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The History of the English Language and Medieval Literature

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1 The History of the English Language and Medieval Literature
Because we’re studying British Literature so we need to understand its language!

2 How are the vast majority of languages constructed?
(Looking at language structure is called Linguistics) Most languages are governed by one set of rules. These rules don’t have a lot of exceptions, and they make sense. English is not governed by one set of rules.

3 Why is English not governed by one set of rules?
English is not governed by one set of rules because of its history. A lot of people liked to beat the out of the little Britons.

4 A Map

5 All the years up to 43 AD (Anno Domini)
It all started on the island of Great Britain. Great Britain was inhabited by the Britons. They spoke Brythonic. Brythonic was a lot like Celtic.

6 43AD-410AD The Roman Empire was spreading throughout Europe. This is why most of the languages inWestern Europe are called “Romance” languages. As the Roman Empire spread, they spread their language. They spoke which language? As a consequence many of the languages were based in their language and took on many of the rules their language followed.

7 However: English is NOT a Romance language.
English is NOT based in Latin. This is because, although the Romans invaded Britain and the Empire spread into their country, the Romans did NOT consider the little Britons civilized people and so they did not inculcate (spread their culture) them. As a result: English only adopted some random Latin rules and words.

8 410AD-1100AD This time period is known as the Middle Ages or the Dark Ages. Here is when we first see Old English. Old English is developed when a bunch of Germanic Tribes (The Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes) decide to burn and pillage England. Not only did they burn and pillage, but they stayed.

9 The Angles and the Saxons
The two tribes win over the country are the Angles (Engles=English) and the Saxons. Their language gets smooshed together creating Anglo-Saxon or “Old English”

10 A Sample of Old English Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum Si þin nama gehalgod to becume þin rice gewurþe ðin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum. urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg and forgyf us ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge ac alys us of yfele soþlice

11 Their Writings Every major literary period is dominated by a theme or philosophy: “Unabashed Christianity” dominates Medieval Literature because of Constantine the Great- a Roman Emperor who converted

12 An Oral Tradition? Most historians agree the Anglo-Saxons had literature but it wasn’t written down. They had an oral tradition. -Their works rhymed and had meter, because it was easier to memorize works this way. -They were Pagan (non-Christian) but their works had Christian flavors because when they were finally recorded they were recorded by Christian Monks or Scribes who influenced the works as they wrote them down. -While some people think this was bad because it ruined the original intent of the work, others think is was good because at least it gave those who were preserving the works a reason to preserve it, and it gave them greater appeal. A purely pagan work would have been disregarded.

13 “Beowulf” “Beowulf” is the oldest surviving work.
It survived because someone wrote it down –they think a Christian scribe. It is 3182 lines in length making it an epic poem. Epic just means long. The story is about a warrior from Sweeden from the Geat tribe named Beowulf, which means “Bee-Wolf.” He goes to Denmark to help Hrothgar (a king) whose people are being tormented by a monster named Grendel.

14 Beowulf has been translated from Old English to Modern English
Translators can do one of two things: They can either preserve the rhyme and sacrifice the meaning of the story They can preserve the story and forget about preserving the rhyme *Our translator decided to preserve the story* Which is better in your opinion?

15 1100AD-1500AD Middle English In 1066 William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (part of modern France), invaded and conquered England. The new conquerors (called the Normans) brought with them a kind of French, which became the language of the Royal Court and the ruling and business classes. For a period there was a kind of linguistic class division where the lower classes spoke English and the upper classes spoke French. In the 14th century English became dominant in Britain again but with many French words added.

16 The Theme of Middle English Literature:
Still “Unabashed Christianity” This is the time they were off fighting the Crusades so there are also themes of Courtly Love and Chivalry (an Arthurian code of behavior) The Crusades were fought by the catholic Church ( )

17 A Sample of Middle English (Geoffrey Chaucer)

18 Examples of French Words in our Language:
Beef Poultry Veal Pork Mutton Cow Chicken Calf Pig Sheep

19 The Literature of Middle English
There is very little literature from Middle English for several reasons: Most things were written in Latin/Anglo-Norman Few people could read so there was little reason to write Paper to write on was very scarce

20 “ Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”
14th Century Middle English Poem; oldest of Arthurian Literature (King Arthur) The plot is Sir Gawain, a knight of the round table, is challenged by a mysterious knight who is green from head to toe to chop his head off. (Beheading stories are from Celtic Folklore) It is a journey in struggle between courtly love and knightly chivalry

21 Unabashed Christianity Through Symbolism
Parallels to the Adam and Eve story The Green Knight is said by some critics to symbolize Christ since he overcomes death Sir Gawain is said by some critics to symbolize the flaws in all of us since the Green Knight’s tests express the flaws Gawain had in him all along Green is said by some critics to symbolize faith while others say cowardice and shame

22 Feminist Interpretation
There are some scholars who believe the poem’s purpose is to communicate women’s ultimate power over man

23 Postcolonial Interpretations
Some scholars believe the poem was written as a parallel of England’s colonization of Wales. Sir Gawain would symbolize the Welsh and the Green Knight would symbolize England.

24 Other Interpretations
There is not an aspect of this poem that hasn’t been analyzed and over analyzed and then analyzed again. Because it is SO WIDELY referenced I wanted to read it in class so you would have exposure to it.

25 Little Things of Great Importance:
Colors Numbers Seasons Word choice (game vs. covenant)

26 1500AD-1800AD Early Modern English
Towards the end of Middle English, a sudden and distinct change in pronunciation (the Great Vowel Shift) started, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter. This was because in the 16th century the British had contact with many peoples from around the world. This, and the Renaissance of Classical learning, meant many new words and phrases entered the language. The invention of printing also meant there was now a common language in print. Books became cheaper and more people learned to read. Printing also brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the dialect of London, where most publishing houses were, became the standard. In 1604 the first English dictionary was published. By Samuel Johnson

27 Chaucer

28 A Sample of Early Modern English

29 1800AD-Present Modern English
The Industrial Revolution added a lot of new words. The British Empire spread throughout many countries adopting their words into the English language. More people could read and write. Education, paper, and printing was very wide spread.

30 Different Types of Languages
Prescriptive Descriptive The rules are already decided and structured and the language has to fit within the confines of the rules. Most governments have a branch dedicated to maintaining those rules called “The Academy of Language” The language changes and evolves and the rules are not rules they are conventions and they just describe what is happening. No body of government overlooks the language. It will change and evolve quickly because it can.

31 The English Language The English language is a descriptive language
It has absorbed rules and conventions from countless other languages It has absorbed words and phrases from countless other languages It continues to grow and change The rules, dictionary, and conventions are subject to change

32 How does the fact English is a descriptive language influence the grammar of English?
We cannot assign parts of speech to our words but, rather, we must describe how the word is being used through the parts of speech.

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