Middle English

Middle English

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Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language
History of the English language
English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the Netherlands. Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the...

 during the High
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

 and Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century.

Middle English developed out of Late Old English in Norman England (1066–1154) and was spoken throughout the Plantagenet era (1154–1485).
The Middle English period ended at about 1470, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

-based English, began to become widespread, a process aided by the introduction of the printing press
Printing press
A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium , thereby transferring the ink...

 to England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 by William Caxton
William Caxton
William Caxton was an English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer. As far as is known, he was the first English person to work as a printer and the first to introduce a printing press into England...

 in the late 1470s. By that time the variant of the Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

n dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

 (prevalent in Northern England
Northern England
Northern England, also known as the North of England, the North or the North Country, is a cultural region of England. It is not an official government region, but rather an informal amalgamation of counties. The southern extent of the region is roughly the River Trent, while the North is bordered...

) spoken in southeast Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 was developing into the Scots language
History of the Scots language
The history of the Scots language refers to how Anglic varieties spoken in parts of Scotland developed into modern Scots.-Origins:Speakers of Northumbrian Old English settled in south eastern Scotland in the 7th century, at which time Celtic Brythonic was spoken in the south of Scotland to a little...

.
The language of England as used after 1470 and up to 1650 is known as Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

.

Unlike Old English, which tended largely to adopt Late West Saxon scribal conventions in the period immediately before the Norman conquest of England
Norman conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England began on 28 September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy. William became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, defeating King Harold II of England...

, written Middle English displays a wide variety of scribal (and presumably dialectal) forms. This diversity suggests the gradual end of the role of Wessex
Wessex
The Kingdom of Wessex or Kingdom of the West Saxons was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the West Saxons, in South West England, from the 6th century, until the emergence of a united English state in the 10th century, under the Wessex dynasty. It was to be an earldom after Canute the Great's conquest...

 as a focal point and trend-setter for writers and scribes, the emergence of more distinct local scribal styles and written dialects, and a general pattern of transition of activity over the centuries that followed, as Northumbria
Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

, East Anglia
Kingdom of the East Angles
The Kingdom of East Anglia, also known as the Kingdom of the East Angles , was a small independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom that comprised what are now the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk and perhaps the eastern part of the Fens...

, and London successively emerged as major centres of literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

, each with their own particular interests.

Middle English literature of the 12th and 13th century is comparatively rare, as written communication was usually in Anglo-Norman
Anglo-Norman language
Anglo-Norman is the name traditionally given to the kind of Old Norman used in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles during the Anglo-Norman period....

 or in Middle Latin.
Middle English became much more important as a literary language during the 14th century, with poets such as Chaucer and Langland
William Langland
William Langland is the conjectured author of the 14th-century English dream-vision Piers Plowman.- Life :The attribution of Piers to Langland rests principally on the evidence of a manuscript held at Trinity College, Dublin...

.

History


Important texts for the reconstruction of the evolution of Middle English out of Old English are the Ormulum
Ormulum
The Ormulum or Orrmulum is a twelfth-century work of biblical exegesis, written by a monk named Orm and consisting of just under 19,000 lines of early Middle English verse...

(12th century), the Ancrene Wisse
Ancrene Wisse
Ancrene Wisse or Guide for Anchoresses is an anonymous monastic rule for anchoresses, written in the early 13th century. Ancrene Wisse was originally composed for three sisters who chose to enter the contemplative life...

and the Katherine Group
Katherine Group
The so-called Katherine Group is a group of five 13th century Middle English texts composed by an anonymous author of the English West Midlands. The texts are all addressed to anchoresses and praise the virtue of virginity....

 (early 13th century, see AB language
AB language
In English philology, AB language refers to the early Middle English dialect of Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group . The 'A' and 'B' refer to extracts in Hall's Selections from Early Middle English, 1130-1250 where 'A' is from the Katherine Group texts in MS Bodley 34 and 'B' is from Ancrene...

) and Ayenbite of Inwyt
Ayenbite of Inwyt
The Ayenbite of Inwyt is a confessional prose work written in a Kentish dialect of Middle English...

(ca. 1340).

