The History of English Spelling (Upward/The History of English Spelling) || The Decline and Revival of English in the Middle English Period

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<ul><li><p>4The Decline and Revival of English in the Middle</p><p>English Period</p><p>The Arrival of the Normans and its Effect on English Society</p><p>In terms of power and political control, Anglo-Saxon England, whichhad lasted, with a few ups and downs, for some 600 years, came to anabrupt end with the regime change that followed the death of the Anglo-Saxon king Harold and the victory of Duke William of Normandy atthe battle of Hastings in October 1066 and Williams coronation as kingof England on Christmas Day of that year.</p><p>Norman nobility and senior clergy soon replaced almost all of theirAnglo-Saxon counterparts, so forming a French-speaking bureaucracyin both state and church. Some statistics indicate the extent of the changein the power structure in England in the twenty years after the NormanConquest:1</p><p> By 1087, all 190 barons in England were Norman; not one Anglo-Saxon earl survived Williams suppression of the Anglo-Saxon nobility.</p><p> Of the 21 bishops who signed the decrees of the Council of London,a church council held in 1075, 13 were Anglo-Saxon; by 1087, onlythree bishops were of English birth.</p><p>It must be emphasized that this change of regime only affected theupper levels of society. The Norman victory at Hastings did not lead</p><p>The History of English Spelling, First Edition. Christopher Upward and George Davidson. 2011 Christopher Upward and George Davidson. Published 2011 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.</p><p>9781405190237_4_004.qxd 6/15/11 16:37 Page 65</p></li><li><p>Decline and Revival in Middle English</p><p>to a ood of French-speaking Normans into England.2 Estimates of thenumbers of Normans in England suggest that while they might have madeup some 10 per cent or more of the population, a more probable gureis no more than 5 per cent and might perhaps be as little as 2 per cent.3</p><p>Although, as noted above, the English barons were all Norman, only abouthalf of the 10,000 or so lesser land-owners were; the other half, there-fore, must still have been Anglo-Saxon. And working the land for theseland-owners, Norman and Anglo-Saxon alike, were the English peasantry,forming 80 to 90 per cent of the total population of the country. In fact,for the mass of the people, who would have little or no direct contactwith the Norman aristocracy in their everyday lives, Norman Englandwas probably not very different from Anglo-Saxon England.</p><p>The Linguistic Signicance of the Norman Conquest</p><p>Statistics like those given above show that it would be quite wrong toassume a sudden and signicant change in the linguistic behaviour ofEngland as a whole after 1066: there simply were not enough French-speakers in the country to make any change in language use over thewhole population either probable or necessary. Moreover, there was clearlyno intention among the Normans to suppress English in favour of French:William himself tried to learn English (though he gave up due to pres-sure of other commitments), and the early writs he issued were in Englishand Latin, not French. The Norman upper classes were not hostile toEnglish but had little need of it. It would only be some of their retainersand ofcials, such as estate managers, who would have to have been ableto communicate in both languages in French with their superiors andin English with the people they had to supervise or have everyday busi-ness dealings with. And while, as we have seen, increasingly many ofthe senior clergymen were French-speaking, most of the lower-rankingclergy would be English, and preaching to the people would have tohave been in English.4 In the centuries that followed the Norman inva-sion, there was never a time when the majority of the people of Englanddid not speak English. French never became the everyday language ofNorman Britain; it was rst the language of the ruling class, and laterthe language of prestige and culture.</p><p>Nevertheless, the English language spoken and written at the end ofthe Middle English period in the mid-15th century was very different</p><p>66</p><p>9781405190237_4_004.qxd 6/15/11 16:37 Page 66</p></li><li><p>Decline and Revival in Middle English</p><p>from what one nds in the 11th. The massive changes that arose weredue above all to the incorporation of the language and writing practices(both French and Latin) of the Norman invaders. How this came aboutneed not concern us in detail, but certain points are worth noting, rstlywith regard to vocabulary and secondly with regard to writing:</p><p> As time passed, French came to be no longer the language of an ethnic group but rather the marker of a social class. There was doubt-less an ever-increasing number of people who were competent, tovarying degrees, in both French and English. A knowledge of Frenchbecame a necessary criterion for membership of the upper-middleclass, and Williams suggests that from the late 12th century onwardsNorman French was strongly inuencing upper-middle-class Englishspeech.5 John of Salisbury, a 12th-century English scholar and church-man, remarks in his writings that by the middle of the century it wasconsidered fashionable to use French words in English conversation.Williams further proposes that bilingual Normans who were lookingfor a word associated with government, culture, entertainment andso on would be likely to use French words in their English speech,and that, equally, any Englishman trying to operate within an upper-middle-class social setting would not only be sure to have learnedsome French but would also imitate the Frenchied English of thebilingual speakers.