–ефераты. Historical Background of the Middle English Period

Historical Background of the Middle English Period

УHistorical Background of the Middle English PeriodФ


1. The problem of periodization. The role of the Middle English

Period in the history of English language.

2. The influence of the Scandinavian invasions.

3. The Norman Conquest.

4. Early Middle English dialects. Neighborhood of three languages

in England.

5. Written records of the M. E. P.

6. Late M. E. P.

7. Development of English dialects and the rise of London dialect.

The historical development of a language is a continuous,

uninterrupted process without sudden breaks or rapid transformations.

Therefore any periodisation imposed on language history by linguists, with

precise dates, might appear artificial. There are some periodizations of

the history of English language. The author of the first scientific

historical phonetic and grammar of En. Language. H. Sweet suggested the

periodization that corresponds to the morphological structure of different

centures. He called the Old English Period Ц СThe period of full endings С,

the M. E. P. Ц СThe period of reduced endingsТ , the New En. P. Ц СThe

period of lost endings.Т But this periodization is not full because it is

not quite right to devide the logical features, but phonological or

syntactical ones (they were not mentioned in the periodization.) So, thus I

consider that any periodization is based on some principles, but canТt

touch all the sides of the language.

One of the prominent and well-known English scientists Henry Sweet

worked out several periodisations of the history of English language. He

suggested to single out the period of transition and to subdivide the

transitional stage between the Old and the Middle English Periods cover

1100-1200. H. Sweet reckoned 1200 to be the limning of the Middle English

based on morphological phenomena the Middle English Period is considered to

le the Period of Levelled English.

Another periodization is extralinguistical. ItТs based on the

historical events, which influenced on the English language. I must notice

that this one is the most traditional. The commonly accepted traditional

periodization divides English language history into three periods: Old

English, Middle English and New English with boundaries attached to

definite dates and historical effects affecting the language. Old English

is connected with the German settle in Britain (5th century) and with the

beginning of writing (7th century) and ends with the Norman Conquest

(1066). Middle English begins with Norman Conquest end ends on the

introduction of printing (1475). The Middle English period itself may be

also divided into two smaller ones Ц Early Middle English and Late Middle


Early Middle English covers the main events of the 14th century. It

is the stage of greatest dialectal divergence caused by the feudal system

and by foreign influences-Scandinavian and French. The dialectal division

of present-day English owes its origin to this period of history. Great

changes of the language took place at all the levels, especially in lexis

and grammar.

Later 14th till the end of the 15th century is a time known as Late

or Classical Middle English. This period umbraТs the age of Chaucer, the

greatest English medieval writer and forerunner of the English Renaissanu,

and is characterized by restoration of English to the position of the state

and literary language and by literary flourishing, which has a stabilizing

effect on language, so that the rate of linguistic changes was slowed down.

At the same time the written forms of the language developed and improved.

The Old English period in the history of the language corresponds to

the position of the state and literary language corresponds to the

transitional stage from the slave-owning and tribal system to the feudal

system in the history of Britain. In the 11th century feudalism was already

well established. According to a survey made in the late 11th c. slaves and

freemen were declining classes. The majority of the agricultural population

(and also of the total population, which amounted to about 2.000.000

people) was bound to their lord and land. Under natural economy,

characteristre of feudalism, most of the things needed for the life of the

lord and the villain were produced on the estate. Feudal manors were

separated from their neighbors by tells, local feuds, and various

restrictions concerning settlement, traveling and employment. These

historical conditions produced a certain influence on the development of

the language.

In Early M.E. the differences between the regional dialects grew.

Never in history, before or after, was the historical background more

favorable for dialectal differentiation. The main is the dialectal division

in England, which survived in later ages with some slight modification of

the feudal stage of British history.

In the age poor communication dialect boundaries often coincided with

geographical barriers such as rivers, mashes, forests, and mountains, as

these barriers would hinder the diffusion of linguistic features.

In addition to economic, geographical and social conditions,

dialectal differences in Early M.E. were accentuated by some historical

events, namely the Scandinavian invasions and the Norman Conquest.

Though the Scandinavian invasions of England are dated in the Old

English period, there effect on the language is particularly apparent in

M.E. Eventually the Scandinavians were absorbed into the local population

both ethnically and linguistically, because new settlers and the English

intermarried and intermixed; they lived close together and didnТt differ

either in social rank or in the level of culture and customs; they

intermingled the more easily as there was no linguistic barrier between


The increased regional differences of English in the Scandinavian

influence in the areas of the heaviest settlement the Scandinavians

outnumbered the Anglo-Saxon population, which is attested by geographical

names. In Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland, Cumberland-up to 75 per

cent of the place-names is Danish or Norwegian. Altogether more than 1.400

English villages and towns bear names of Scandinavian origin (with the

element УthorpФ meaning УvillageФ, e.g. Woodthorp, Linthorp; УtoftФ, Уa

piece of landФ, e. g. УBrimtoftФ, УLowestoftФ). Probably, in many districts

people became bilingual, with either Old Norse or English prevailing.

