8. The Rise of Middle English: Words and Sounds

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.

After Norman Conquest 1066

- For a long period, there were close connections between not only England and Normandy, and the rest of France.

- the Norman kings of England spent much of their time on French soil and married French wives (gained additional French possessions) -> Henry II (1154-1189), gained two-thirds of France by his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, he understood English but did not speak it

- the first king to speak English was Edward I (1272-1307)

- for two hundred years, the rulers of England spoke only French (nobility, church, Norman troops) x 90 per cent of the population continued to speak English, which was tolerated by the Norman overlords

diglossia= English as a lower or socially stigmatized spoken dialect x French the higher, prestige dialect, the one to be imitated)= ‘low men hold to English and their own speech’

- by intermarriage and the demands of business a small group of bilingual speakers emerged (knights, merchants, lesser landlords, parish priests, and monks)

- the written evidence reveals three languages in use:

Latin (the official language of law and state)

French (the ruling class, commerce, monasteries, French literature cultivated in the court)

- Norman French/Anglo-Norman French considered inferior to the French of Paris (Central French)

English (low people, country, peasants, artisans, laborers), only a spoken language for 200 years

- written form slows down, prevents language change, change originates in variation in the spoken language, languages which are not written tend to change more rapidly

- during the 11th and 12th English was not recorded at all, only spoken in a variety of regional dialects resulting from the geographic and social isolation of the speakers; no standard dialect existed.

- These factors were stronger forces in promoting grammatical change than later language interference between French and English (changes in the vocabulary)

- the Northern dialect (admixture of Scandinavian speakers, presence of strange languages and distance from the center of political power in the south) is the most innovative x the Southern dialect the most conservative (best preserving phonological and grammatical features of Old English)

- influence of the settlement patterns of the Germanic tribes, mingling with the Scandinavians and the Normans.

“Last will and testament“ - derived from a period in English law when Old English and Law French were used side by side for maximum clarity. Other such legal doublets include "breaking and entering" and "peace and quiet".

2. Describe the process of vowel lengthening in Middle English. Explain the role the French lexical borrowings played in the quantitative changes (which is hinted at at p. 272).

Quantitative change- affects the length of vowels (and sometimes consonants)

- associated with changes in intonation or accent

- the borrowing of many French words having different accentual pattern from the native one brought about the quantitative in Middle English

- Old English lengthening affects certain vowels before sequences of a nasal or liquid plus stop, the most common clusters causing lengthening are -nd, -mb, -rd, and -ld: - blind, lamb, climb, word, mild, gold

Open syllable lengthening- began in the first half of the 13th century, a short stressed vowel in an open: syllable of a two-syllable word (normally the first syllable of the word) is lengthened. An open syllable is one which ends in a vowel.

• V-CV(C) • CV-CV (C)

- In Middle English, lengthening first affects short stressed a, ae, e, o later i and u

- It is the only source of long [a] in Middle English because the original long [a] shifted to [ɔ:]

- It is hard to predict from Modern English forms because the loss of the final e sound changes open syllables to closed syllables: CVCe > CVC

3. Give a brief overview of the historical events leading up to the Norman Conquest and its consequences in the political and social sphere. Why did, in your own opinion, William the Conqueror choose to surround himself with Norman aristocracy?

The invasion and colonization of England by Scandinavians (8th-10th century)

- isolated attacks by Danes (Norweigians + Swedes), later the Vikings (people from the North Sea, fjords), settling down, plundering raids

- by 870 only Wessex remained under Anglo-Saxon control

- 878, a pact between king Alfred of Wessex and the Danish King Guthrum establishing the Danelaw (area under Danish control)

- 991 the Battle of Maldon, Wessex defeated

- Until 1042 the Danes rule in England, the Anglo-Saxon rule restored by Edward the Confessor (was in exile in Normandy since the death of his father, Ethelred) after the death of King Cnut’s son Harthacnut.

- Edward died in January 1066 leaving no male heir, Godwine’s (Edward´s father-in-law) son, Harold was elected king, but his ascension to the throne was challenged from two sides:

1) King Harald Hardrada of Norway, who considered him self heir to Cnut’s throne. He invaded England via the Humber River in the north, but their forces were defeated in the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066.

2) The Duke William of Normandy, he was second cousin to Edward (who had spent his exile in Normandy); when he had visited England, he had been led to believe he would succeed to the English throne (maybe he had got a promise from Harold, who was captured in Normandy in 1064 that he would not oppose William’s succession)

The Norman Conquest 1066

- the most important event affecting the linguistic development of English.

- William landed in southern England with a large force, Harold of England was forced to rush down from northern England after the victorious Battle of Stamford Bridge

- The Battle of Hastings, 14 October 1066, Harold was killed (pierced through the eye by an arrow) - William was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey in London on Christmas Day, 1066 The Normans- Scandinavians who had settled in France (9th-10th century)

- in 911, the Scandinavian leader signed a pact with French king in which the Scandinavians acknowledged the king of France while he ceded them the Normandy peninsula, the Scandinavians soon assimilated (learned French, were Christianized, and adopted Frankish customs and law)

- William replaced most of the native English nobility with Normans in order to reward his supporters and ensure the loyalty of his officials, 11 of the 12 earls of England were Norman French.

