Middle English
O In December 1154, the young and vigorous Henry II became king of
England following the anarchy and civil war of Stephen's reign.
O Stephen had acknowledged Henry, grandson of Henry I of England,
as his heir-designate. His eldest son, Eustace, had died in 1153, but
his younger son, who might have succeeded, lived on as count of
Mortain. Primogeniture was not then established in England.
O The Britain of Henry II, and of his sons Richard I and John, was
experiencing rapid population growth, clearance of forest for fields,
establishment of new towns and outward-looking crusading zeal.
O Legacies of the Norman invasion of 1066 remained. The aristocracy
spoke French until after 1350, so saxon 'ox' and 'swine', for example,
came to the table as French boeuf and porc.
Decline of English (1066-1204)
O Norman invasion (1066), French conquest and unification of
England; Norman = North-man, descendants of Danes, spoke
French influenced by Germanic dialect.
William in full control of England within ten years.
Death of many Anglo-Saxon nobles.
End of internal conflicts and Viking invasions; control of the
Frenchmen in all high offices.
Anglo Saxon Chronicle written until 1154.
Increase in dialectal differences.
Kings of England spoke French, took French wives and lived
mostly in France, French-speaking court.
Lack of prestige of English; Latin was written language of the
Church and secular documents; Scandinavian still spoken in the
Danelaw, Celtic languages prevailed in Wales and Scotland.
French influence on vocabulary.
O If two languages are spoken "side by side," frequently
transference of words from one language to another is
inevitable. Again this process is called borrowing.
O The borrowing that occurred was not an immediate
process; rather, it occurred gradually.We can trace the
borrowings from French by two time periods: before
1250 and after 1250.
Rise of English (1204-1348)
O King John (John Lackland) (r. 1199-1216), loss of Normandy in
Many Norman landholders chose to stay in England, spoke AngloFrench dialect.
Barons revolt against John, Magna Carta (1215), origins and
development of Parliament.
Henry III (r. 1216-1272), son of John; francophilia of Henry III,
many Frenchmen given official positions.
Edward I (r. 1272-1307), son of Henry III, conquered Wales and
waged war with Scotland.
Fecline of French cultural dominance in England.
Rise in use of English, smoothing out of dialectal differences,
beginning of standard English based on London dialect; crusades,
pilgrimages contributed to increase in communication and
formation of common language.
Middle English Dialects
O ME was comprised of 5 distinct dialects (see p. 186 in book). These reflect :
O NORTHERN This dialect is the continuation of the Northumbrian variant
of Old English. Note that by Middle English times English had spread to
(Lowland) Scotland and indeed led to a certain literary tradition developing
there at the end of the Middle English period which has been continued up to
the present time (with certain breaks, admittedly).
O KENTISH This is the most direct continuation of an Old English dialect and
has more or less the same geographical distribution.
O SOUTHERN West Saxon is the forerunner of this dialect of Middle English.
Note that the area covered in the Middle English period is greater than in the
Old English period as inroads were made into Celtic-speaking Cornwall. This
area becomes linguistically uninteresting in the Middle English period. It
shares some features of both Kentish and West Midland dialects.
O WEST MIDLAND This is the most conservative of the dialect areas in the
Middle English period and is fairly well-documented in literary works. It is the
western half of the Old English dialect area Mercia.
O EAST MIDLAND This is the dialect out of which the later standard developed.
To be precise the standard arose out of the London dialect of the late Middle
English period. Note that the London dialect naturally developed into what is
called Cockney today while the standard became less and less characteristic of a
certain area and finally (after the 19th century) became the sociolect which is
termed Received Pronunciation.
O As London developed into a major commercial city and seat of government,
London English (which was a variety of East Midland English) became the
language of literature & of widest use by the end of the 14th century C.
However, the present day written standard English derives from the variety used
in the Chancery (the national bureacracy). The written conventions & spelling
adopted by the clerks of the Chancery provided a written standard that existed in
spite of significant differences in the spoken language.
Dominance of English (1348-1509)
O French remained official language of England until second half of
14th c.; by mid to late 14th c. English was normal medium of
instruction; in 1362 English became official language of legal
proceedings, everyone in England spoke English by end of 14th c.,
displacing of French, Norse, and Celtic languages.
O Persistence of dialectal differences, increase in English writing,
more common in legal documents than French or Latin by 15th c.
O Emergence of London/East Midland dialect as standard spoken
and written language, compromise dialect, London as commercial
center, seaport, proximity to Westminster court.
O Printers' activity (William Caxton 1474), increased literacy.
