ENGLISH LANGUAGE. [Anchor] In its historical sense, the name English is now conveniently used to comprehend the language of the English people from their settlement in Britain to the present day, the various stages through which it has passed being distinguished as Old, Middle, and New or Modern English. In works yet recent, and even in some still current, the term is confined to the third, or at most extended to the second and third of these stages, since the language assumed in the main the vocabulary and grammatical forms which it now presents, the oldest or inflected stage being treated as a separate language, under the title of Anglo-Saxon, while the transition period which connects the two has been called Semi-Saxon. This view had the justification that, looked upon by themselves, either as vehicles of thought or as objects of study and analysis, Old English or Anglo-Saxon and Modern English are, for all practical ends, distinct languages,—as much so, for example, as Latin and Spanish. No amount of familiarity with Modern English, including its local dialects, would enable the student to read Anglo-Saxon, three-fourths of the vocabulary of which have perished and been reconstructed within 900 years;1 nor would a knowledge even of these lost words give him the power, since the grammatical system, alike in accidence and syntax, would be entirely strange to him. Indeed, it is probable that a modern Englishman would acquire the power of reading and writing French in less time than it would cost him to attain to the same proficiency in Old English; so that if the test of distinct languages be their degree of practical difference from each other, it cannot be denied that “Anglo-Saxon” is a distinct language from Modern English. But when we view the subject historically, recognizing the fact that living speech is subject to continuous change in certain definite directions, determined by the constitution and circumstances of mankind, as an evolution or development of which we can trace the steps, and that, owing to the abundance of written materials, this evolution appears so gradual in English that we can nowhere draw distinct lines separating its successive stages, we recognize these stages as merely temporary phases of an individual whole, and speak of the English language as used alike by Cynewulf, by Chaucer, by Shakespeare and by Tennyson.2 It must not be forgotten, however, that in this wide sense the English language includes, not only the literary or courtly forms of speech used at successive periods, but also the popular and, it may be, altogether unwritten dialects that exist by their side. Only on this basis, indeed, can we speak of Old, Middle and Modern English as the same language, since in actual fact the precise dialect which is now the cultivated language, or “Standard English,” is not the descendant of that dialect which was the cultivated language or “Englisc” of Alfred, but of a sister dialect then sunk in comparative obscurity,—even as the direct descendant of Alfred’s Englisc is now to be found in the non-literary rustic speech of Wiltshire and Somersetshire. Causes which, linguistically [Anchor] 588considered, are external and accidental, have shifted the political and intellectual centre of England, and along with it transferred literary and official patronage from one form of English to another; if the centre of influence had happened to be fixed at York or on the banks of the Forth, both would probably have been neglected for a third.
The English language, thus defined, is not “native” to Britain, that is, it was not found there at the dawn of history, but was introduced by foreign immigrants at a date many centuries later. At the Roman Conquest of the island the languages spoken by the natives belonged all (so far as is known) to the Celtic branch of the Indo-European or Indo-Germanic family, modern forms of which still survive in Wales, Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, Isle of Man and Brittany, while one has at no distant date become extinct in Cornwall (see Celt: Language). Brythonic dialects, allied to Welsh and Cornish, were apparently spoken over the greater part of Britain, as far north as the firths of Forth and Clyde; beyond these estuaries and in the isles to the west, including Ireland and Man, Goidelic dialects, akin to Irish and Scottish Gaelic, prevailed. The long occupation of south Britain by the Romans (a.d. 43-409)—a period, it must not be forgotten, equal to that from the Reformation to the present day, or nearly as long as the whole duration of modern English—familiarized the provincial inhabitants with Latin, which was probably the ordinary speech of the towns. Gildas, writing nearly a century and a half after the renunciation of Honorius in 410, addressed the British princes in that language;3 and the linguistic history of Britain might have been not different from that of Gaul, Spain and the other provinces of the Western Empire, in which a local type of Latin, giving birth to a neo-Latinic language, finally superseded the native tongue except in remote and mountainous districts,4 had not the course of events been entirely changed by the Teutonic conquests of the 5th and 6th centuries.
The Angles, Saxons, and their allies came of the Teutonic stock, and spoke a tongue belonging to the Teutonic or Germanic branch of the Indo-Germanic (Indo-European) family, the same race and form of speech being represented in modern times by the people and languages of Holland, Germany, Denmark, the Scandinavian peninsula and Iceland, as well as by those of England and her colonies. Of the original home of the so-called primitive Aryan race (q.v.), whose language was the parent Indo-European, nothing is certainly known, though the subject has called forth many conjectures; the present tendency is to seek it in Europe itself. The tribe can hardly have occupied an extensive area at first, but its language came by degrees to be diffused over the greater part of Europe and some portion of Asia. Among those whose Aryan descent is generally recognized as beyond dispute are the Teutons, to whom the Angles and Saxons belonged.
