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Middle English Dialects Caxton & Printing Emergence of a Standard.

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Presentation on theme: "Middle English Dialects Caxton & Printing Emergence of a Standard."— Presentation transcript:

1 Middle English Dialects Caxton & Printing Emergence of a Standard

2 Middle English Dialects

3 Studying Middle English Dialects Linguistic Atlas of Late Middle English (1350-1450) late time period means lots of texts according to the atlas, almost any Middle English written before 1430 considered “dialectal” by definition Some regions have more written documents than others Northern/North Midland English: very few sources before 1350 Southern England: lots of material from 14th century on

4 Dot Maps Dot maps show where in an area (county, region, etc.) a certain spelling/pronunciation is used Each dot map displays the distribution of the set of forms specified in the map’s caption Places where each form has been found represented by black dots 3 dot sizes: large, medium, small (reflecting how dominant the particular form is in the given place) Lots of statistical variation

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6 ME Dialects: The Basics (heavily generalized!) Northern Much Norse settlement, reconquest by English in early 10th century - all-Norse settlements learned English quickly, badly Rapid development, decay of inflections Þey, þem, þeir (with y for þ, and spelling variants) Bot fals anticristes he sall yaim call (cf. Southern hy, hem, her) Verbs in -es, not -eþ (sing.), -en (plur.) He loves, þey loven Present participle in -ande, -ende (goande, not going) Brut (historical poem)

7 ME Dialects: The Basics (cont’d) East and West Midlands -en in plural verbs They loven Þey, hem, here in 3rd pers. plural He shal hem calle Þei lyuen in falce trouþe West Midland Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Piers Plowman East Midland Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower

8 ME Dialects: The Basics (cont’d) Southern Persistence of ʒ He schal saye thanne ry ʒ t to cristene man Heo/ho for she Hy, hem, here in 3rd person plur. Voicing of fricatives For > vor Seggen pronounced /z ɛǰ ən/ -eþ in most verbs (sg./plur.) The Owl and the Nightingale (allegorical poem) Ancrene Riwle (rule for anchoresses)

9 ME Dialects: The Basics (cont’d) Kentish (Southeastern) Similar to Southern, with some vowel differences Hy,hem, here in 3rd person plur. Voiced fricatives (vor) No major literary texts

10 Rise of London Standard (14th-15th centuries) written standard, spoken variation, but not complete variation (like today) But in the real world, variation in both written and spoken language East Midland dialect gradually merged with London

11 Reasons for Rise of London Standard (i)Midland dialects: middle position between North and South Southern dialect very conservative (slow to change), Northern very radical (quick to change) – Midlands in between - workable compromise (ii)East Midlands: largest, most populous area – fertile, prosperous agricultural area - larger, wealthier population - politically important throughout the Middle Ages and afterwards (iii)Influence of Oxford and Cambridge (14 th century): role of monasteries decreasing, two universities rapidly developing – Cambridge, at least, would support East Midlands dialect

12 Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d) (iv)role of Chaucer - popular in his day, popular throughout 15th century but, slightly more conservative/ Southern than London dialect

13 Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d) (v) role of London as capital city political and commercial center of England seat of royal court, law courts, social and intellectual activity true in other languages: Parisian French, Castilian Spanish (Madrid) much movement of people into and out of the city: government officials go out on business, others go to London on business local speeches mixed together to form a new combination – visitors take away the influence of London speech - standard spreads began as a Southern dialect, ended up more or less East Midlands

14 Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d) (vi) Chancery (government writing office) by c. 1450, had developed a consistent variety of London English language of official use, influenced other writing

15 Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d) (vii) Caxton & Printing first printer in English “I was born & lerned myn Englissh in Kente in the Weeld, where I doubte not is spoken as brode and rude Englissh as is in ony place of Englond.”

16 Caxton/Printing (cont’d) Merchant/diplomat learned printing on the Continent introduced the press into England c. 1476, near Westminster Abbey printed Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate, Malory, translated bestsellers from France and Burgundy

17 Caxton’s Spellings not easy for a writer and printer in 15 th century to choose a version of English that would be acceptable to all readers Caxton describes difficulties when he printed English for the first time - he found he had used ‘strange terms’ (see printed handout) for commercial reasons, he used the spelling of the London/East Midlands dialect

18 Caxton and Standardization For commercial reasons, Caxton and other printers settled for London English - privileging a dialect Used some foreign typesetters - confused by English spelling (silent -e or not? Often line length) - see handout Dutch influence: ghost, ghesse (guess) Caxton modernized orthography: eliminated ʒ, þ, ð Eventually, printing helped to fix the language on the page - sometimes forced a consensus, accounting for some oddities of English spelling: right, riht, rite, richt

19 Effects of Print printing made books available at a relatively low price - increased demand for books and literacy, especially among middle and lower classes In general, the middle classes didn’t have a classical education - wanted books in English rather than Latin or French To make Greek and Latin classics available to people who only knew English, they were translated into English translations led to the introduction of thousands of loanwords from Latin and Greek into English

20 Effects of Translation 15th c. - lots of translations, “half-chewed Latin” Hale sterne superne! Hale, in eternestars on high In God’s sight to schyne! Lucerne in derne, for to discernelamp Be glory and grace devyne; Hodiern, modern, sempitern.Present,current,eternal William Dunbar (ca. 1460- 1520), Hymn to the Blessed Virgin

21 Rise of London Standard Printed books made London English current and durable By 16th c. (EMnE), London English was prescribed: Ye shall therefore take the usuall speach of the Court, and that of London and the shires lying about London with lx. myles, and not much above. Anon. (attributed to Puttenham) The Arte of English Poesie (1589) Complete uniformity never attained, even in vocabulary (let alone accent) - dialects even today


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