The second half of the 11th century is the transitional period from Late Old English to Early Middle English.
Early Middle English is the language of the 12th and 13th centuries.
Middle English is fully developed as a literary language by the second half of the 14th century. Late Middle English and the transition to Early Modern English takes place from the early 15th century and is taken to have been complete by the beginning of the Tudor period
Tudor period
The Tudor period usually refers to the period between 1485 and 1603, specifically in relation to the history of England. This coincides with the rule of the Tudor dynasty in England whose first monarch was Henry VII...

 in 1485.

Transition from Old English


Norman in the Kingdom of England
The transfer of power in 1066 resulted in only limited culture shock; however, the top levels of English-speaking political and ecclesiastical hierarchies were removed. Their replacements spoke Norman
Anglo-Norman language
Anglo-Norman is the name traditionally given to the kind of Old Norman used in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles during the Anglo-Norman period....

 and used Latin for administrative purposes. Thus Norman came into use as a language of polite discourse and literature, and this fundamentally altered the role of Old English in education and administration, even though many Normans of the early period were illiterate and depended on the clergy for written communication and record-keeping. Although Old English was by no means as standardised as modern English, its written forms were less subject to broad dialect variations than was post-Conquest English. Even now, after nearly a thousand years, the Norman influence on the English language is still apparent, though it did not begin to affect Middle English until somewhat later.

Consider these pairs of Modern English words. The first of each pair is derived from Old English and the second is of Anglo-Norman origin: pig
Pig
A pig is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the Suidae family of even-toed ungulates. Pigs include the domestic pig, its ancestor the wild boar, and several other wild relatives...

/pork
Pork
Pork is the culinary name for meat from the domestic pig , which is eaten in many countries. It is one of the most commonly consumed meats worldwide, with evidence of pig husbandry dating back to 5000 BC....

, chicken
Chicken
The chicken is a domesticated fowl, a subspecies of the Red Junglefowl. As one of the most common and widespread domestic animals, and with a population of more than 24 billion in 2003, there are more chickens in the world than any other species of bird...

/poultry
Poultry
Poultry are domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of producing eggs, meat, and/or feathers. These most typically are members of the superorder Galloanserae , especially the order Galliformes and the family Anatidae , commonly known as "waterfowl"...

, calf
Calf
Calves are the young of domestic cattle. Calves are reared to become adult cattle, or are slaughtered for their meat, called veal.-Terminology:...

/veal
Veal
Veal is the meat of young cattle , as opposed to meat from older cattle. Though veal can be produced from a calf of either sex and any breed, most veal comes from male calves of dairy cattle breeds...

, cow/beef
Beef
Beef is the culinary name for meat from bovines, especially domestic cattle. Beef can be harvested from cows, bulls, heifers or steers. It is one of the principal meats used in the cuisine of the Middle East , Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Europe and the United States, and is also important in...

, wood
Wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

/forest
Forest
A forest, also referred to as a wood or the woods, is an area with a high density of trees. As with cities, depending where you are in the world, what is considered a forest may vary significantly in size and have various classification according to how and what of the forest is composed...

, sheep/mutton
Lamb (food)
Lamb, mutton, and hogget are the meat of domestic sheep. The meat of a sheep in its first year is lamb; that of a juvenile sheep older than 1 year is hogget; and the meat of an adult sheep is mutton....

, house
House
A house is a building or structure that has the ability to be occupied for dwelling by human beings or other creatures. The term house includes many kinds of different dwellings ranging from rudimentary huts of nomadic tribes to free standing individual structures...

/mansion
Mansion
A mansion is a very large dwelling house. U.S. real estate brokers define a mansion as a dwelling of over . A traditional European mansion was defined as a house which contained a ballroom and tens of bedrooms...

, worthy/honourable, bold
Boldness
Boldness is an opposite of being shy. A bold person may be willing to risk shame or rejection in social situations, and willing to bend rules of etiquette or politeness. An excessively bold person could aggressively ask for money, or persistently push a person to fulfill some request, and so on...

/courageous, freedom/liberty
Liberty
Liberty is a moral and political principle, or Right, that identifies the condition in which human beings are able to govern themselves, to behave according to their own free will, and take responsibility for their actions...

.