O Edward III (Windsor) (r. 1327-1377), his claim to French throne
led to Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), English victories at Crécy
(1346), Poitiers (1356), Agincourt (1415), role of Joan of Arc
(1429), eventual French victory, loss of all English continental
holdings, French no longer significant to the English.
O Black Death 1348-1351, death of one third of English population,
social chaos, labor shortages, emancipation of peasants, wage
increases, rise in prestige of English as language of working
O Richard II (1377-1399) (grandson of Edward III), John of Gaunt
(1340-1399) (son of Edward III), Richard II deposed by Henry IV
O War of the Roses (1455-1485), York vs. Lancaster, Richard Duke
of York vs. Henry VI.
O Henry VI executed 1471
O Edward II's brother Richard III (1483-85) killed by Lancastrian
Henry VII (Tudor), Henry marries Elizabeth of York (daughter of
Edward IV), fathers Henry VIII.
O 1509 begins reign of Henry VIII, end of Middle English period.
O Prior to 1250 :
O Approximately 900 French words borrowed
O Most of the 900 came in through language contact between the
nobility and the working class
O baron, noble, dame, servant, feast, etc., all signifying the
relationship between the classes
O story, rime, etc., came in by way of literature
O The largest number of words to enter during this period were,
however, from the church. The need to convey doctrine and belief
quickly accounts for this, the largest group.
O After 1250;
O Of the two periods, more words entered after 1250 when the
language was in transition from French back to English
O The transference occurring during this period included all
categories of words and is quite extensive.
French loan or borrowed words
O Ecclesiastical;
a) general-sermon, religion, theology, prayer, confession, lesson,
b) terms of rank/class within the church-clergy, cardinal, chaplain,
parson, pastor, vicar, novice
c) terms associated with the church service or with the way of life
for the clergy-crucifix, incense, lectern, image, chapter, abbey,
convent, sanctuary
d) terms that expressed fundamental theological or religious
concepts-creator, savior, trinity, saint, miracle, faith, heresy,
reverence, devotion, sacrilege, temptation, redemption,
absolution, immortality, salvation
O Terms that expressed virtues-piety, sanctity, charity, mercy, pity,
obedience, virtue
O Form class words
a. adjectives-divine, devout, reverend, solemn
b. verbs-preach, pray, repent,confess, adore, convert,anoint.
O Law;
O nouns-justice, equity, crime, bar,attorney, petition, complaint,
inquest, indictment, jury, juror, panel, felon, evidence, proof, bail,
verdict, sentence, punishment, decree
O verbs-plead, arraign, depose,arrest, warrant, condemn,
convict,judge, acquit, pardon
O other-arson, fraud, felony, trespass, slander, libel, perjury,
adultery, property, estate, tenement, chattels, legacy, patrimony,
heir, executor
O adjectives-just, innocent, culpable
O Government and administrative-government, govern,
administer,crown, state, empire, real, reign, royal, prerogative,
authority, parliament, assembly, statute .
O Art, Learning & Medicine;
O Social-fashion, dress, apparel, robe, lace, embroidery, buckle, button,
luxury, satin, taffeta, blue, brown, vermilion, scarlet, jewel, brooch,
ivory, turquoise, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, pearl, diamond,
crystal, appetite, taste, sustenance, beef, veal, pork, bacon, sausage,
tripe, gravy, biscuit, cream, sugar, olives, salad, lettuce, fruits, grape,
orange, lemon, cherry, peach, pastry, tart, jelly, treacle, spice, clove,
thyme, herb, roast, stew, fry, blanch, grate, mince, goblet, saucer,
curtain, couch, chair, lamp, blanket, quilt, melody, checkers,
conversation, rein, stallion, trot, harness, mastiff, terrier, quail,
pheasant, squirrel
O Culture and intellect-art, painting, music, beauty, color, image, tone,
ceiling, palace, cathedral, mansion, tower, turret, porch, choir, column,
baptistry, prose, romance, chronicle, tragedy, prologue, preface, title,
volume, chapter, paper, pen, study, logic, geometry, grammar, treatise,
gender, noun, clause, copy, compile, physician, surgeon, distemper,
gout, plague, pestilence, stomach, poison.
O consonant inventory much like that of Present Day English except
for sounds in hu/ng/ (velar nasal) and mea/s/ure (alveo-palatal
voiced fricative)
O addition of phonemic voiced fricatives: v, , z; effect of French
loanwords: vetch/fetch, view/few, vile/file
O voiceless fricative /h/ had velar (ME thurh) and alveo-palatal (ME
niht) allophones.
