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Middle English (1150-1500) Synchronic / Inner History Many changes would have occurred regardless of the Norman Conquest, but the Conquest accelerated.

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Presentation on theme: "Middle English (1150-1500) Synchronic / Inner History Many changes would have occurred regardless of the Norman Conquest, but the Conquest accelerated."— Presentation transcript:


2 Middle English (1150-1500) Synchronic / Inner History Many changes would have occurred regardless of the Norman Conquest, but the Conquest accelerated these changes and created changes in new directions.

3 Synthetic to Analytic Accelerated movement from a synthetic to an analytic language. By the end of ME, this process is virtually completed. What causes this? 1. General Reduction in Inflections. Endings of nouns, verbs, and adjectives which indicated distinctions in number, case and gender were altered to in pronunciation to such an extent that they lost their distinctive forms. When these endings begin to sound the same, they become useless and are dropped.

4 Loss of Inflections 2. Distinct endings (-a, -u, -e, -au, -um) were all reduced to -e or schwa [ ə ]. Grammatical distinctions that these earlier inflectional endings signified are lost. In linguistics, this is called leveling. In this instance, we have the falling together of ME -a, -o, and -u with -e in unstressed syllables, Eventually this becomes [ ə ].

5 Inflectional Leveling OE lama > ME lame (lame) OE Foxum (singular) > ME foxen > foxe > fox [um > en > ə > 0] Remnants of these lost inflections still exist. For example, compare these I learned it. A learned man.

6 Middle English Nouns OE inflectional endings merge due to leveling and are finally reduced to two forms (dog / dogs / dog's / dogs') There are no case distinctions except in the genitive (identical with the plural). Particles (prepositions and conjunctions) and word order are used to express grammatical relations. In ME only three methods of indicating the plural remained distinctive: 2 forms from the strong (consonant) declensions: A. bird / birds (strongest in the North and Midlands). B. wolf / wolves; fox / foxes (in use everywhere). 1 form from the weak (vowel declensions): ox / oxen (strongest in the South).

7 Middle English Pronouns The simplification of inflections on nouns and adjectives meant that personal pronouns retained their inflectional complexity to compensate for these other losses. For example in the sentence: Father goes to the store. There is no way to signal the relational context of the subject "father," especially since there are no (or fewer) inflectional endings. If we had just one generic pronoun it would get very confusing.

8 Pronouns Therefore, the following are retained (examples): His father / my father / your father (personal pronouns) The father / That father / Those fathers (dem. pronouns) During ME, the dual number disappears. Only singular and plural remain. Dative / Accusative cases are combined under the dative (him / her/ [t]hem). Third person plurals (they / their / them) emerge because of the influence of Scandinavian ( ei / eir). Why do the Scandinavian pronouns replace the OE-- he / hem / here? OE heo > ME she. Why? Compare with OE demonstrative seo.

9 Middle English Verbs Leveling of inflections Weakening of endings Increased loss of OE strong verbs. More than 100 OE strong verbs were lost by the beginning of the ME period. Today more than half of the OE strong verbs have been lost. Only 68 remain. Loss occurs primarily because of analogy. Strong very patterns are highly irregular and difficult to remember: sing / sang / sung drive / drove / driven fall / fell / fallen

10 Verbs However, weak verbs follow a more regular pattern. They are simpler to remember. This change does not occur overnight. It is a gradual process of change. climb / clomb > climbed know / knew > knowed

11 Loss of Grammatical Gender The simplification of inflections directly leads to the loss of grammatical gender. In OE, gender is not always determined by meaning (eg., woman (wifmann) = masculine). When noun inflections--as well as inflections for adjectives and demonstratives--were reduced the need for grammatical gender was lost.

12 Middle English Vocabulary A significant event (French Invasion) that drastically changes the word stock of English During this period, approximately 10,000 words enter the language. Of those approximately 75% are still in use today.

13 Two stages of borrowing from French 1. Pre-1250 (Era of Military Conquest) Approximately 900 words. Words needed by the lower classes to spoke English Words associated with religion Words associated with the court such as baron, servant, noble, and feast.

14 Two stages of borrowing from French 2. 1250-1400: Period of greatest borrowing as French-speaking Normans begin to acquire English as their native language. Approximately 40% of all French words in English are from this period. See handout for examples.

15 Pronunciation Differences between English and French pronunciation of borrowed French words based on two factors: 1. Date when the words entered the language. For example PED retains the Old French pronunciations of [judge / chant]. Later these words change in French to the initial sound [z] and [sh].

16 Pronunciation 2. The French Dialects used in the Norman Conquest. Central French Dialect (Paris or Ile-de France, the Standard) we get CF chatel > ME chattel Anglo-Norman Dialect we get AN catel > ME cattle.

17 Consequences 1. Assimilation and Expansion. Once a word is adopted it is quickly expanded to fill many other purposes. Faith > faithful, faithless, faithfully, faithfulness.

18 Consequences 2. Loss of Native Words. Two words (one French and one English) competing for the same meaning. Either one is lost OR else distinctions begin to emerge regarding their meaning. OE Aethele > noble OE Aetheling > nobleman

19 Consequences OE dema also disappears because of the emergence of FR judge. Also lost are OE dom (judgement), which we retain only as DOOM. Also, we retain some of this meaning in another variation, DEEM.

20 Consequences (Shifts in Meaning) Old EnglishFrench OxBeef SheepMutton SwinePork CalfVeal HouseMansion SeetheBoil WishDesire

21 Consequences 3. Reduced Use of OE derivations (prefixes and suffixes). We retain forebear and forsake, but lose forhang, forcleave, forshake, forbar, forcover. We retain friendship and kinship, but lose fiendship, boldship, cleanship. We retain freedom but lose falsedom and richdom.

22 Consequences Despite these influences, the grammar and the majority of words we use every day derive from OE.

23 Middle English Dialects These roughly correspond to the Old English Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Northern Southern East Midland West Midland

24 Middle English Dialects Over time, the East Midland dialect emerges as the Standard for these reasons: It is the principal dialect of London. It occupies a middle ground between the more divergent Northern and Southern dialects. The East Midland area was the largest and most populous.

25 Middle English Dialects The East Midland area contains the universities at Oxford and Cambridge which will become major centers of learning and culture.

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