- For a long period, there were close connections between not only England and Normandy, and the rest of France.

4. What led to the "re-establishment of English"?

- a number of events contributed to the decline of French and the restoration of English as the national language in the 13th and 14th centuries:

1) John, king of England (1199-1216) lost control of Normandy in 1204 to King Philip of France, which forced the Anglo-Norman nobility to give up their holdings either in Normandy or in England -> Anglo-French ties weakened

2) Henry III. (1216 72) married Eleanor of Provence -> a second influx of French nobility into the English court caused resentment due to favoritism, AngloNorman French no longer the first language of the English nobility; instead, the more prestigious Central French was acquired as a second language, French had become a cultivated symbol of elite social status, a matter of culture and fashion rather than ethnicity, which evoked resentment from an increasingly nationalistic populace

3) The Hundred Years War (1337-1453)- England x France

- English victories under Edward III at Crecy (1346) and at Poitiers (1356) and later under Henry V at Agincourt (1415) contributing to a sense of English nationalism.

4) the Black Death 1348-1350- 40 % of the population died (mainly urban artisans and laborers)

- laboring classes gained political power because their low numbers made them more in demand (the Peasants’ Revolt 1381

- demand of higher wages and better working conditions). - the urban population of England was growing (the merchant and craftsman middle class)

- Latin speaking priests, monks at parishes died of the plague because they lived near together -> Latin no more language of church (no one remained to speak Latin)

- the political power and social status of English speakers increased= the status of English increased

- the prestige language and a sign of in-group solidarity, appeared in official contexts (guild and city records, commercial accountings, wills and deeds, in schools, except in the royal court used for judicial hearings) -

14th century- flourishing of English literature, government documents, court records became

- the restoration of English was complete by the reign of Henry V (1413-22)

5. Describe the structure of the Middle English lexicon. Why were most of the Latinate affixes not productive during this period?

- the English in written documents of the 13th and 14th centuries, very different from Old English

- many borrowings from Old Norse from the late Old English period, first show up in Middle English texts


- a massive influx of French terms and a substantial loss of Old English words (especially those not belonging to the core vocabulary)

- 1250 and 1400, its peak is 1380, period of the greatest bilingualism, French speakers gradually becoming English speakers, importing items from their first language (everyday objects and concepts, and more specialized items)

- before 1250, words from French were cultural borrowings relating to French culturally dominant semantic domains (religion, nobility)

- after 1250, borrowings from a wider variety of domains (government- parliament, military- army, law- attorney, art: sculpture, art, architecture- cathedral, learning- grammar, food- bacon, dinner, toast, sugar, non-nuclear family- niece, nephew, uncle, aunt)

- words borrowed from Norman French and Central French (-> standard Modern French)

- words beginning in [w] from Norman French are of Germanic origin (wage, war).

- doublets of Norman and Central French origin (cattle/chattel, reward/regard)


- the language of official records

- 4th period of Latin borrowing, it is difficult to determine whether a word was borrowed directly from Latin or came into English via French.

- learned loan words, specialized vocabulary from the realms of religion, law, scholarship, medicine, science, and literature, were often borrowed directly from Latin (e.g. immortal, scripture, homicide, legal, testimony, history, genius, library, imaginary).

- direct Latin borrowings date from a later period than the French borrowings

- consequence of borrowing from both Latin and French: the introduction of new affixes (prefixes and suffixes)

- the structure of Latinate words analyzed into their parts and then extended the affix to new lexical roots

- French borrowing such as acceptable, agreeable analyzed into a root plus the suffix –able, then added to roots of native origin (believable, understandable) or -ard (coward, bastard -> wizard)

- because this two-part process of acquiring and spreading affixes takes time, many of the Latinate affixes first borrowed in word forms in Middle English do not become productive until Early Modern English

- a second consequence of borrowing is the existence of two (English help = French aid) or three levels of synonyms in English which differ in register (formal, informal, colloquial- English, literary-French, learned-Latin); rise – mount ascend

6. Describe the main changes in the consonant system in the ME period. Focus especially on the new phonemes in the ME inventory.