The Teutonic or Germanic people, after dwelling together in a body, appear to have scattered in various directions, their language gradually breaking up into three main groups, which can be already clearly distinguished in the 4th century a.d., North Germanic or Scandinavian, West Germanic or Low and High German, and East Germanic, of which the only important representative is Gothic. Gothic, often called Moeso-Gothic, was the language of a people of the Teutonic stock, who, passing down the Danube, invaded the borders of the Empire, and obtained settlements in the province of Moesia, where their language was committed to writing in the 4th century; its literary remains are of peculiar value as the oldest specimens, by several centuries, of Germanic speech. The dialects of the invaders of Britain belonged to the West Germanic branch, and within this to the Low German group, represented at the present day by Dutch, Frisian, and the various “Platt-Deutsch” dialects of North Germany. At the dawn of history the forefathers of the English appear to have been dwelling between and about the estuaries and lower courses of the Rhine and the Weser, and the adjacent coasts and isles; at the present day the most English or Angli-form dialects of the European continent are held to be those of the North Frisian islands of Amrum and Sylt, on the west coast of Schleswig. It is well known that the greater part of the ancient Friesland has been swept away by the encroachments of the North Sea, and the disjecta membra of the Frisian race, pressed by the sea in front and more powerful nationalities behind, are found only in isolated fragments from the Zuider Zee to the coasts of Denmark. Many Frisians accompanied the Angles and Saxons to Britain, and Old English was in many respects more closely connected with Old Frisian than with any other Low German dialect. Of the Geatas, Eotas or “Jutes,” who, according to Bede, occupied Kent and the Isle of Wight, and formed a third tribe along with the Angles and Saxons, it is difficult to speak linguistically. The speech of Kent certainly formed a distinct dialect in both the Old English and the Middle English periods, but it has tended to be assimilated more and more to neighbouring southern dialects, and is at the present day identical with that of Sussex, one of the old Saxon kingdoms. Whether the speech of the Isle of Wight ever showed the same characteristic differences as that of Kent cannot now be ascertained, but its modern dialect differs in no respect from that of Hampshire, and shows no special connexion with that of Kent. It is at least entirely doubtful whether Bede’s Geatas came from Jutland; on linguistic grounds we should expect that they occupied a district lying not to the north of the Angles, but between these and the old Saxons.
The earliest specimens of the language of the Germanic invaders of Britain that exist point to three well-marked dialect groups: the Anglian (in which a further distinction may be made between the Northumbrian and the Mercian, or South-Humbrian); the Saxon, generally called West-Saxon from the almost total lack of sources outside the West-Saxon domain; and the Kentish. The Kentish and West-Saxon are sometimes, especially in later times, grouped together as southern dialects as opposed to midland and northern. These three groups were distinguished from each other by characteristic points of phonology and inflection. Speaking generally, the Anglian dialects may be distinguished by the absence of certain normal West-Saxon vowel-changes, and the presence of others not found in West-Saxon, and also by a strong tendency to confuse and simplify inflections, in all which points, moreover, Northumbrian tended to deviate more widely than Mercian. Kentish, on the other hand, occupied a position intermediate between Anglian and West-Saxon, early Kentish approaching more nearly to Mercian, owing perhaps to early historical connexion between the two, and late Kentish tending to conform to West-Saxon characteristics, while retaining several points in common with Anglian. Though we cannot be certain that these dialectal divergences date from a period previous to the occupation of Britain, such evidence as can be deduced points to the existence of differences already on the continent, the three dialects corresponding in all likelihood to Bede’s three tribes, the Angles, Saxons and Geatas.
As it was amongst the Engle or Angles of Northumbria that literary culture first appeared, and as an Angle or Englisc dialect was the first to be used for vernacular literature, Englisc came eventually to be a general name for all forms of the vernacular as opposed to Latin, &c.; and even when the West-Saxon of Alfred became in its turn the literary or classical form of speech, it was still called Englisc or English. The origin of the nameAngul-Seaxan (Anglo-Saxons) has been disputed, some maintaining that it means a union of Angles and Saxons, others (with better foundation) that it meant English Saxons, or Saxons of England or of the Angel-cynn as distinguished from Saxons of the Continent (see New English Dictionary, s.v.). Its modern use is mainly due to the little band of scholars who in the 16th and 17th centuries turned their attention to the long-forgotten language of Alfred and Ælfric, which, as it differed so greatly from [Anchor] 589the English of their own day, they found it convenient to distinguish by a name which was applied to themselves by those who spoke it.5 To these scholars “Anglo-Saxon” and “English” were separated by a gulf which it was reserved for later scholarship to bridge across, and show the historical continuity of the English of all ages.
As already hinted, the English language, in the wide sense, presents three main stages of development—Old, Middle and Modern—distinguished by their inflectional characteristics. The latter can be best summarized in the words of Dr Henry Sweet in his History of English Sounds:6 “Old English is the period of full inflections (nama, gifan, caru), Middle English of levelled inflections (naame, given, caare), and Modern English of lostinflections (name, give, care = nam, giv, car). We have besides two periods of transition, one in which nama and name exist side by side, and another in which final e [with other endings] is beginning to drop.” By lost inflections it is meant that only very few remain, and those mostly non-syllabic, as the -s in stones and loves, the -ed in loved, the -r in their, as contrasted with the Old English stán-as, lufað, luf-od-e and luf-od-on, þá-ra. Each of these periods may also be divided into two or three; but from the want of materials it is difficult to make any such division for all dialects alike in the first.
As to the chronology of the successive stages, it is of course impossible to lay down any exclusive series of dates, since the linguistic changes were inevitably gradual, and also made themselves felt in some parts of the country much earlier than in others, the north being always in advance of the midland, and the south much later in its changes. It is easy to point to periods at which Old, Middle and Modern English were fully developed, but much less easy to draw lines separating these stages; and even if we recognize between each part a “transition” period or stage, the determination of the beginning and end of this will to a certain extent be a matter of opinion. But bearing these considerations in mind, and having special reference to the midland dialect from which literary English is mainly descended, the following may be given as approximate dates, which if they do not demarcate the successive stages, at least include them:—
Old English or Anglo-Saxon to 1100
Transition Old English (“Semi-Saxon”) 1100 to 1150
Early Middle English 1150 to 1250
(Normal) Middle English 1250 to 1400
Late and Transition Middle English 1400 to 1485
Early Modern or Tudor English 1485 to 1611
Seventeenth century transition 1611 to 1688
Modern or current English 1689 onward
Dr Sweet has reckoned Transition Old English (Old Transition) from 1050 to 1150, Middle English thence to 1450, and Late or Transition Middle English (Middle Transition) 1450 to 1500. As to the Old Transition see further below.