</p><p>How far members of the upper social levels of the English popu-lation were actually bilingual is a matter of debate. Lass, for example,suggests that it is not necessary to assume widespread active bilin-gualism, arguing that, while all educated Englishmen in the 12th and 13th centuries could doubtless read French, they perhaps onlyspoke it to some extent, and that it was probably from written textsthat French words rst entered English borrowing through passiveknowledge of the language rather than active use.6 This matter neednot concern us further here: it is sufcient to note that as many as10,000 words of French origin were adopted into English during the Middle English period, although about 90 per cent of them arenot attested until the second half of the 13th century or later. Manyare quite technical or literary, and although some embodied new concepts introduced by the Normans, others replaced already exist-ing and perfectly adequate Old English vocabulary. Some examplesfrom the eld of government are baron, crown, empire, government,sceptre; in the religious sphere, abbey, convent, religion; from culture,</p><p>67</p><p>9781405190237_4_004.qxd 6/15/11 16:37 Page 67</p></li><li><p>Decline and Revival in Middle English</p><p>cookery and entertainment adorn, dress, fashion, luxury, robe, beef,mutton, pork, veal, minstrel, juggler.</p><p> Of more concern to the subject of this book is the effect the Normanshad on the writing of English. Although power had rapidly passedto a French-speaking elite after 1066, with French-speaking scribesbeing brought in as part of the Norman administration, English continued to be written. Old English as a written tradition did notcome to an end until 1154, with the nal entry in the PeterboroughChronicle (see p. 32, n. 18) though latterly the Chronicle itself is alreadybeginning to show French inuence: in the record for the year 1137,for example, are found for the rst time in English words of Frenchorigin such as tresor treasury, Canceler Chancellor, prisun prisonand justice.7 Moreover, after 1066, the well-developed scribal organ-ization which had produced the West Saxon spelling standard lostits place in the power structure, and decay progressively set in: DonaldScragg notes with regard to the Chronicle that in spelling, at rst theWest Saxon standard (as it had developed by 1100) was well main-tained, but gradually the scribes lack of training reveals itself, untilthe nal entry shows only an imperfect grasp of the orthography,8</p><p>further noting the gradual inltration of Latin conventions such as for /x/, for /w/ and for /w/ and confusion in the use of thevowel graphemes , , and . The replacement copy of the Chronicleseems to have been made around 1121, and is in the classical WestSaxon orthography; the language in the entries for 1122 onwardsreects the dialect of the East Midlands in the 12th century.</p><p>Norman French and Parisian French</p><p>Although William and many of his followers hailed from Normandy, theinvaders also included, as already noted, Picards from the north, speak-ing another of the major French dialects of the time, and others fromwestern France, where different dialects again prevailed. The languagebrought to England by the Normans was, nevertheless, predominantlythe Norman dialect of Old French. In England, it was therefore NormanFrench that, as Anglo-Norman, became the language of culture and prestige and of law and administration. In the centuries following theNorman invasion, however, one French dialect gained steadily in pres-tige over the others in France and emerged as the basis for an eventualFrench standard. It was not Norman or Picard, but rather the dialectof the le de France, with Paris at its heart, which began to dominate,</p><p>68</p><p>9781405190237_4_004.qxd 6/15/11 16:37 Page 68</p></li><li><p>Decline and Revival in Middle English</p><p>through the prestige afforded it by the French royal court and its admin-istration and the university of Paris. This emerging standard is referredto as Parisian French or Central French or by the French term francien.In France, therefore, the language and spelling of the Normans wereeventually relegated to the status of a mere provincial offshoot from thismain line of development of French.