Middle English (ME), is a kind of middle stage within the evolution of English • Lasting from about 1150 to about 1500 • ME is the period that lies between Old English (650-1100) and (Early) Modern English (1500-today) • By the end of the ME stage, all the basic linguistic parameters that lead to its modern structure and anatomy are established
Marks the transformation of English from the Anglo Saxon to modern English
In this period, English came into contact with many foreign languages resulted from invasion. • In the early OE, English co-existed with Latin. Eventually, Latin usage was restricted to monasteries only. • In the second half of OE, English came into contact with Old Norse, the language of Scandinavian. This language was brought in by the Vikings.
In ME period, English came into contact with French which was brought in by the Normans. • This invasion drove its development into a direction that was markedly different from the development of other West Germanic languages such as German.
The invasion took place in 1066 led by the powerful William the conqueror who hailed from Normandy. • Normandy is located at the French border, north of England
The events at Hastings were woven into the famous Bayeux tapestry - a unique and extraordinary document to reflect this episode of English history.
During the period of their invasion which was about 200 years, the Normans have made tremendous impacts on the life of the English politically, linguistically and culturally • The Normans left behind their political system (feudal system) and religious influence for the English adoption
Since many of the Anglo-Saxon nobility were wiped out at Hastings, the English ruling class was replaced by Norman noblemen. • The Normans imported the feudal system and lordship by taking the key positions in the state and church. • These positions correspond to the high ranks of power in the medieval social order. • At that time, there were three strata of society which were the nobles, the clergy, and peasants.
Since the grammar schools also lay in the hands of the church in the Middle Ages, the Normans also controlled education. • In a nutshell, they established the new upper-class.
The Norman Conquest influenced the linguistic landscape of England decisively. • The following statement in the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester from around 1300 illustrates this nicely:
Thus came, lo, England into Normandy's hand: and the Normans then knew how to speak only their own language, and spoke French as they did at home, and also had their children taught it, so that noblemen of this land, that come of their stock, all keep to the same speech that they received from them; for unless a man knows French, people make little account of him. But low men keep to English, and to their own language still. I think that in the whole world there are no countries that do not keep their own language, except England alone. But people know well that it is good to master both, because the more a man knows the more honoured he is.
Translation: Þus com, lo, Engelond in-to Normandies hond: And Þe Normans ne couÞe speke Þo bote hor owe speche, And speke French as hii dude atom, and hor children dude also teche, So Þat heiemen of Þis lond, Þat of ho blod come, HoldeÞ alle Þulke speche Þat hii of hom nom: Vor bote a man conne Frenss me telÞ Aof him lute. Ac lowe men holdeÞ to Engliss, and to hor owe speche-ute. Ich wene Þer ne beÞ in al the world contreyes none Þat ne holdeÞ to hor owe speche, bote Engelond one.Ac wel me wote uor to conne boÞe wel it is, Vor Þe more Þat a mon can, Þe more wurÞe he is. (Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester, ~1300)
The chronicle indicates that the Norman upper-classes, first and foremost, spoke French ;and they taught this language to their children. French was the prestigious H-language. English, however, was the language of the lower classes – the vernacular. But, English was spoken by the majority of the population of England.
The move from Old to Middle English was a gradual development. Nevertheless, there is a recognizable gap in the transition from the Old English to the Middle English text corpus. This is the consequence of the political changes after the Norman Conquest. Written English was basically non-existent for about 100-150 years. Features of OE was still present in ME writing
Writing was dominated by the Norman French ruling class. As we have seen, this class used French or Latin and not English. As a consequence, the West-Saxon written standard was replaced by French and Latin texts. Literature in English only started to be written again from about 1150 onwards.
Due to the absence of a written standard for English, this literature is highly dialectal. Middle English writers used a dialectal pronunciation-based spelling.
Middle English literature includes a variety of genres constituting an impressive corpus of Middle English literature, the most celebrated text being Geoffrey Chaucer’s masterpiece, the Canterbury Tales (1387, East Midland dialect)
Traditionally, there are five major dialects of ME. They are: Middle English dialect Old English antecedent 1. Northern Northumbrian 2. Midland Mercian 3. East Anglian 4. South-eastern Kentish 5. South-western West Saxon
The Middle English texts reveal that English went through considerable internal developments irrespective of the language contact situation with French: The Old English dialects evolved and became ME dialects.
Apart from changes in pronunciation, the most striking characteristic of this process is the influence of Scandinavian in the Danelaw, which led to the division of the Midland dialects (the former Mercian dialects) into the East and West Midlands dialect areas.
Among many other features, the Scandinavian influence can be seen in the use of the plural 3rd person personal pronoun they, which was first used in the North and East Midlands and then spread to the other dialects from there.
A relatively large quantity of ME literature survives, especially after 1250. Printing presses developed in late ME, helped to preserve texts from this period.
From around 1300 onwards, the status of French declined drastically due to political changes and the rise of the English middle-class. • More awareness of self-identity, increase in English scholarly figures, & more widespread of reading material • The ruling kings were Norman descendants who had their feet in two places, Normandy and United Kingdom. They were less patriotic to England
In 1348 English became the language of grammar-schools (excluding Oxford and Cambridge where Latin was used) and in 1362 the Language Act declared English the official language of the law courts. • In 1399, Henry IV was the first man on the throne with English as his mother tongue. From 1423 onwards all parliament records were written in English.
With the decline of French, English regained its social status as the language of the ruling class. As a consequence, a new written standard was necessary. • Although the modern English standard, as we know it, was only established in the centuries to follow, a minimum standard had already developed towards the end of the Middle English period. • The standard was based on the East Midland dialect.
The most important reason for this dialect to become the basis for the novel standard was the strong economic and cultural influence of the East-Midlands triangle: London-Oxford-Cambridge. • This centre attracted a great number of people from all over England all of them contributing to the development of the new standard.
Many texts were written in Chancery Standard, which shows more Midland features and very different from Chaucery’s English. • This dialect eventually became the basis of Modern Standard English.
A further important factor that supported the standardisation process was the introduction of the printing press by William Caxton in 1476. • In addition,the writers of the royal administrative documents, had their office at Westminster very close to Caxton’s printing press. It is possible that their spelling influenced the written standard as well.
The contact with French had a striking effect on English language. contact with French is the vast amount of French loan words that flooded the English language and transformed its lexicon. Example:
A very similar process of code borrowing happened in the Middle English period. The French dominated the domains of courtly life, government, administration, the law court, and church. These are the domains where most loan words came from.