The Old English or Anglo-Saxon tongue, as introduced into Britain, was highly inflectional, though its inflections at the date when it becomes known to us were not so full as those of the earlier Gothic, and considerably less so than those of Greek and Latin during their classical periods. They corresponded more closely to those of modern literary German, though both in nouns and verbs the forms were more numerous and distinct; for example, the German guten answers to three Old English forms,—gódne, gódum, gódan; guter to two—gódre, gódra; liebten to two,—lufodon andlufeden. Nouns had four cases. Nominative, Accusative (only sometimes distinct), Genitive, Dative, the latter used also with prepositions to express locative, instrumental, and most ablative relations; of a distinct instrumental case only vestiges occur. There were several declensions of nouns, the main division being that known in Germanic languages generally as strong and weak,—a distinction also extending to adjectives in such wise that every adjective assumed either the strong or the weak inflection as determined by associated grammatical forms. The first and second personal pronouns possessed a dual number = we two, ye two; the third person had a complete declension of the stem he, instead of being made up as now of the three stems seen in he, she, they. The verb distinguished the subjunctive from the indicative mood, but had only two inflected tenses, present and past (more accurately, that of incomplete and that of completed or “perfect” action)—the former also used for the future, the latter for all the shades of past time. The order of the sentence corresponded generally to that of German. Thus from King Alfred’s additions to his translation of Orosius: “Donne þy ylcan dæge hi hine to þæm ade beran wyllað þonne todælað hi his feoh þaet þær to lafe bið æfter þæm gedrynce and þæm plegan, on fif oððe syx, hwilum on ma, swa swa þaes feos andefn bið” (“Then on the same day [that] they him to the pile bear will, then divide they his property that there to remainder shall be after the drinking and the sports, into five or six, at times into more, according as the property’s value is”).
The poetry was distinguished by alliteration, and the abundant use of figurative and metaphorical expressions, of bold compounds and archaic words never found in prose. Thus in the following lines from Beowulf (ed. Thorpe, l. 645, Zupitza 320):—
Stræt wæs stán-fáh, stig wisode
Gumum ætgædere. gúð-byrne scán
Heard hond-locen. hring-iren scir
Song in searwum, þa hie to sele furðum
In hyra gry′re geatwum gangan cwomon.
The street was stone-variegated, the path guided
(The) men together; the war-mailcoat shone,
Hard hand-locked. Ring-iron sheer (bright ring-mail)
Sang in (their) cunning-trappings, as they to hall forth
In their horror-accoutrements going came.
The Old English was a homogeneous language, having very few foreign elements in it, and forming its compounds and derivatives entirely from its own resources. A few Latin appellatives learned from the Romans in the German wars had been adopted into the common West Germanic tongue, and are found in English as in the allied dialects. Such were stræte (street, via strata), camp (battle), cásere (Cæsar), míl (mile), pín (punishment),mynet (money), pund (pound), wín (wine); probably also cyrice (church), biscop (bishop), læden (Latin language), cése (cheese), butor (butter), pipor(pepper), olfend (camel, elephantus), ynce (inch, uncia), and a few others. The relations of the first invaders to the Britons were to a great extent those of destroyers; and with the exception of the proper names of places and prominent natural features, which as is usual were retained by the new population, few British words found their way into the Old English. Among these are named broc (a badger), bréc (breeches), clút (clout), púl (pool), and a few words relating to the employment of field or household menials. Still fewer words seem to have been adopted from the provincial Latin, almost the only certain ones being castra, applied to the Roman towns, which appeared in English as cæstre, ceaster, now found in composition as -caster, -chester, -cester, and culina (kitchen), which gave cylen (kiln). The introduction and gradual adoption of Christianity, brought a new series of Latin words connected with the offices of the church, the accompaniments of higher civilization, the foreign productions either actually made known, or mentioned in the Scriptures and devotional books. Such were mynster (monasterium), munuc (monk), nunne (nun), maesse (mass), schol (school),œlmesse (eleemosyna), candel (candela), turtle (turtur), fic (ficus), cedar (cedrus). These words, whose number increased from the 7th to the 10th century, are commonly called Latin of the second period, the Latin of the first period including the Latin words brought by the English from the continent, as well as those picked up in Britain either from the Roman provincials or the Welsh. The Danish invasions of the 8th and 10th centuries [Anchor] 590resulted in the establishment of extensive Danish and Norwegian populations, about the basin of the Humber and its tributaries, and above Morecambe Bay. Although these Scandinavian settlers must have greatly affected the language of their own localities, but few traces of their influence are to be found in the literature of the Old English period. As with the greater part of the words adopted from the Celtic, it was not until after the dominion of the Norman had overlaid all preceding conquests, and the new English began to emerge from the ruins of the old, that Danish words in any number made their appearance in books, as equally “native” with the Anglo-Saxon.
The earliest specimens we have of English date to the end of the 7th century, and belong to the Anglian dialect, and particularly to Northumbrian, which, under the political eminence of the early Northumbrian kings from Edwin to Ecgfrið, aided perhaps by the learning of the scholars of Ireland and Iona, first attained to literary distinction. Of this literature in its original form mere fragments exist, one of the most interesting of which consists of the verses uttered by Bede on his deathbed, and preserved in a nearly contemporary MS.:—
Fore there neid faerae . naenig uuiurthit
thonc snotturra . than him tharf sie,
to ymb-hycggannæ . aer his hin-iongae,
huaet his gastae . godaes aeththa yflaes,
aefter deoth-daege . doemid uueorthae.
Before the inevitable journey becomes not any
Thought more wise than (that) it is needful for him,
To consider, ere his hence-going,
What, to his ghost, of good or ill,
After death-day, doomed may be.
