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Middle English- Dialects

Caxton & Printing- Emergence of a Standard
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

Dot Maps

Dot maps show where in an area (county, region, etc.) a certain spelling/pronunciation is

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

(siguiente hoja)

ME Dialects: The Basics (heavily generalized!)
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)


here in 3rd pers. plural 2 . hem.ME Dialects: The Basics (cont’d) East and West Midlands -en in plural verbs They loven Þey.

here in 3rd person plur.larger. wealthier population .hem. Piers Plowman East Midland Geoffrey Chaucer. two universities rapidly developing – Cambridge. with some vowel differences Hy. prosperous agricultural area . would support East Midlands dialect 3 . John Gower ME Dialects: The Basics (cont’d) Southern Persistence of ʒ He schal saye thanne ryʒt to cristene man Heo/ho for she Hy. Voicing of fricatives For > vor Seggen pronounced /zɛǰən/ -eþ in most verbs (sg. variation in both written and spoken language • East Midland dialect gradually merged with London • Reasons for Rise of London Standard (i) Midland dialects: middle position between North and South Southern dialect very conservative (slow to change). spoken variation.He shal hem calle Þei lyuen in falce trouþe West Midland Sir Gawain and the Green Knight./plur. at least. Northern very radical (quick to change) – Midlands in between .workable compromise (ii)East Midlands: largest.politically important throughout the Middle Ages and afterwards (iii)Influence of Oxford and Cambridge (14th century): role of monasteries decreasing.) The Owl and the Nightingale (allegorical poem) Ancrene Riwle (rule for anchoresses) ME Dialects: The Basics (cont’d) Kentish (Southeastern) Similar to Southern. hem. but not complete variation (like today) • But in the real world. most populous area – fertile. here in 3rd person plur. Voiced fricatives (vor) No major literary texts Rise of London Standard (14th-15th centuries) • written standard. Pearl.

law courts. Gower. near Westminster Abbey • printed Chaucer.standard spreads • began as a Southern dialect.” Caxton/Printing (cont’d) • Merchant/diplomat • learned printing on the Continent • introduced the press into England c. ended up more or less East Midlands Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d) (vi) Chancery (government writing office) • by c. Malory. Castilian Spanish (Madrid) • much movement of people into and out of the city: government officials go out on business.he found he had used ‘strange terms’ • (see printed handout) • for commercial reasons. 1450. popular throughout 15th century • but. social and intellectual activity • true in other languages: Parisian French.popular in his day. Lydgate. where I doubte not is spoken as brode and rude Englissh as is in ony place of Englond. 1476. others go to London on business • local speeches mixed together to form a new combination – visitors take away the influence of London speech . had developed a consistent variety of London English • language of official use. he used the spelling of the London/East Midlands dialect 4 .Reasons for Rise of London Standard (cont’d) (iv) role of Chaucer . slightly more conservative/ Southern than London dialect • 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. translated bestsellers from France and Burgundy Caxton’s Spellings • not easy for a writer and printer in 15th 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 . influenced other writing 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.

London English was prescribed: • Ye shall therefore take the usuall speach of the Court. “half-chewed Latin” Hale sterne superne! Hale. . rite. in eterne stars on high In God’s sight to schyne! Lucerne in derne. myles.current. modern.see handout • Dutch influence: ghost. even in vocabulary (let alone accent) .eternal William Dunbar (ca.confused by English spelling (silent -e or not? Often line length) . Anon. and that of London and the shires lying about London with lx. Present. ð • Eventually. sempitern. riht. the middle classes didn’t have a classical education .increased demand for books and literacy. accounting for some oddities of English spelling: right.sometimes forced a consensus. for to discerne lamp Be glory and grace devyne.dialects even today 5 . (EMnE). richt Effects of Print • printing made books available at a relatively low price .Caxton and Standardization • For commercial reasons. 1460-1520). þ. Hymn to the Blessed Virgin Rise of London Standard • Printed books made London English current and durable • By 16th c. ghesse (guess) • Caxton modernized orthography: eliminated ʒ. printing helped to fix the language on the page . (attributed to Puttenham) The Arte of English Poesie (1589)  Complete uniformity never attained. especially among middle and lower classes • In general. Caxton and other printers settled for London English privileging a dialect • Used some foreign typesetters .lots of translations.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 Effects of Translation • 15th c. and not much above. Hodiern.

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