O loss of long consonants (OE mann )
O h lost in clusters, OE hlæfdige>ME ladi, OE hnecca>ME necke, OE
hræfn>ME raven
O voiced velar fricative allophone of g (normally a voiced velar stop
in OE) became w after l and r: OE swelgan>ME swolwen, OE
feolaga>ME felawe, OE morgen>ME morwen, OE sorg>ME sorow
O OE prefix ge- lost initial consonant and was reduced to y or i: OE
genog>ME inough, OE genumen>ME inomen
O unstressed final consonants tended to be lost after a vowel:
OE ic>ME i, OE -lic>ME ly
O final -n in many verbal forms (infinitive, plural subjunctive,
plural preterite) was lost (remains in some past participles
of strong verbs: seen, gone, taken); final -n also lost in
possessive adjectives my and thy and indefinite article 'an'
before words beginning with consonant (-n remained in the
possessive pronouns)
O w dropped after s or t: OE sweostor> sister, OE swilc>such
(sometimes retained in spelling: sword, two; sometimes
still pronounced: swallow, twin, swim)
O l was lost in the vicinity of palatal c in adjectival pronouns
OE ælc, swilc, hwilc, micel> each, such, which, much
(sometimes remained: filch, milch)
O fricative v tended to drop out before consonant+consonant or
vowel+consonant: OE hlaford, hlæfdige, heafod, hæfde>ME lord,
ladi, hed, hadde (sometimes retained: OE heofon, hræfn,
dreflian>heaven, raven, drivel)
O final b lost after m but retained in spelling: lamb, comb, climb
(remained in medial position: timber, amble); intrusive b after m
and before consonant: OE bremel, næmel, æmerge>ME bremble,
nimble, ember (also OE puma>ME thombe)
O intrusive d after n in final position or before resonant: OE
dwinan, punor > ME dwindle, thunder
O intrusive t after s in final position or before resonant: OE
hlysnan, behæs > ME listnen, beheste
O initial stops in clusters gn- and kn- still pronounced: ME gnat,
gnawen, knowen, knave
O h often lost in unstressed positions: OE hit>ME it
O Loss of OE y and æ: y unrounded to i; æ raised toward e or
lowered toward a .All OE diphthongs became pure vowels
O Addition of schwa; schwa in unstressed syllables,
reduction of all unstressed vowels to schwa or i as in
K/i/d, reason for ultimate loss of most inflections; a source
of schwa was epenthetic or parasitic vowel between two
consonants, generally spelled e (OE setl, æfre, swefn> ME
setel, ever, sweven)
O French loanwords added several new diphthongs (e.g. OF
point, bouillir, noyse > ME point, boille, noise) and
contributed to vowel lengthening; diphthongs resulted
from vocalization of w, y, and v between vowels.
O Loss of unstressed vowels: unstressed final -e was gradually
dropped, though it was probably often pronounced; -e of
inflectional endings also being lost, even when followed by
consonant (as in -es, eth, ed) (e.g. breath/breathed), exceptions:
wishes, judges, wanted, raided.
O Loss of -e in adverbs made them identical to adjective, hence
ambiguity of plain adverbs e.g. hard, fast; final -e in French
loanwords not lost because of French final stress, hence cite>city,
O Lenghtening and shortening:
O Phonemic vowel length in ME (lost in Modern English)
O Already in OE short vowels tended to lengthen before certain
consonant clusters OE climban, feld> ME climbe, feld
O Lengthening of short vowels in open syllables (OE gatu, hopa >
ME gate, hope)
O Shortening of long vowels in stressed closed syllables, OE
softe, godsibb, sceaphirde> ME softe, godsib, scepherde,
exceptions (before -st): OE last, gast, crist>ME last, gost,
O If two or more unstressed syllables followed the stressed
one, the vowel of the stressed syllable was shortened
(Christ/Christmas [ME Christesmesse], break/breakfast
[ME brekefast]).
O Some remnants of distinctions caused by lengthening or
shortening in open and closed syllables: five/fifteen,
wise/wisdom; in weak verbs, the dental ending closed
syllables: hide/hid, keep/kept, sleep/slept, hear/heard.
O Prosody, the study of the rhythms of language, is based on
the patterns of stress found in everyday speech.
O Middle English prosody stress on root syllables, less stress
on subsequent syllables; loss of endings led to reduction in
number of unstressed syllables.
O It increased use of unstressed particles such as definite and
indefinite articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns,
analytic possessive (of), marked infinitive (to), compound
verb phrases; OE trochaic rhythm shift to iambic rhythm of
unstressed syllables followed by stressed ones (caused by
increase in use of unstressed particles and by French loans).

Middle English - Universiti Putra Malaysia