But our chief acquaintance with Old English is in its West-Saxon form, the earliest literary remains of which date to the 9th century, when under the political supremacy of Wessex and the scholarship of King Alfred it became the literary language of the English nation, the classical “Anglo-Saxon.” If our materials were more extensive, it would probably be necessary to divide the Old English into several periods; as it is, considerable differences have been shown to exist between the “early West-Saxon” of King Alfred and the later language of the 11th century, the earlier language having numerous phonetic and inflectional distinctions which are “levelled” in the later, the inflectional changes showing that the tendency to pass from the synthetical to the analytical stage existed quite independently of the Norman Conquest. The northern dialect, whose literary career had been cut short in the 8th century by the Danish invasions, reappears in the 10th in the form of glosses to the Latin gospels and a service-book, often called the Ritual of Durham, where we find that, owing to the confusion which had so long reigned in the north, and to special Northumbrian tendencies,e.g. the dropping of the inflectional n in both verbs and nouns, this dialect had advanced in the process of inflection-levelling far beyond the sister dialects of Mercian and the south, so as already to anticipate the forms of Early Middle English.
Among the literary remains of the Old English may be mentioned the epic poem of Beowulf, the original nucleus of which has been supposed to date to heathen and even continental times, though we now possess it only in a later form; the poetical works of Cynewulf; those formerly ascribed to Cædmon; several works of Alfred, two of which, his translation of Orosius and of The Pastoral Care of St Gregory, are contemporary specimens of his language; the Old English or Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the theological works of Ælfric (including translations of the Pentateuch and the gospels) and of Wulfstan; and many works both in prose and verse, of which the authors are unknown.
The earliest specimens, the inscriptions on the Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses, are in a Runic character; but the letters used in the manuscripts generally are a British variety of the Roman alphabet which the Anglo-Saxons found in the island, and which was also used by the Welsh and Irish.7Several of the Roman letters had in Britain developed forms, and retained or acquired values, unlike those used on the continent, in particular (d f g r s t). The letters q and z were not used, q being represented by cw, and k was a rare alternative to c; u or v was only a vowel, the consonantal power of v being represented as in Welsh by f. The Runes called thorn and wen, having the consonantal values now expressed by th andw, for which the Roman alphabet had no character, were at first expressed by th, ð (a contraction for ?? or ?h), and v or u; but at a later period the characters þ and Þ were revived from the old Runic alphabet. Contrary to Continental usage, the letters c and (g) had originally only their hard or guttural powers, as in the neighbouring Celtic languages; so that words which, when the Continental Roman alphabet came to be used for Germanic languages, had to be written with k, were in Old English written with c, as cêne = keen, cynd = kind.8 The key to the values of the letters, and thus to the pronunciation of Old English, is also to be found in the Celtic tongues whence the letters were taken.
The Old English period is usually considered as terminating 1120, with the death of the generation who saw the Norman Conquest. The Conquest established in England a foreign court, a foreign aristocracy and a foreign hierarchy.9 The French language, in its Norman dialect, became the only polite medium of intercourse. The native tongue, despised not only as unknown but as the language of a subject race, was left to the use of boors and serfs, and except in a few stray cases ceased to be written at all. The natural results followed.10 When the educated generation that saw the arrival of the Norman died out, the language, ceasing to be read and written, lost all its literary words. The words of ordinary life whose preservation is independent of books lived on as vigorously as ever, but the literary terms, those that related to science, art and higher culture, the bold artistic compounds, the figurative terms of poetry, were speedily forgotten. The practical vocabulary shrank to a fraction of its former extent. And when, generations later, English began to be used for general literature, the only terms at hand to express ideas above those of every-day life were to be found in the French of the privileged classes, of whom alone art, science, law and theology had been for generations the inheritance. Hence each successive literary effort of the reviving English tongue showed a larger adoption of French words to supply the place of the forgotten native ones, till by the days of Chaucer they constituted a notable part of the vocabulary. Nor was it for the time being only that the French words affected the English vocabulary. The Norman French words introduced by the Conquest, as well as the Central or Parisian French words which followed under the early Plantagenets, were mainly Latin words which had lived on among the people of Gaul, and, modified in the mouths of succeeding generations, had reached forms more or less remote from their originals. In being now adopted as English, they supplied precedents in accordance with which other Latin words might be converted into English ones, whenever required; and long before the Renascence of classical learning, though in much greater numbers after that epoch, these precedents were freely followed.
While the eventual though distant result of the Norman Conquest was thus a large reconstruction of the English vocabulary, [Anchor] 591the grammar of the language was not directly affected by it. There was no reason why it should—we might almost add, no way by which it could. While the English used their own words, they could not forget their own way of using them, the inflections and constructions by which alone the words expressed ideas—in other words, their grammar; when one by one French words were introduced into the sentence they became English by the very act of admission, and were at once subjected to all the duties and liabilities of English words in the same position. This is of course precisely what happens at the present day: telegraph and telegram make participle telegraphing and plural telegrams, and naïve the adverb naïvely, precisely as if they had been in the language for ages.
But indirectly the grammar was affected very quickly. In languages in the inflected or synthetic stage the terminations must be pronounced with marked distinctness, as these contain the correlation of ideas; it is all-important to hear whether a word is bonus or bonis or bonas or bonos. This implies a measured and distinct pronunciation, against which the effort for ease and rapidity of utterance is continually struggling, while indolence and carelessness continually compromise it. In the Germanic languages, as a whole, the main stress-accent falls on the radical syllable, or on the prefix of a nominal compound, and thus at or near the beginning of the word; and the result of this in English has been a growing tendency to suffer the concluding syllables to fall into obscurity. We are familiar with the cockney winder, sofer, holler, Sarer, Sunder, would yer, for window, sofa, holla, Sarah, Sunday, would you, the various final vowels sinking into an obscure neutral one now conventionally spelt er, but formerly represented by final e. Already before the Conquest, forms originally hatu, sello, tunga, appeared as hate, selle, tunge, with the terminations levelled to obscure e; but during the illiterate period of the language after the Conquest this careless obscuring of terminal vowels became universal, all unaccented vowels in the final syllable (except i) sinking into e. During the 12th century, while this change was going on, we see a great confusion of grammatical forms, the full inflections of Old English standing side by side in the same sentence with the levelled ones of Middle English. It is to this state of the language that the names Transition and Period of Confusion (Dr Abbott’s appellation) point; its appearance, as that of Anglo-Saxon broken down in its endings, had previously given to it the suggestive if not logical appellation of Semi-Saxon.