Besides due to the contacts and mixture with O Seand, the Northern dialects

(chiefly North Umbrian and East Mercian) had acquired lasting and something

indelible Scandinavian features. We find a large admixture of Scandinavian

words in Early M.E. records coming from the North East whereas contemporary

text from other regions are practically devoid of Scandinavian borrowings.

In later ages the Scandinavian element passed into other regions. The

incorporation of the Scandinavian element in the London dialect and

Standard English was brought about by the changing linguistic situation in

England: the mixture if the dialects and the grooving linguistic


Soon after CanuteТs death (1042) and the collapse of his empire the

old Anglo-Saxon line was restored but their reign was short-lived. The new

English king, Edward the Confessor (1942-1066), who had been reared in

France, brought over many Norman advisors and favorites; he distributed

among them English lands and wealth to the considerable resentment of the

Anglo-Saxon nobility and church hierarchy. He not only spoke French himself

but insisted on it being spoken by the nobles at his court. William, Duke

of Normandy, visited his court and it was rumored that Edward appointed him

his successor. In many respites Edward paved the for Norman infiltration

long before the Norman Conquest. However, the government of the country was

still in the hands of Anglo-Saxon feudal lords, headed by the powerful Earl

Godwin of Wessex.

In 1066, upon EdwardТs death, the Elders of England proclaimed Harold

Godwin king of the English. As soon as the news reached William of

Normandy, he mustered a big army by promise of land and plunder (one third

of his soldiers were Normans, other, mercenaries from all over Europe) and,

with the support of the Pope, landed in Britain.

In the battle of Hastings, fought in October 1066, Harold was killed

and the English were defeated. This date is commonly known as the date of

the Norman Conquest, though the military occupation of the country was not

completed until a few years later. After the victory of Hastings, William

by passed London cutting it off from the North and made the William of

London and the bishops at Westminster Abbey crown him king. William his

barons laid waster many lands in England, burning down villages and

estates. They conducted a relentless campaign of subjugation, devastated

and almost depopulated Northumbria and Mercia, which tried to rise against

the conquerors. Huge stone Norman castles if earthen forts and wooden

stockades, built during the campaign, soon replaced scores. Most of the

lands of the Anglo-Saxon lords passed into the hands of the Norman barons,

WilliamТs own possession comprising about one third of the country. The

Normans occupied all the important ports in the church, in thee government

and in the army.

Following the conquest hundreds of people from France crossed the

Channel to make their home in Britain were also dukes of Normandy and,

about a hundred years later, took possession of the whole western half of

France, thus bringing England into still closer contact with the continent.

French monks, tradesmen and craftsmen flooded the southwestern towns, so

that not only the higher nobility but also much of the middle class was


The Norman Conquest was not only a great event in British political

history but also the greatest single event in the history of the English

language. Its earliest effect was a drastre change in the linguistic


The Norman Conquerors of England had originally come from

Scandinavia. About one hundred and fifty years before they scized the

valley of the Scine and settled in what was henceworth known as Normandy.

They were swiftly assimilated by the French and in the 11th century came to

Britain as French speakers and bearers of French culture. They spoke the

Northern dialect if French, which differed in some points from Central,

Parisian French. Their tongue in Britain is often reffered to as СAnglo-

FrenchТ or СAnglo-NormanТ, but may just as well be called French, since we

are less concerned here with the distinction of French dialects than with

the continuous French influence upon English, both in the Norman period of

history and a long while after the Anglo-Norman language had ceased to


In the early 13th c., as a result of lengthy and inefficient wars

with France John Lackland lost the French provinces, including the dukedom

of Normandy. Among other consequences the loss of the lands in France cut

off the Normans in Britain from France, which speeded up the Anglo-France,

which speeded up the decline of the Anglo-French language.

The most immediate consequence of the Norman domination in Britain

is to be seen in the wide use of the French language in many spheres of

life. For almost free hundred years French was the official language of

administration: it was the language of the kingТs court, the law courts,

the church, the army and the castle. It was also every day language of many

nobles, of the higher clergy and of many townspeople in the South. The

intellectual life, literature and education were in the hands of French-

speaking people; French, alongside Latin, was the language of writing.