The role of Anglo-Norman as the language of government and law can be seen in the abundance of Modern English words for the mechanisms of government which derive from Anglo-Norman: court
Court
A court is a form of tribunal, often a governmental institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law...

, judge
Judge
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

, jury
Jury
A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to ascertain the guilt, or lack thereof, in a crime. In Anglophone jurisdictions, the verdict may be guilty,...

, appeal
Appeal
An appeal is a petition for review of a case that has been decided by a court of law. The petition is made to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision....

, parliament
Parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

. Also prevalent in Modern English are terms relating to the chivalric cultures which arose in the 12th century, an era of feudalism
Feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

 and crusading. Early on, this vocabulary of refined behaviour began to work its way into English: the word 'debonaire' appears in the 1137 Peterborough Chronicle
Peterborough Chronicle
The Peterborough Chronicle , one of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, contains unique information about the history of England after the Norman Conquest. According to philologist J.A.W...

; so too does 'castel
Castle
A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble...

' (castle) which appears in the above Biblical quotation, another import of the Normans
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

, who made their mark on the English language as much as on the territory of England itself.

This period of trilingual activity developed much of the flexible triplicate synonymy of modern English. For instance, English has three words meaning roughly "of or relating to a king":
  • kingly from Old English,
  • royal from French and
  • regal from Latin.


Likewise, Norman and — later — French influences led to some interesting word pairs in English, such as the following, which both mean "someone who defends":
  • Warden from Norman, and
  • Guardian from French (itself of Germanic origin).


Old and Middle English
The end of Anglo-Saxon rule did not of course change the language immediately. Although the most senior offices in the church were filled by Normans, Old English would continue to be used in chronicles such as the Peterborough Chronicle until the middle of the 12th century. The non-literate would have spoken the same dialects as before the Conquest, although these would be changing slowly until written records of them became available for study, which varies in different regions. Once the writing of Old English comes to an end, Middle English has no standard language, only dialects which derive from the dialects of the same regions in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Early Middle English


Early Middle English (1100–1300) has a largely Anglo-Saxon vocabulary (with many Norse borrowings in the northern parts of the country), but a greatly simplified inflectional system. The grammatical relations that were expressed in Old English by the dative and locative cases are replaced in Early Middle English with constructions using prepositions. This replacement is incomplete. We still today have the Old English genitive "-es" in many words—we now call it the "possessive": e.g., the form "dog's" for the longer "of the dog". But most of the other case endings disappear in the Early ME period, including most of the roughly one dozen forms of the definite article ("the"). The dual grammatical number (expressing exactly two persons performing a task) also disappears from English during the Early ME period (apart from personal pronouns), further simplifying the language.

Deeper changes occurred in the grammar. Bit by bit, the wealthy and the government anglicised again, although Norman (and subsequently French
Law French
Law French is an archaic language originally based on Old Norman and Anglo-Norman, but increasingly influenced by Parisian French and, later, English. It was used in the law courts of England, beginning with the Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror...

) remained the dominant language of literature and law for a few centuries, even after the loss of the majority of the continental possessions of the English monarchy. The new English language did not sound the same as the old; for, as well as undergoing changes in vocabulary
Changes to Old English vocabulary
Many words that existed in Old English did not survive into Modern English. There are also many words in Modern English that bear little or no resemblance in meaning to their Old English etymons. Some linguists estimate that as much as 80 percent of the lexicon of Old English was lost by the end...

, the complex system of inflected endings which Old English had, was gradually lost or simplified in the dialects of spoken Middle English. This change was gradually reflected in its increasingly diverse written forms as well. The loss of case endings was part of a general trend from inflections to fixed word order that also occurred in other Germanic languages, and therefore cannot be attributed simply to the influence of French-speaking sections of the population: English did, after all, remain the language of the vast majority
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

. It is also argued that Norse immigrants to England had a great impact on the loss of inflectional endings due to their semi-mutually comprehensible (to the native English speakers) vocabulary, but lack of capability to reproduce their endings.