Although the written remains of the transition stage are few, sufficient exist to enable us to trace the course of linguistic change in some of the dialects. Within three generations after the Conquest, faithful pens were at work transliterating the old homilies of Ælfric, and other lights of the Anglo-Saxon Church, into the current idiom of their posterity.11 Twice during the period, in the reigns of Stephen and Henry II., Ælfric’s gospels were similarly modernized so as to be “understanded of the people.”12 Homilies and other religious works of the end of the 12th century13 show us the change still further advanced, and the language passing into Early Middle English in its southern form. While these southern remains carry on in unbroken sequence the history of the Old English of Alfred and Ælfric, the history of the northern English is an entire blank from the 11th to the 13th century. The stubborn resistance of the north, and the terrible retaliation inflicted by William, apparently effaced northern English culture for centuries. If anything was written in the vernacular in the kingdom of Scotland during the same period, it probably perished during the calamities to which that country was subjected during the half-century of struggle for independence. In reality, however, the northern English had entered upon its transition stage two centuries earlier; the glosses of the 10th century show that the Danish inroads had there anticipated the results hastened by the Norman Conquest in the south.
Meanwhile a dialect was making its appearance in another quarter of England, destined to overshadow the old literary dialects of north and south alike, and become the English of the future. The Mercian kingdom, which, as its name imports, lay along the marches of the earlier states, and was really a congeries of the outlying members of many tribes, must have presented from the beginning a linguistic mixture and transition; and it is evident that more than one intermediate form of speech arose within its confines, between Lancashire and the Thames. The specimens of early Mercian now in existence consist mainly of glosses, in a mixed Mercian and southern dialect, dating from the 8th century; but, in a 9th-century gloss, the so-called Vespasian Psalter, representing what is generally held to be pure Mercian. Towards the close of the Old English period we find some portions of a gloss to the Rushworth Gospels, namely St Matthew and a few verses of St John xviii., to be in Mercian. These glosses, with a few charters and one or two small fragments, represent a form of Anglian which in many respects stands midway between Northumbrian and Kentish, approaching the one or the other more nearly as we have to do with North Mercian or South Mercian. And soon after the Conquest we find an undoubted midland dialect in the transition stage from Old to Middle English, in the eastern part of ancient Mercia, in a district bounded on the south and south-east by the Saxon Middlesex and Essex, and on the east and north by the East Anglian Norfolk and Suffolk and the Danish settlements on the Trent and Humber. In this district, and in the monastery of Peterborough, one of the copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, transcribed about 1120, was continued by two succeeding hands to the death of Stephen in 1154. The section from 1122 to 1131, probably written in the latter year, shows a notable confusion between Old English forms and those of a Middle English, impatient to rid itself of the inflectional trammels which were still, though in weakened forms, so faithfully retained south of the Thames. And in the concluding section, containing the annals from 1132 to 1154, and written somewhere about the latter year, we find Middle English fairly started on its career. A specimen of this new tongue will best show the change that had taken place:
1140 a.d.—And14 te eorl of Angæu wærd ded, and his sune Henri toc to þe rice. And te cuen of France to-dælde fra þe king, and scæ com to þe iunge eorl Henri. and he toc hire to wiue, and al Peitou mid hire. þa ferde he mid micel færd into Engleland and wan castles—and te king ferde agenes him mid micel mare ferd. þoþwæthere fuhtten hi noht. oc ferden þe ærcebiscop and te wise men betwux heom, and makede that sahte that te king sculde ben lauerd and king wile he liuede. and æfter his dæi ware Henri king. and he helde him for fader, and he him for sune, and sib andsæhte sculde ben betwyx heom, and on al Engleland.15
With this may be contrasted a specimen of southern English, from 10 to 20 years later (Hatton Gospels, Luke i. 4616):
Da cwæð Maria: Min saule mersed drihten, and min gast geblissode on gode minen hælende. For þam þe he geseah his þinene eadmodnysse. Soðlice henen-forð me eadige seggeð alle cneornesse; for þam þe me mychele þing dyde se þe mihtyg ys; and his name is halig. And his mildheortnysse of cneornisse on cneornesse hine ondraedende. He worhte maegne on hys earme; he to-daelde þa ofermode, on moda heora heortan. He warp þa rice of setlle, and þa eadmode he up-an-hof. Hyngriende he mid gode ge-felde, and þa ofermode ydele for-let. He afeng israel his cniht, and gemynde his mildheortnysse; Swa he spræc to ure fæderen, Abrahame and his sæde on a weorlde.
To a still later date, apparently close upon 1200, belongs the versified chronicle of Layamon or Laweman, a priest of Ernely on the Severn, who, using as his basis the French Brut of Wace, expanded it by additions from other sources to more than twice the extent: his work of 32,250 lines is a mine of illustration for the language of his time and locality. The latter was intermediate between midland and southern, and the language, though forty years later than the specimen from the Chronicle, is much more archaic in structure, and can scarcely be considered even as Early Middle English. The following is a specimen (lines 9064-9079):
On Kinbelines daeie ... þe king wes inne Bruttene, com a þissen middel aerde ... anes maidenes sune, iboren wes in Beþleem ... of bezste alre burden. He is ihaten Jesu Crist ... þurh þene halie gost, alre worulde wunne ... walden englenne; faeder he is on heuenen ... froure moncunnes; sune he is on eorðen ... of sele þon maeidene, & þene halie gost ... haldeð mid him seoluen.
