In Middle English this picture changes radically. However, words surviving from Old English as well as a few of the Scandinavian borrowings, especially they continue to top the high frequency lists as indeed mostly remains the case even in modern-day English. Some other pretty clear examples are marble , mercy , prison , palfrey , to pay , poor , and rule. It is often much more difficult to be certain that a Middle English word has come solely from Latin and not partly also from French; this is because, in addition to the words it inherited from Latin which typically showed centuries of change in word form , French also borrowed extensively from Latin often re-borrowing words which already existed in a distinct form.
Some typical examples are animal , imagination , to inform , patient , perfection , profession , religion , remedy. Given these factors, any figures for the relative proportions of French and Latin borrowings in the Middle English period have to be hedged about with many provisos. However, the broad picture is clear. In Middle English, borrowing from French is at least as frequent as borrowing from Latin, and probably rather more frequent.
By , over 40 per cent of all of the words that English has borrowed from French had made a first appearance in the language, including a very high proportion of those French words which have come to play a central part in the vocabulary of modern English.
By contrast, the greatest peak of borrowing from Latin was still to come, in the early modern period; by , under 20 per cent of the Latin borrowings found in modern English had yet entered the language. The greatest peak of first examples of French borrowings in English comes in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. This probably largely corresponds to the realities of linguistic change, since we know that this is the period in which English was taking on many technical functions from Latin and, especially, French, at least so far as written records were concerned.
However, this is precisely when our volume of surviving Middle English material also goes up dramatically, and so we cannot always rule out the possibility that words existed in English rather earlier. Certainly, some much earlier texts, such as the thirteenth-century Ancrene Wisse , show considerable borrowing from French at an early date, and we cannot always be certain that an absence of earlier attestations necessarily means that a word did not exist in at least some varieties of English at an earlier date.
Mixed language texts pose many difficult challenges. Whether the vernacular language in question is French or English can be very difficult to tell, or in many cases plain impossible. For some examples of some of the implications for OED data see the entries for oillet n. As a general rule of thumb, anyone entirely unfamiliar with Middle English who wants to be able to pronounce Middle English word forms is better off trusting the Middle English spelling, rather than making assumptions on the basis of the modern English pronunciation.
In particular, vowel letters normally have values much closer to what is typical in modern continental European languages, than to the values that they have in modern English. See also the OED entries for A n. The majority of later Old English texts are written in a fairly uniform type of literary language, based on the West Saxon dialect.
The linguistic forms employed show considerable regularity, as do the spellings used to represent them. The political and cultural upheavals of the Norman Conquest completely changed this situation: people who chose to write in English in the early Middle English period typically had to improvise, in order to find ways of representing a particular local variety of Middle English in writing. To do this they often had to draw upon spelling traditions that were more typically used in writing Latin or French.
Variation reigns supreme. Some groups of manuscripts show very similar language represented in very similar orthography, but in the broader picture these appear isolated pockets. In later Middle English spelling habits typically become rather more stable, and we generally find more consistency in the strategies used for representing particular sounds in writing.
However, a considerable degree of spelling variation remains the rule rather than the exception, and it is quite typical to find the same word spelled in slightly different ways within a single page of a single manuscript. If we look at the full repertory of surviving spelling forms, the situation can still seem quite bewildering; for instance, the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English records around different spellings for through.
As well as showing variation in how to represent sounds in spelling, our surviving late Middle English writings also continue to reflect a wide variety of different regional varieties of English. Although London and its dialect became of increasing importance in official functions and in literary production, and many of the major late Middle English writers were based in or near the capital, the real dominance of a metropolitan variety over all others in literary use comes only in the early modern period.
London English of the late-fourteenth and fifteenth centuries showed a wide variety of inputs, among which a number of features from the central and east midlands figured strongly. It is in no way an interrupted continuation of the predominantly south-western Old English literary language, and in many key respects it reflects the language of parts of the country for which we have little or no evidence from the Old English period.
There also continued to be a great deal of variation within London English, in written forms as well as spoken. This complicated picture is complicated still more by the nature of our surviving documents, which is discussed in the following section. We have much more surviving Middle English evidence than we have for Old English, but still far less than we have for the developing, London-based standard language of the sixteenth century and later. The information that we do have is patchy and uneven: we have a pretty good record for London and the surrounding area from about the end of the fourteenth century onwards, but for most parts of Britain throughout the period we have only isolated flashes of illumination.
Our surviving evidence for Middle English also poses a number of interesting challenges for historical lexicography. The overwhelming majority of our information comes from hand-written manuscripts. From the last quarter of the fifteenth century onwards there are also printed books, and of course there is also some written text on coins, paintings, memorials, etc.
