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Middle English

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Middle English
Dialects
Caxton & Printing
Emergence of a Standard
Middle English Dialects
Studying Middle English Dialects
Linguistic Atlas of Late Middle English (1350-1450)
• late time period means lots of texts
• according to the atlas, almost any Middle English
written before 1430 considered “dialectal” by
definition
• Some regions have more written documents than
others
• Northern/North Midland English: very few sources
before 1350
• Southern England: lots of material from 14th
century on
Dot Maps
• Dot maps show where in an area (county,
region, etc.) a certain spelling/pronunciation
is used
• Each dot map displays the distribution of the
set of forms specified in the map’s caption
• Places where each form has been found
represented by black dots
• 3 dot sizes: large, medium, small (reflecting
how dominant the particular form is in the
given place)
• Lots of statistical variation
ME Dialects: The Basics (heavily
generalized!)
Northern
Much Norse settlement, reconquest by English in early
10th century - all-Norse settlements learned English
quickly, badly
Rapid development, decay of inflections
Гћey, Гѕem, Гѕeir (with y for Гѕ, and spelling variants)
Bot fals anticristes he sall yaim call
(cf. Southern hy, hem, her)
Verbs in -es, not -eГѕ (sing.), -en (plur.)
He loves, Гѕey loven
Present participle in -ande, -ende
(goande, not going)
Brut (historical poem)
ME Dialects: The Basics (cont’d)
East and West Midlands
-en in plural verbs
They loven
Гћey, hem, here in 3rd pers. plural
He shal hem calle
Гћei lyuen in falce trouГѕe
West Midland
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Piers
Plowman
East Midland
Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower
ME Dialects: The Basics (cont’d)
Southern
Persistence of К’
He schal saye thanne ryК’t to cristene man
Heo/ho for she
Hy, hem, here in 3rd person plur.
Voicing of fricatives
For > vor
Seggen pronounced /zЙ›З°Й™n/
-eГѕ in most verbs (sg./plur.)
The Owl and the Nightingale (allegorical poem)
Ancrene Riwle (rule for anchoresses)
ME Dialects: The Basics
(cont’d)
Kentish (Southeastern)
Similar to Southern, with some vowel
differences
Hy,hem, here in 3rd person plur.
Voiced fricatives (vor)
No major literary texts
Rise of London Standard (14th-15th
centuries)
• written standard, spoken variation, but not
complete variation (like today)
• But in the real world, variation in both written
and spoken language
• East Midland dialect gradually merged with
London
Reasons for Rise of London Standard
(i) Midland dialects: middle position between North
and South
Southern dialect very conservative (slow to
change), Northern very radical (quick to change) –
Midlands in between - workable compromise
(ii)East Midlands: largest, most populous area –
fertile, prosperous agricultural area - larger,
wealthier population - politically important
throughout the Middle Ages and afterwards
(iii)Influence of Oxford and Cambridge (14th century):
role of monasteries decreasing, two universities
rapidly developing – Cambridge, at least, would
support East Midlands dialect
Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d)
(iv) role of Chaucer popular in his day,
popular throughout
15th century
• but, slightly more
conservative/
Southern than
London dialect
Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d)
(v) role of London as capital city
• political and commercial center of England
• seat of royal court, law courts, social and intellectual activity
• true in other languages: Parisian French, Castilian Spanish (Madrid)
• much movement of people into and out of the city: government
officials go out on business, others go to London on business
• local speeches mixed together to form a new combination – visitors
take away the influence of London speech - standard spreads
• began as a Southern dialect, ended up more or less East Midlands
Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d)
(vi) Chancery
(government writing
office)
• by c. 1450, had
developed a consistent
variety of London
English
• language of official
use, influenced other
writing
Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d)
(vii) Caxton & Printing
• first printer in English
• “I was born & lerned
myn Englissh in
Kente in the Weeld,
where I doubte not is
spoken as brode and
rude Englissh as is in
ony place of
Englond.”
Caxton/Printing (cont’d)
• Merchant/diplomat
• learned printing on the
Continent
• introduced the press
into England c. 1476,
near Westminster
Abbey
• printed Chaucer,
Gower, Lydgate,
Malory, translated
bestsellers from France
and Burgundy
Caxton’s Spellings
• not easy for a writer and printer in 15th
century to choose a version of English that
would be acceptable to all readers
• Caxton describes difficulties when he
printed English for the first time - he found
he had used �strange terms’
• (see printed handout)
• for commercial reasons, he used the
spelling of the London/East Midlands
dialect
Caxton and Standardization
• For commercial reasons, Caxton and other printers
settled for London English - privileging a dialect
• Used some foreign typesetters - confused by English
spelling (silent -e or not? Often line length) - see
handout
• Dutch influence: ghost, ghesse (guess)
• Caxton modernized orthography: eliminated ʒ, þ, ð
• Eventually, printing helped to fix the language on the
page - sometimes forced a consensus, accounting for
some oddities of English spelling:
right, riht, rite, richt
Effects of Print
• printing made books available at a relatively low
price - increased demand for books and literacy,
especially among middle and lower classes
• In general, the middle classes didn’t have a
classical education - wanted books in English
rather than Latin or French
• To make Greek and Latin classics available to
people who only knew English, they were
translated into English
• translations led to the introduction of thousands
of loanwords from Latin and Greek into English
Effects of Translation
• 15th c. - lots of translations, “half-chewed Latin”
Hale sterne superne! Hale, in eterne stars on high
In God’s sight to schyne!
Lucerne in derne, for to discerne
lamp
Be glory and grace devyne;
Hodiern, modern, sempitern. Present,current,eternal
William Dunbar (ca. 14601520), Hymn to the Blessed
Virgin
Rise of London Standard
• Printed books made London English current and
durable
• By 16th c. (EMnE), London English was
prescribed:
• Ye shall therefore take the usuall speach of the
Court, and that of London and the shires lying
about London with lx. myles, and not much above.
Anon. (attributed to Puttenham)
The Arte of English Poesie (1589)
• Complete uniformity never attained, even in
vocabulary (let alone accent) - dialects even
today
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