Late Middle English



The Late Middle English period was a time of upheaval in England.
After the deposition of Richard II of England
Richard II of England
Richard II was King of England, a member of the House of Plantagenet and the last of its main-line kings. He ruled from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard was a son of Edward, the Black Prince, and was born during the reign of his grandfather, Edward III...

 in 1399, the House of Plantagenet
House of Plantagenet
The House of Plantagenet , a branch of the Angevins, was a royal house founded by Geoffrey V of Anjou, father of Henry II of England. Plantagenet kings first ruled the Kingdom of England in the 12th century. Their paternal ancestors originated in the French province of Gâtinais and gained the...

 split into the House of Lancaster
House of Lancaster
The House of Lancaster was a branch of the royal House of Plantagenet. It was one of the opposing factions involved in the Wars of the Roses, an intermittent civil war which affected England and Wales during the 15th century...

 and the House of York
House of York
The House of York was a branch of the English royal House of Plantagenet, three members of which became English kings in the late 15th century. The House of York was descended in the paternal line from Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, the fourth surviving son of Edward III, but also represented...

, whose antagonism culminated in the Wars of the Roses
Wars of the Roses
The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic civil wars for the throne of England fought between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster and York...

 (1455–1487). Stability came only gradually with the Tudor dynasty
Tudor dynasty
The Tudor dynasty or House of Tudor was a European royal house of Welsh origin that ruled the Kingdom of England and its realms, including the Lordship of Ireland, later the Kingdom of Ireland, from 1485 until 1603. Its first monarch was Henry Tudor, a descendant through his mother of a legitimised...

 under Henry VII
Henry VII of England
Henry VII was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the House of Tudor....

.

During this period, social change, men coming into positions of power, some of them from other parts of the country or from lower levels in society, resulted also in linguistic change.
Towards the end of the 15th century a more modern English was starting to emerge. Printing began in England in the 1470s, which tended to stabilise the language. With a standardised, printed English Bible and Prayer Book
Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer is the short title of a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican, "Anglican realignment" and other Anglican churches. The original book, published in 1549 , in the reign of Edward VI, was a product of the English...

 being read to church congregations from the 1540s onward, a wider public became familiar with a standard language, and the era of Modern English was under way.

Chancery Standard


Chancery Standard was largely based on the London and East Midland dialects, for those areas were the political and demographic centres of gravity. However, it used other dialect forms where they made meanings clearer; for example, the northern "they", "their" and "them" (derived from Scandinavian forms) were used rather than the London "hi/they", "hir" and "hem." This was perhaps because the London forms could be confused with words such as he, her, and him. (However, the colloquial form written as em", as in "up and at 'em", may well represent a spoken survival of "hem" rather than a shortening of the Norse-derived "them".)

In its early stages of development, the clerks who used Chancery Standard would have been familiar with French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 and Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

. The strict grammars of those languages influenced the construction of the standard. It was not the only influence on later forms of English — its level of influence is disputed and a variety of spoken dialects continued to exist — but it provided a core around which Early Modern English could crystallise.

By the mid-15th century, Chancery Standard was used for most official purposes except by the Church (which used Latin) and for some legal purposes (for which Law French
Law French
Law French is an archaic language originally based on Old Norman and Anglo-Norman, but increasingly influenced by Parisian French and, later, English. It was used in the law courts of England, beginning with the Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror...

 and some Latin were used). It was disseminated around England by bureaucrats on official business, and slowly gained prestige.

Construction



With its simplified case-ending system, the grammar of Middle English is much closer to that of modern English than that of Old English. Compared to other Germanic languages, it is probably most similar to that of modern West Frisian
West Frisian language
West Frisian is a language spoken mostly in the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands. West Frisian is the name by which this language is usually known outside the Netherlands, to distinguish it from the closely related Frisian languages of Saterland Frisian and North Frisian,...

, a language related to Dutch.

Nouns


Middle English retains only two distinct noun-ending patterns from the more complex system of inflection
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 in Old English. The early Modern English words engel (angel) and name (name) demonstrate the two patterns:
strong weak
singular plural singular plural
nom/acc engel engles name namen
gen engles* engle(ne)** name namen
dat engle engle(s) name namen


Some nouns of the engel type have a weak -e in the nominative/accusative singular, both otherwise the same endings. Often these are the same nouns that had an extra -e in the nominative/accusative singular of Old English. (These in turn inherited from Proto-Germanic ja-stem and i-stem nouns.)