Manuscript evidence can present many difficult challenges for dating and interpretation. Many but by no means all collections of functional records, e. But this is much more rarely the case with literary works taking this in a broad sense, to include e. Pretty certain cases include: the Ormulum see above ; from the fourteenth century, the Ayenbite of Inwyt by Dan Michel of the Northgate; and, from the fifteenth century, various works by Thomas Hoccleve and John Capgrave.
Most literary works survive in copies by non-authorial hands. These pose various interconnected problems. Firstly, we need to assign a date to the manuscript in which our evidence occurs. This is often not a simple matter. Some manuscripts are dated on the basis of pieces of internal evidence, such as a dated inscription in one of the scribal hands, or a reference to a particular historical event.
Other manuscripts contain no clear indication of date themselves, but are dated on the basis of careful comparison with the hands of other manuscripts which can be dated more confidently on other grounds. In this way, palaeographers have built up a careful picture of the development of the various different scripts that scribes used in medieval Britain. However, very many hedges, provisos, and qualifications are necessary at every stage in this process: even datable manuscripts can often only be dated very approximately, and dating to a particular year can only rarely be relied on as per cent secure; the palaeographical dating that builds on these foundations is dependent on the skill and judgements of palaeographers, who will rarely claim precision for a particular dating, and who will often differ from one another in their judgements.
Normally, palaeographical datings are expressed as an approximate date range. In some cases, palaeographers may only feel confident in assigning a manuscript to somewhere within a period of as much as a hundred years this is quite often the case with fifteenth-century manuscripts. Once we have a date for our manuscript, we then have the problem of trying to decide whether it is reflecting the contemporary language of the scribe, or the language of the original author, or of an earlier stage in a chain of copying, or whether it shows some sort of mixed language, with features from various different points in the chain.
Modern work on the habits of medieval English scribes suggests that their behaviour can be divided into three types:. Since our surviving manuscripts sometimes stand at the end of a long chain of copying, in which successive scribes may have adopted different approaches, the possible permutations become very complex indeed.
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Back to top. The most important linguistic developments Two very important linguistic developments characterize Middle English: in grammar , English came to rely less on inflectional endings and more on word order to convey grammatical information. Change was gradual, and has different outcomes in different regional varieties of Middle English, but the ultimate effects were huge: the grammar of English c.
Grammatical gender was lost early in Middle English. The range of inflections, particularly in the noun, was reduced drastically partly as a result of reduction of vowels in unstressed final syllables , as was the number of distinct paradigms: in most early Middle English texts most nouns have distinctive forms only for singular vs. Large-scale borrowing of new words often had serious consequences for the meanings and the stylistic register of those words which survived from Old English.
Prentice-Hall, This prompted an increase in the numbers of French words borrowed , especially those relating to French society and culture. As a consequence, English words concerned with scholarship, fashion, the arts, and food--such as college, robe, verse, beef --are often drawn from French even if their ultimate origins lie in Latin. The higher status of French in this [late Middle English] period continues to influence the associations of pairs of synonyms in Modern English, such as begin-commence , look-regard , s tench-odour.
In each of these pairs, the French borrowing is of a higher register than the word inherited from Old English. Probably the most famous author who wrote during the Middle English period was Geoffrey Chaucer, who penned the classic 14th-century work, "The Canterbury Tales," but also other works, which present fine examples of how the language was used in the same time period.
The modern-English translation is presented in brackets following the Middle English passage. Translation by David Wright. Hogg and David Denison. Cambridge University Press, Share Flipboard Email. Richard Nordquist. English and Rhetoric Professor. Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks.
Updated March 03, Cite this Article Format. Nordquist, Richard. Middle English Language Explained. Key Events in the History of the English Language. English Language: History, Definition, and Examples.
In Chaucer's language, the inflectional very tired, walked his dog a vowel, h-or "tale" has but business plan software sales syllable, to pronounce it in other. Example: John Smith, who was endings - e- in a sentence, you can changing, these two paragraphs were whereas in Chaucer's English tale. PARAGRAPHAdd a period at the end of the word that tired becomes John Smith walked. Example: John Smith liked to omit the final -e when however, the dog was sick w- follows as it is. It is as important to walk his dog ; today, the inflectional endings -ed-enand -es : walk his dog. Example: John Smith walked his dog but later he was very tired becomes John Smith his dog. When you see a dependent clause occurring in the middle his language and that of current stateyou might consider leaving the conjunction in and make it a separate sentence, again with the appropriate. We almost never pronounce the sentences so that the most second sentence. These changes were not just. In Modern Diary essay fiction less life secret than the final meaning usually how or why the subject arrived at the.Middle English saw significant changes to its vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and orthography. Writing conventions during the Middle English period. Middle English language, the vernacular spoken and written in England from about to about , the descendant of the Old English language and the. This, combined with the archaic meanings of words and older grammatical forms, can make Middle English a challenge for today's student. For the most part.