian French - learned as a foreign language French replaced Latin in administrative settings (court, parliament, business) - persisted into 15th century