The strong -(e)s plural form has survived into Modern English. The weak -(e)n form is now rare in the standard language, used only in oxen, children, brethren; and it is slightly less rare in some dialects, used in eyen for eyes, shoon for shoes, hosen for hose(s), kine for cows, and been for bees.

Verbs


As a general rule (and all these rules are general), the first person singular of verbs in the present tense ends in -e ("ich here" - "I hear"), the second person in -(e)st ("þou spekest" - "thou speakest"), and the third person in -eþ ("he comeþ" - "he cometh/he comes"). (þ
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

is pronounced like the unvoiced th in "think"). Plural forms vary strongly by dialect, with southern dialects preserving the Old English -eþ, midland dialects showing -en from about 1200 onward, and northern forms using -es in the third person singular as well as the plural.

In the past tense, weak verbs are formed by adding an -ed(e), -d(e) or -t(e) ending. These, without their personal endings, also form past participles, together with past-participle prefixes derived from Old English: i-, y- and sometimes bi-.

Strong verb
Germanic strong verb
In the Germanic languages, a strong verb is one which marks its past tense by means of ablaut. In English, these are verbs like sing, sang, sung...

s, by contrast, form their past tense by changing their stem vowel (e.g. binden -> bound), as in Modern English.

Pronouns


Post-Conquest English inherits its pronouns from Old English, with the exception of the third person plural, a borrowing from Old Norse (the original Old English form clashed with the third person singular and was eventually dropped):
Here are the Old English pronouns. Most Middle English pronouns derived from these, but some came from Old Norse.
The first and second person pronouns in Old English survived into Middle English largely unchanged, with only minor spelling variations. In the third person, the masculine vocative singular became 'him'. The neuter form was replaced by a form of the demonstrative that developed into 'sche', but unsteadily—'heyr' remained in some areas for a long time. The lack of a strong standard written form between the thirteenth and the fifteenth century makes these changes hard to map.

The overall trend was the gradual reduction in the number of different case endings: the locative case disappeared, but the six other cases were partly retained in personal pronouns, as in he, him, his.

Pronunciation



Generally, all letters in Middle English words were pronounced. (Silent letter
Silent letter
In an alphabetic writing system, a silent letter is a letter that, in a particular word, does not correspond to any sound in the word's pronunciation...

s in Modern English generally come from pronunciation shifts, which means that pronunciation is no longer closely reflected by the written form because of fixed spelling constraints imposed by the invention of dictionaries and printing.) Therefore 'knight' was pronounced ˈkniçt (with a pronounced and the as the in German 'Knecht'), not [ˈnaɪt] as in Modern English.

In earlier Middle English all written vowels were pronounced. By Chaucer's time, however, the final had become silent in normal speech, but could optionally be pronounced in verse as the meter required (but was normally silent when the next word began with a vowel). Chaucer followed these conventions: -e is silent in 'kowthe' and 'Thanne', but is pronounced in 'straunge', 'ferne', 'ende', etc. (Presumably, the final is partly or completely dropped in 'Caunterbury', so as to make the meter flow.)

An additional rule in speech, and often in poetry as well, was that a non-final unstressed was dropped when adjacent to only a single consonant on either side if there was another short 'e' in an adjoining syllable. Thus, 'every' sounds like "evry" and 'palmeres' like "palmers".

Archaic characters


The following characters can be found in Middle English text, direct holdovers from the Old English Latin alphabet.
letter name pronunciation comments
Æ æ
Æ
Æ is a grapheme formed from the letters a and e. Originally a ligature representing a Latin diphthong, it has been promoted to the full status of a letter in the alphabets of some languages, including Danish, Faroese, Norwegian and Icelandic...

Ash [æ] Ash may still be used as a variant of the digraph in many English words of Greek or Latin origin; and may be found in brand names or loan words.
Ð ð
Eth
Eth is a letter used in Old English, Icelandic, Faroese , and Elfdalian. It was also used in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages, but was subsequently replaced with dh and later d. The capital eth resembles a D with a line through the vertical stroke...

