8. The Rise of Middle English: Words and Sounds

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1. Describe the (socio-)linguistic situation in the Middle English period (What languages were used on the British Isles and what was their status? Why do we have a record of so many ME dialects?). In the light of this situation, try to explain the origin of expressions like "last will and testament" in legal English.


-linguistic situation in England between 1066 and 1500, -political and social events that led to the Norman Conquest → French as the language of England. -major impact on the development of English, especially on its lexicon – massive borrowings from French, some borrowing from Latin, and the loss of many native words. - transition from OE to ME also came with changes in the writing system and in phonology – consonant, vowel changes, development of diphthongs, lengthening/shortening of vowels.


Languages spoken on the British Isles & their status:

• French: -after the Norman Conquest nobility replaced by William with Normans to ensure loyalty -close connections between England and Normandy, but also England and the rest of France, Anglo-French aristocracy indifferent to learning English, monolingual nobility, church officials, archbishops, abbots; French-speaking Norman troops garrisoned in England - written and spoken by the ruling class, was the higher or prestige dialect, the one to be imitated

• Latin -continued to be the official language of laws, petitions to parliament, official proclamations, and court records.

• English -90 per cent of the population continued to speak English, few English texts produced in the West Midland and South dialect areas suggests that at least some of the nobility spoke English natively - typically as a lower or socially stigmatized dialect spoken mostly by peasants, artisans, and laborers,

-bilingualism: intermarriage, business; small group of knights, merchants, monks, etc.,

-ON influence becoming visible, Norwegians & Danes settling in, +newcomers,

-change from variation in spoken language, not many writings in English → more rapid, infrequency of keeping records – no standard dialect, when writing improvising from more known langauges, geographic+social isolation

5 regional dialects (4 of them known from OE): Northern (OE Northumbrian) West and East Midland (OE Mercian) Kentish (OE Kentish) Southwestern (OE West Saxon) -dialectical situation fluid and complex, typical features of one dialect can appear elsewhere → Northern dialect quick to change, migrating towards London later on, eg. Within the East Midland dialect 7 different spellings of church, signs of being from all over the country → shows an overlap of spellings, coexistence with each other -each dialect influenced by being in contact with other language: North: ON, South: French arrivals, London as a center of nobility, Midlands: universities, churches → Latin

“last will and testament” -terms used interchangeably, it might appear that historically will=real property & testament=disposition of personal property will=OE, willan; mind, determination, purpose; desire, wish, request; testament=Lat., testamentum, last will, publication of will, it also signified holy scripture, late 13th C