Teaching was largely conducted in French and boys at school were taught to

translate their Latin into French instead of English.

For all that, England never stopped being an English-speaking

country. The bulk of the population held fast to their own tongue: the

lower classes in the towns, and especially in the country-side, those who

lived in the Midlands and up north, continued to speak English and looked

upon French as foreign and hostile. Since most of the people were

illiterate, the English language was almost exclusively used for spoken


At first the two languages existed side by side without mingling.

Then, slowly and quickly, they began to permeate each other. The Norman

barons and the French town-dwellers had to pick up English words to make

themselves understood while the English began to use French words in

current speech. A good knowledge of French would mark a person of higher

standing giving him a certain social prestige probably many people become

bilingual and had a fair command of both languages.

These peculiar linguistic conditions could not remain static. The

struggle between French and English was bound to end ion the complete

victory of English, for English was the living language of the entire

people, while French was restricted to certain social spheres and to

writing. Yet the final victory as still a long way off. In the 13th c. only

a few steps were made in that direction. The earliest sign of the official

recognition of English by the Norman hinges was the famous Proclamation

issued by Henry 3 in 1258 to the councilors in Parliament. It was written

in three languages: French, Latin and English.

The three hundreds years of the domination of French affected English

more than any other foreign influence before or after. The early French

borrowings reflect accurately the spheres of Norman influence upon English

life; later borrowings can by attributed to the continued cultural,

economic and political contacts between the countries. The French influence

added new features to the regional and social differentiation of the

language. New words, coming from French, could not be adopted

simultaneously by all the speakers if English; they were first used in some

varieties of the language, namely in the regional dialects of Southern

England and in the speech if the upper classes, but were unknown in the

other varieties of the language.

The use of a foreign tongue as the state language, the diversity of

the dialects and the decline of the written form of English created a

situation extremely favorable for increased variation and for more

intensive linguistic change.

The regional M.E. dialects had developed from respective OE dialects.

A precise map of all the dialects will probably never be made, for

available sources are scare and unreliable: localized and their approximate

boundaries have been determined largely by inference; for later ME the

difficulty lies in the growing dialect mixture.

With these reservation the following dialect groups can be

distinguished in Early M.E.

The Southern group included the Kentish and the South-Western

dialects. Kentish was a direct descendant of the O.E. Saxon dialects, - not

only West Saxon, but also East Saxon. The East Saxon dialect was not

prominent in OE but became more important in Early M.E., since it made the

basis of the dialect of London in the 12th and 13th c. Among the dialects

of this group the Gloucestes dialect and the London dialect may be


The group of Midland (СCentralТ) dialect Ц corresponding to the OE

Mercian dialect Ц is divided into West Midland and East Midland as two main

areas, with further subdivisions within: South-East midland and North-East

Midland, South-west Midland and North-West Midland. In M.E. the Midland

area became more diversified linguistically than the OE Mercian kingdom

occupying approximately the same territory: from the Thames in the South to

the Welsh-speaking area in the West and up north to the river Humber.

The Northern dialect had developed from OE Northumbrian. In Early

M.E. the Northern dialects included several provincial dialects, e.g. the

Yorkshire and the Lancashire dialects, and also what later became known as


In the course Early M.E. the area if the English language in the

British Isles grew. Fallowing the Norman Conquest the former Celtic

kingdoms fell under Norman recluse. Wales was subjugated in the late 12th

c. the English made their first attempts to conquest Ireland. The invaders

settled among the Irish and were soon assimilated, a large proportion of

the invaders being Welshmen. Though part of Ireland was ruled from England,

the country remained divided and had little contact with England. The

English language was used there alongside Celtic languages-Irish and Welsh

Ц and was influenced by Celtic.

The E.M.E. dialectal division was preserved in the succeeding

centuries, though even in Late M.E. the linguistic situation changed. In

Early M.E. while the state language and the main language of literature was

French, the local dialects were relatively equal. In Late M.E., when

English had been reestablished as the main language of administration and

writing, one of the regional dialects, the London dialect, prevailed over

the others.

For a long time after the Norman Conquest there were two written

languages in England, both of them foreign: Latin and French. English was

held in disdain as a tongue used only by common illiterate people and not

fit for writing. In some dialects the gap in the written tradition spanned

almost two hundred years.

The earliest samples of Early M.E. prose are the new entries

made in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles from the year 1122 to the year 1154,

known as the Peterborough Chronicle.

The works in the vernacular, which began to appear towards the

end of the 12th c., were mostly of a religions nature. The great mass of

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