The Middle English was pre-eminently the Dialectal period of the language. It was not till after the middle of the 14th century that English obtained official recognition. For three centuries, therefore, there was no standard form of speech which claimed any pre-eminence over the others. The writers of each district wrote in the dialect familiar to them; and between extreme forms the difference was so great as to amount to unintelligibility; works written for southern Englishmen had to be translated for the benefit of the men of the north:—
“In sotherin Inglis was it drawin,
And turnid ic haue it till ur awin
Langage of þe northin lede
That can na nothir Inglis rede.”
Cursor Mundi, 20,064.
Three main dialects were distinguished by contemporary writers, as in the often-quoted passage from Trevisa’s translation of Higden’sPolychronicon completed in 1387:—
“Also Englysche men ... hadde fram þe bygynnynge þre maner speche, Souþeron, Norþeron and Myddel speche (in þe myddel of þe lond) as hy come of þre maner people of Germania.... Also of þe forseyde Saxon tonge, þat ys deled a þre, and ys abyde scarslyche wiþ feaw uplondysche menand ys gret wondur, for men of þe est wiþ men of þe west, as hyt were under þe same part of heyvene, acordeþ more in sounynge of sþeche þan men of þe norþ wiþ men of þe souþ; þerfore hyt ys þat Mercii, þat buþ men of myddel Engelond, as hyt were parteners of þe endes, undurstondeþ betre þe syde longages Norþeron and Souþeron, þan Norþern and Souþern undurstondeþ oyþer oþer.”
The modern study of these Middle English dialects, initiated by the elder Richard Garnett, scientifically pursued by Dr Richard Morris, and elaborated by many later scholars, both English and German, has shown that they were readily distinguished by the conjugation of the present tense of the verb, which in typical specimens was as follows:—-
Ich singe. We singeþ.
Þou singest. ?e singeþ.
He singeþ. Hy singeþ.
Ich, I, singe. We singen.
Þou singest. ?e singen.
He singeþ. Hy, thei, singen.
Ic. I, sing(e) (I þat singes). We sing(e). We þat synges.
Þu singes. ?e sing(e), ?e foules synges.
He singes. Thay sing(e). Men synges.
Of these the southern is simply the old West-Saxon, with the vowels levelled to e. The northern second person in -es preserves an older form than the southern and West-Saxon -est; but the -es of the third person and plural is derived from an older -eth, the change of -th into -s being found in progress in the Durham glosses of the 10th century. In the plural, when accompanied by the pronoun subject, the verb had already dropped the inflections entirely as in Modern English. The origin of the -en plural in the midland dialect, unknown to Old English, is probably an instance ofform-levelling, the inflection of the present indicative being assimilated to that of the past, and the present and past subjunctive, in all of which -enwas the plural termination. In the declension of nouns, adjectives and pronouns, the northern dialect had attained before the end of the 13th century to the simplicity of Modern English, while the southern dialect still retained a large number of inflections, and the midland a considerable number. The dialects differed also in phonology, for while the northern generally retained the hard or guttural values of k, g, sc, these were in the two other dialects palatalized before front vowels into ch, j and sh. Kirk, chirche or church, bryg, bridge; scryke, shriek, are examples. Old English hw was written in the north qu(h), but elsewhere wh, often sinking into w. The original long á in stán, már, preserved in the northern stane, mare, became oelsewhere, as in stone, more. So that the north presented a general aspect of conservation of old sounds with the most thorough-going dissolution of old inflections; the south, a tenacious retention of the inflections, with an extensive evolution in the sounds. In one important respect, however, phonetic decay was far ahead in the north: the final e to which all the old vowels had been levelled during the transition stage, and which is a distinguishing feature of Middle English in the midland and southern dialects, became mute, i.e., disappeared, in the northern dialect before that dialect emerged from its three centuries of obscuration, shortly before 1300. So thoroughly modern had its form consequently become that we might almost call it Modern English, and say that the Middle English stage of the northern dialect is lost. For comparison with the other dialects, however, the same nomenclature may be used, and we may class as Middle English the extensive literature which northern England produced during the 14th century. The earliest specimen is probably the Metrical Psalter in the Cotton Library,17 copied during the reign of Edward II. from an original of the previous century. The gigantic versified paraphrase of Scripture history called the Cursor Mundi,18 is held also to have been composed before 1300. The dates of the numerous alliterative romances in this dialect have not been determined with exactness, as all survive in later copies, but it is probable that some of them were written before 1300. In the 14th century appeared the theological and devotional works of Richard Rolle the anchorite of Hampole, Dan Jon Gaytrigg, William of Nassington, and other writers whose names are unknown; and towards the close of the century, specimens of the language also appear from Scotland both in official documents and in the poetical works of John Barbour, whose language, barring minute points of orthography, is identical with that of the contemporary northern English writers. From 1400 onward, the distinction between northern English and Lowland Scottish becomes clearly marked.