- the consonant inventory of Middle English remains much the same as that of Old English

- but there was an increase in the number of distinctive sounds, caused by phonemicization (allophones of the same phoneme become separate phonemes)

-in Old English, the pairs [s] and [z], [f] and [v], and [θ] and [ð] were allophones of the same phoneme, occurring predictably in complementary phonological environments (voiceless variant word-initially, word-finally and next to a voiceless sound X the voiced variant word-medially)

- in Middle English environment no longer determines the sound, the allophones become unpredictable for external and internal reasons:

• French borrowings with initial [z] and [v], a position in which those sounds had never been found in Old English (zeal, zone, virtue)

• loss of final -e caused [z], [v], and [ð] to occur in final position, where Old English would have had [s], [f], and [θ] (maze, groove, bathe)

• simplification of the pronunciation of the double consonants [ff, ss, θ θ > f, s, θ] led to the voiceless variants occurring in medial position (offren, missen)

• [θ] in initial position in unstressed words as adverbs, pronouns, demonstratives, and conjunctions became voiced to [ð] (then, there, they, them, this, that, though)

- [c] became a separate phoneme from [k] (in large part because of borrowings like change from French which contained the sound [c] before back vowels)

- [y], shortly to be lost altogether, became a separate phoneme from [g] (because of Old Norse containing [g], rug).

7. Describe the main changes in the vowel system during the ME period.

- changes both in the quality (place of articulation) and quantity (length) of vowels

- around the 11th century

Vowel Reduction- the most important qualitative sound change in Middle Englis

- the centralization and laxing of the short vowels a, o, u, and e to schwa in other syllables than those with primary stress (a vowel constitutes the nucleus of a syllable.) The unstressed/weakly stressed syllables:

• the verbal prefixes and some nominal prefixes,

• every syllable other than the first in a polysyllabic word,

• the unstressed grammatical words, and,

• all inflectional endings.

- strong correlation between stressed sequences and higher/more fronted vowels, and between unstressed sequences and lower/more centralized vowels (schwa is the most central vowel, the least distinguished)

- the vowel in the final syllable is written -e; the sound is pronounced as schwa, in words longer than two syllables, all unstressed vowels could be reduced.

- the long [y] merged with [í], and the short [y] with [i], as a result of unrounding.

- OE long [a] shifted to long [ɔ] - two long oo, written exactly the same, the upper or ‘close o ’ appears as [u], [u:], or [a] (loot, look, blood), while the open o appears as [ou] words spelled oa or i plus silent e (boat, rode)

- the Old English long and short diphthongs became monophthongs eo > e, ea > ae.

Other changes:

- the merger of short a , ae, and ea as [a]

- new diphthongs developed, four major sources of diphthongs in Middle English:

1. borrowing - two diphthongs [oi] and [ui] from French (noise)

2. vocalization of [w] to [u] after ME [a , ó, é, í] - this produces the diphthongs [au] as in strawe, [ou] as in glowen, [eu] as in fewe, and [iu] as in trewe, newe. 3. vocalization of ʒ, either of [j] to [i] after ME front vowels or of [y] to [u] after ME back vowels - in the first case, this produces [sei], as in gray or leide', in the second case, it produces [au] as in drawe or lawe, and [ou] as in bowe or owen.

4. development of a glide before h [x], either of [i] after ME front vowels or of [u] after ME back vowels: in the first case, this produces [aei] as in neigh or eighte; in the second case, this produces [au] as in taught, and [ou] as in dough.

8. Discuss the influence of French spelling conventions on ME ortography.

- the systematic, phonemic spelling system of Old English underwent a change in Middle English

- in addition to replacing runic symbols with Latin letters, Norman scribes introduced a number of Romance spelling conventions –> confusion of English spelling in which symbols no longer correspond exactly with sounds


- in the French system the h came to indicate the fricative quality of the neighboring s, t, c, and w (the sounds [š], [θ, ð], [č], and [hw])

-ð disappeared early

-ᚦ continued to be used and can be found even in some Early Modern printed texts.

- ch represents [č] in French borrowings into Middle English (chambre)

- c represents [s] before e and i, as (circuit), [k] before a, o, and u (cause, company, curious)

- digraph sc/sk [sk] in borrowed words (French scorn, scarlet, Old Norse sky, Latin scripture)

- in French words, g [dʒ] before e and i (gingre), gu [g] before e and i (guide)

Vowels - for visual clarity, scribes inserted the symbol o in place of u when it appeared next to other letters written with downstrokes, as in some, wolf, loch (< sum, wulf, lull).

- y was used in place of i (nyce), y was also used for long [i], and for i in final position (life=lyf, thy) -to show that a preceding vowel is long, scribes might add a final e (bride)

- to indicate a short vowel, the next consonant was doubled (dinner) - i (medially), j (initially), u, v could represent both vowel and consonant sounds

9. Explain the terms: aureate terms, phonemicization, excrescent (speech sound).

aureate terms -direct Latin borrowings date from a later period than the French borrowings

- 15th century, when writers selfconsciously and extensively used rather artificial and unusual borrowings called aureate terms (meaning that the words were ‘gilded’), many of these have not survived into Modem English (abusion, dispone, and equipolent)

phonemicization- process in which sounds that are originally allophones of the same phoneme become separate phonemes, an increase in the number of distinctive sounds

excrescent - the addition of one or more sounds to a word, especially to the interior of a word, excrescent [t] OF ancien > ME ancien(t)