Eth [ð] Eth falls out of use during the 13th century and is replaced by thorn.
Ȝ ȝ
Yogh
The letter yogh , was used in Middle English and Older Scots, representing y and various velar phonemes. It was derived from the Old English form of the letter g.In Middle English writing, tailed z came to be indistinguishable from yogh....

Yogh [ɡ], [ɣ], [j] or [dʒ] Yogh lingers in some Scottish names as ⟨z⟩, as in McKenzie with a z pronounced /j/. Yogh became indistinguishable from cursive z in Middle Scots
Middle Scots
Middle Scots was the Anglic language of Lowland Scotland in the period from 1450 to 1700. By the end of the 13th century its phonology, orthography, accidence, syntax and vocabulary had diverged markedly from Early Scots, which was virtually indistinguishable from early Northumbrian Middle English...

 and printers tended to use ⟨z⟩ when yogh wasn't available in their fonts.
Þ þ
Thorn (letter)
Thorn or þorn , is a letter in the Old English, Old Norse, and Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with the digraph th. The letter originated from the rune in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the...

Thorn [θ] Thorn mostly falls out of use during the 14th century, and is replaced by th by 1400. It lingers on in archaic Early Modern English usage, where it was often approximated with ⟨y⟩, hence the archaic variant spelling of the as ye.
Ƿ ƿ
Wynn
Wynn is a letter of the Old English alphabet, where it is used to represent the sound ....

Wynn [w] (the group ⟨hƿ⟩ represents [ʍ]) Wynn represented the Germanic /w/ phoneme, which had no correspondence in Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin is any of the nonstandard forms of Latin from which the Romance languages developed. Because of its nonstandard nature, it had no official orthography. All written works used Classical Latin, with very few exceptions...

 phonology (where classical /w/ had become /β/).
It mostly falls out of use, being replaced by ⟨w
W
W is the 23rd letter in the basic modern Latin alphabet.In other Germanic languages, including German, its pronunciation is similar or identical to that of English V...

⟩, during the 13th century.
Due to its similarity to the letter ⟨p⟩, it is mostly represented by ⟨w⟩ in modern editions of Old and Middle English texts even when the manuscript has wynn.

Ormulum, 12th century



This passage explains the background to the Nativity
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

:
Forrþrihht anan se time comm
  þatt ure Drihhtin wollde
ben borenn i þiss middellærd
  forr all mannkinne nede
he chæs himm sone kinnessmenn
  all swillke summ he wollde
& whær he wollde borenn ben
  he chæs all att hiss wille.
As soon as the time came
that our Lord wanted
to be born in this middle-earth
for the sake of all mankind,
at once he chose kinsmen for himself,
all just as he wanted,
and he decided that he would be born
exactly where he wished.







(3494–501)

Wycliffe's Bible, 1384


From the Wycliffe's Bible, (1384):

First version
Second version

Chaucer, 1390s


The following is the beginning of the general Prologue
Prologue
A prologue is an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one, and other miscellaneous information. The Greek prologos included the modern meaning of prologue, but was of wider significance...

 from The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are told as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at...

by Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

. The text was written in a dialect associated with London and spellings associated with the then-emergent Chancery Standard.

See also

  • Medulla Grammatice
    Medulla Grammatice
    Medulla Grammatice or Medulla Grammaticae is collection of fifteenth century Latin-Middle English glossaries in the British Museum....

    (collection of glossaries)
  • Middle English creole hypothesis
    Middle English creole hypothesis
    The Middle English creole hypothesis is the concept that the English language is a creole, i.e., a language that developed from a pidgin. The vast differences between Old and Middle English have led some historical linguists to claim that the language underwent creolisation at the time of either...

  • Middle English declension
  • Middle English Dictionary
    Middle English Dictionary
    The Middle English Dictionary is a dictionary of Middle English published by the University of Michigan. "Its 15,000 pages offer a comprehensive analysis of lexicon and usage for the period 1100-1500, based on the analysis of a collection of over three million citation slips, the largest collection...

  • Middle English literature
    Middle English literature
    The term Middle English literature refers to the literature written in the form of the English language known as Middle English, from the 12th century until the 1470s, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, became widespread and the printing press regularized the language...


External links