In the southern dialect one version of the work called the Ancren Riwle or “Rule of Nuns,” adapted about 1225 for a small sisterhood at Tarrant-Kaines, in Dorsetshire, exhibits a dialectal characteristic which had probably long prevailed in the south, though concealed by the spelling, in the use of v for f, as valle fall, vordonne fordo, vorto for to, veder father, vrom from. Not till later do we find a recognition of the parallel use of z for s. Among the writings which succeed, The Owl and the Nightingale of Nicholas de Guildford, of Portesham in Dorsetshire, before 1250, the Chronicleof Robert of Gloucester, 1298, and Trevisa’s translation of Higden, 1387, are of special importance in illustrating the history of southern English. The earliest form of Langland’s Piers Ploughman, 1362, as preserved in the Vernon MS., appears to be in an intermediate dialect between southern and midland.19 The Kentish form of southern English seems to have retained specially archaic features; five short sermons in it of the middle of the 13th century were edited by Dr Morris (1866); but the great work illustrating it is the Ayenbite of Inwyt (Remorse of Conscience), 1340,20 a translation from the French by Dan Michel of Northgate, Kent, who tells us—
“Þet þis boc is y-write mid engliss of Kent;
Þis boc is y-mad uor lewede men,
Vor uader, and uor moder, and uor oþer ken,
Ham uor to ber?e uram alle manyere zen,
Þet ine hare inwytte ne bleue no uoul wen.”
In its use of v (u) and z for ƒ and s, and its grammatical inflections, it presents an extreme type of southern speech, with peculiarities specially Kentish; and in comparison with contemporary Midland English works, it looks like a fossil of two centuries earlier.
Turning from the dialectal extremes of the Middle English to the midland speech, which we left at the closing leaves of the [Anchor] 593PeterboroughChronicle of 1154, we find a rapid development of this dialect, which was before long to become the national literary language. In this, the first great work is the Ormulum, or metrical Scripture paraphrase of Orm or Ormin, written about 1200, somewhere near the northern frontier of the midland area. The dialect has a decided smack of the north, and shows for the first time in English literature a large percentage of Scandinavian words, derived from the Danish settlers, who, in adopting English, had preserved a vast number of their ancestral forms of speech, which were in time to pass into the common language, of which they now constitute some of the most familiar words. Blunt, bull, die, dwell, ill, kid, raise, same, thrive,wand, wing, are words from this source, which appear first in the work of Orm, of which the following lines may be quoted:—
“Þe Judewisshe folkess boc
hemm se??de, þatt hemm birrde
Twa bukkes samenn to þe preost
att kirrke-dure brinngenn;
And te?? þa didenn bliþeli?,
swa summ þe boc hemm tahhte,
And brohhtenn twe??enn bukkess þær
Drihhtin þærwiþþ to lakenn.
And att21 te kirrke-dure toc
þe preost ta twe??enn bukkess,
And o þatt an he le??de þær
all þe??re sake and sinne,
And lét itt eornenn for þwiþþ all
út inntill wilde wesste;
And toc and snaþ þatt oþerr bucc
Drihhtin þaerwiþþ to lakenn.
All þiss wass don forr here ned,
and ec forr ure nede;
For hemm itt hallp biforenn Godd
to clennssenn hemm of sinne;
And all swa ma?? itt hellpenn þe
?iff þatt tu willt [itt] foll?henn.
?iff þatt tu willt full innwarrdli?
wiþþ fulle trowwþe lefenn
All þatt tatt wass bitacnedd tær,
to lefenn and to trowwenn.”
Ormulum, ed. White, l. 1324.
The author of the Ormulum was a phonetist, and employed a special spelling of his own to represent not only the quality but the quantities of vowels and consonants—a circumstance which gives his work a peculiar value to the investigator. He is generally assumed to have been a native of Lincolnshire or Notts, but the point is a disputed one, and there is somewhat to be said for the neighbourhood of Ormskirk in Lancashire.
It is customary to differentiate between east and west midland, and to subdivide these again into north and south. As was natural in a tract of country which stretched from Lancaster to Essex, a very considerable variety is found in the documents which agree in presenting the leading midland features, those of Lancashire and Lincolnshire approaching the northern dialect both in vocabulary, phonetic character and greater neglect of inflections. But this diversity diminishes as we advance.
Thirty years after the Ormulum, the east midland rhymed Story of Genesis and Exodus22 shows us the dialect in a more southern form, with the vowels of modern English, and from about the same date, with rather more northern characteristics, we have an east midland Bestiary.
Different tests and different dates have been proposed for subdividing the Middle English period, but the most important is that of Henry Nicol, based on the observation that in the early 13th century, as in Ormin, the Old English short vowels in an open syllable still retained their short quantity, as nama, over, mete; but by 1250 or 1260 they had been lengthened to na-me, o-ver, me-te, a change which has also taken place at a particular period in all the Germanic, and even the Romanic languages, as in buo-no for bo-num, pa-dre for pa-trem, &c. The lengthening of the penult left the final syllable by contrast shortened or weakened, and paved the way for the disappearance of final e in the century following, through the stages na-me, na-me, na-m’, nam, the one long syllable in nam(e) being the quantitative equivalent of the two short syllables in na-me; hence the notion that mute e makes a preceding vowel long, the truth being that the lengthening of the vowel led to the e becoming mute.
After 1250 we have the Lay of Havelok, and about 1300 the writings of Robert of Brunne in South Lincolnshire. In the 14th century we find a number of texts belonging to the western part of the district. South-west midland is hardly to be distinguished from southern in its south-western form, and hence texts like Piers Plowman elude any satisfactory classification, but several metrical romances exhibit what are generally considered to be west midland characteristics, and a little group of poems, Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knighte, the Pearl, Cleanness and Patience, thought to be the work of a north-west midland writer of the 14th century, bear a striking resemblance to the modern Lancashire dialect. The end of the century witnessed the prose of Wycliff and Mandeville, and the poetry of Chaucer, with whom Middle English may be said to have culminated, and in whose writings its main characteristics as distinct from Old and Modern English may be studied. Thus, we find final e in full use representing numerous original vowels and terminations as
Him thoughtè that his hertè woldè brekè,
in Old English—
Him þuhte þæt his heorte wolde brecan,
which may be compared with the modern German—
Ihm däuchte dass sein Herze wollte brechen.