</p><p>The same was to happen in England, for various historical and socialreasons. Anglo-Norman had largely ceased to be a spoken language by the beginning of the 13th century, although it continued as the lan-guage of law and bureaucracy. The loss of Normandy in 1204 brokean important tie that had existed between the two territories. And francien was increasingly the language of French literature, and thereforethe form of French that was gaining status in England at the same timeas Norman French was losing its position of prestige. It was, therefore,Parisian French rather than Norman French which in later centuriesbecame the source of French loanwords into English, with Norman-derived forms dating from the earlier, relatively short-lived period ofNorman dominance in the development and use of French in England.</p><p>Some differences between Norman and Central French</p><p>Words which derive from Norman French can be distinguished by theirform from words that derive from Central French. While we have noneed of a detailed analysis of the differences between the dialects,9 thefollowing points of difference are worth noting for the effect they havehad on Modern English vocabulary:</p><p> Latin /k/ and /u/ before /a/ become /tx/ and /dv / in Central French(&gt; /x/ and /v/ in Modern French) but remain /k/ and /u/ in NormanFrench. This produces doublets (i.e. pairs of words that derive fromthe same root) in English such as catch (&lt; Norman French cachier)and chase (&lt; Central French chacier; Modern French chasser), bothfrom a probable Late Latin form *captiare to seize. Similarly, wehave cattle (&lt; Norman French catel) and chattel (&lt; Central Frenchchatel), both from Late Latin captale property; and from a supposedVulgar Latin word *gaviola we have Modern English gaol (via NormanFrench gaiole) and jail (via Central French jaiole) notice that, regard-less of spelling, the Modern English pronunciation is that of the -form. Other examples of /k/ and /u/ in English that have come downto us via Norman French are seen in candle, castle, escape, gammon</p><p>69</p><p>9781405190237_4_004.qxd 6/15/11 16:37 Page 69</p></li><li><p>Decline and Revival in Middle English</p><p>and garden (compare Modern French chandelle, chteau, chapper,jambon, jardin).</p><p> The of catch and of chase show another difference betweenNorman and Central French, one which is similarly to be seen in doublets such as launch (&lt; Norman French lanchier) and lance(&lt; Central French lancier; Modern French lancer), both from Latinlanceare.</p><p> A third dialect difference which we may note here is in the treat-ment of initial /w/ in words of Germanic origin: Central French alteredan originally Germanic initial /w/ to /uw/ (later reduced to /u/ ) whileNorman French kept the initial /w/. This has given rise in Englishto doublets such as warder and guardian, warranty and guarantee. Similardoublets also occur with words that derive from Old English and wordsof Germanic origin that entered English via Central French, such as- (as in clockwise) and guise, and probably wile and guile.</p><p>Latin</p><p>Old English already had a number of words of Latin origin (e.g. castel,candel, biscop), some words perhaps even pre-dating the Anglo-Saxoninvasion of England. However, the biggest inux of Latin into Englishbegan, along with the adoption of much French vocabulary, in the MiddleEnglish period.</p><p>Latin early had a place in Anglo-Norman bureaucracy. In the rsthundred and fty years or so after the Conquest, it was Latin, not NormanFrench, that accompanied or replaced English in ofcial documents. Theearliest Norman writs in England were written in English and Latin, notFrench, and in the last decades of the 11th century, laws were writtenin Latin alone. It was not until the 13th century that French began toreplace Latin as the language of ofcial documents such as charters, deedsand wills. The Latin of these documents was, however, quite differentfrom the classical Latin of university texts. Many words were borrowedfrom Anglo-Norman, and many Latin documents therefore appear tobe little more than supercially Latinized Anglo-Norman texts, becauseso many of the words and formulae used in them have been taken overfrom the vernacular language.10</p><p>Of much greater importance in the development of English, how-ever, is the classical Latin that was studied in the universities. In the12th century, there began a renewed interest in the study of Latin, and</p><p>70</p><p>9781405190237_4_004.qxd 6/15/11 16:37 Page 70</p></li><li><p>Decline and Revival in Middle English</p><p>as English replaced French in the 14th and 15th centuries, thousands ofLatin words were adopted into the English language just as thousandsof French words were. In fact, since many of the terms that English wasborrowing from French had themselves been borrowed into French fromLatin, it is not always possible to identify which of the two languagesis the real source of some Modern English words. Words ending in -ioun are a case in point: medieval French processioun was borrowed frommedieval Latin processionem. Middle English processioun reects theform of the French word, but in cases such as this (similar exampleswould be Middle English possessioun, regioun) it is difcult to distinguishbetween Latin and French sources. Similarly, to take as examples somewords beginning with , the following Modern English words could beequally well derived from Latin as from French: favo...</p></li></ul>