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Middle English (1150 c - 1500)
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  • Old English is said to have finished after 100 years of French/Norman occupation
  • Around 1150 Anglo-Norman became the standard literary language as well as language of court and politics

The effect of Anglo-Norman

  • Had dramatic influence on language, even though commoners remained speaking Old English
  • They had little contact with the higher class French Invaders speaking Anglo-Norman

Middle English spelling

  • When Normans arrived English was in peculiar state, sound system had undergone dramatic changes but the spelling had barely changed
  • French scribes updated the spelling of many English sounds.
  • English gained around 10,000 new words, three quarters still in modern common usage
  • Because of the upper classes speaking French, most of the vocabulary referred to aspects of high society and stays with us as formal polysyllabic language

Words of Anglo-Saxon origin

  • Builder, shoemaker, clothes, sheep, cow, pig, underwear, meet, worker, drunk, house, talk
  • Mainly common words describing lesser tasks

Words of Anglo-Norman origin

  • Mason, tailor, fashion, mutton, beef, bacon, pork, lingerie, encounter, employee, intoxicated, residence, converse, felony, sentence, judge, jury, court, condemn, gaol
  • Mainly words from law & order, Religion, Food & fashion

New grammatical constructions

  • New words were now available with the merging of Old English and Old French
  • Unreasonable – Old English prefix ‘un’ and Old French ‘rasionable’

Middle English Grammar

  • The Norman conquest encouraged the removal of inflected ending
  • In English the 1st syllable carries the most stress, e.g. Table, breakfast, cabbage
  • Unstressed endings become less important and vowels degrade into indeterminate sound
  • E.g. the last vowel of ‘letter’ and ‘mutton’
  • Because of this all inflectional endings in Old English lost emphasis and definition, then eventually faded from the language

English as standard

  • In the 13th and 14th centuries English began to re-emerge as an accepted standard language
  • In 1204 the Anglo-Norman ruler, King John, lost Normandy to France, this detaching the Norman-English ruling classes further from their homeland
  • They began to be seen and consider themselves as more English than French
  • This was only intensified by the inter-marriages between Normans and English
  • After the country was swept by the Black Death in 1348-50 over 30% of the population was killed
  • The remaining working class now became of greater importance and therefore their language also
  • Anglo-Norman now became less used and English regained status
  • By the 14th Century Oxford University had decreed that all students must speak English as well as French
  • In October 1362 Parliament was opened in English for the 1st time and all court proceedings must now be ruled in English
  • By the end of the 14th century important literature was now published in English, e.g  The Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1370

Standard English

  • By the end of the 15th Century English was once again the 1st language of England
  • However, upon re-emerging as standard the language took on 4 very different dialects
  • Northern, East midland, West Midland and Southern (a small sub-dialect of Kentish also)
  • There is no way of telling how different the dialects sounded from one another, however, it is recorded that they were far removed in written
  • The London and East midland dialect became the norm and the other dialects all but died out

Why did the East Midland dialect prevail?

  • Geography – it was spoken in the region between the North South divide and had elements from both dialects, therefore was seen as a compromise between them
  • Economic influence – the region had the largest and most affluent population, and was the biggest and agriculturally richest of the 4 regions
  • Academic influence – by the 14th century Oxford and Cambridge universities were gaining intellectual influence as monasteries lost influence over literacy and education
  • The Capital – London was commercial, political, legal and social capital of the country and was influential throughout the regions. By the 15th century the language spoken in London had moved from Southern to East Midland dialect, perhaps because of the greater trading between London and the affluent East Midlands. As London’s influence spread so did its language.
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