In nouns the -es of the plural and genitive case is still syllabic—
Reede as the berstl-es of a sow-es eer-es.
Several old genitives and plural forms continued to exist, and the dative or prepositional case has usually a final e. Adjectives retain so much of the old declension as to have -e in the definite form and in the plural—
The tend-re cropp-es and the yong-e sonne.
And smal-e fowl-es maken melodie.
Numerous old forms of comparison were in use, which have not come down to Modern English, as herre, ferre, lenger, hext = higher, farther, longer, highest. In the pronouns, ich lingered alongside of I; ye was only nominative, and you objective; the northern thei had dispossessed the southern hy, but her and hem (the modern ’em) stood their ground against their and them. The verb is I lov-e, thou lov-est, he lov-eth; but, in the plural, lov-en is interchanged with lov-e, as rhyme or euphony requires. So in the plural of the past we love-den or love-de. The infinitive also ends in en, often e, always syllabic. The present participle, in Old English -ende, passing through -inde, has been confounded with the verbal noun in -ynge, -yng, as in Modern English. The past participle largely retains the prefix y- or i-, representing the Old English ge-, as in i-ronne, y-don, Old English zerunnen,zedón, run, done. Many old verb forms still continued in existence. The adoption of French words, not only those of Norman introduction, but those subsequently introduced under the Angevin kings, to supply obsolete and obsolescent English ones, which had kept pace with the growth of literature since the beginning of the Middle English period, had now reached its climax; later times added many more, but they also dropped some that were in regular use with Chaucer and his contemporaries.
Chaucer’s great contemporary, William Langland, in his Vision of William concerning Piers the Ploughman, and his imitator the author of Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede (about 1400) used the Old English alliterative versification for the last time in the south. Rhyme had made its appearance in the language shortly after the Conquest—if not already known before; and in the south and midlands it became decidedly more popular than alliteration; the latter retained its hold much longer in the north, where it was written even after 1500: many of the northern romances are either simply alliterative, or have both alliteration and rhyme. To these characteristics of northern and southern verse respectively Chaucer alludes in the prologue of the “Persone,” who, when called upon for his tale said:—
“But trusteth wel; I am a sotherne man,
I cannot geste rom, ram, ruf, by my letter.
And, God wote, rime hold I but litel better:
And therefore, if you list, I wol not glose,
I wol you tell a litel tale in prose.”
The changes from Old to Middle English may be summed up thus: Loss of a large part of the native vocabulary, and adoption of French words to fill their place; not infrequent adoption of French words as synonyms of existing native ones; modernization of the English words preserved, by vowel change in a definite direction from back to front, and from open to close, a, becoming o,, original e, o tending to ee, oo, monophthongization of the old diphthongs eo, ea, and development of new diphthongs in connexion with g, h, and w; adoption of French orthographic symbols, e.g. ou foru,, qu, v, ch, and gradual loss of the symbols ?, þ, ð, Þ; obscuration of vowels after the accent, and especially of final a, o, u to e; consequent confusion and loss of old inflections, and their replacement by prepositions, auxiliary verbs and rules of position; abandonment of alliteration for rhyme; and great development of dialects, in consequence of there being no standard or recognized type of English.
But the recognition came at length. Already in 1258 was issued the celebrated English proclamation of Henry III., or rather of Simon de Montfort in his name, which, as the only public recognition of the native tongue between William the Conqueror and Edward III., has sometimes been spoken of as the first specimen of English. It runs:—
“Henri þur? godes fultume king on Engleneloande Lhoauerd on Yrloande. Duk on Normandie on Aquitaine and eorl on Aniow. Send igretinge to alle hise holde ilærde and ileawede on Huntendoneschire. þæt witen ?e wel alle þæt we willen and vnnen þæt þæt vre rædesmen alle oþer þe moare dæl of heom þæt beoþ ichosen þur? us and þur? þæt loandes folk on vre kuneriche. habbeþ idon and schullen don in þe worþnesse of gode and on vre treowþe. for þe freme of þe loande. þur? þe besi?te of þan to-foren-iseide redesmen. beo stedefæst and ilestinde in alle þinge a buten ænde. And we hoaten alle vre treowe in þe treowþe þæt heo vs o?en. þæt heo stedefæstliche healden and swerien to healden and to werien þo isetnesses þæt ben imakede and beon to makien þur? þan to-foren iseide rædesmen. oþer þur? þe moare dæl of heom alswo alse hit is biforen iseid. And þæt æhc oþer helpe þæt for to done bi þan ilche oþe a?enes alle men. Ri?t for to done and to foangen. And noan ne nime of loande ne of e?te. wherþur? þis besi?te mu?e beon ilet oþer iwersed on onie wise.’ And ?if oni oþer onie cumen her on?enes; we willen and hoaten þæt alle vre treowe heom healden deadliche ifoan. And for þæt we willen þæt þis beo stedefæst and lestinde; we senden ?ew þis writ open iseined wiþ vre seel. to halden amanges ?ew ine hord. Witnesse vs seluen æt Lundene. þane E?tetenþe day. on þe Monþe of Octobre In þe Two-and-fowerti?þe ?eare of vre cruninge. And þis wes idon ætforen vre isworene redesmen....
“And al on þo ilche worden is isend in to æurihce oþre shcire ouer al þære kuneriche on Engleneloande. and ek in tel Irelonde.”
The dialect of this document is more southern than anything else, with a slight midland admixture. It is much more archaic inflectionally than theGenesis and Exodus or Ormulum; but it closely resembles the old Kentish sermons and Proverbs of Alfred in the southern dialect of 1250. It represents no doubt the London speech of the day. London being in a Saxon county, and contiguous to Kent and Surrey, had certainly at first a southern dialect; but its position as the capital, as well as its proximity to the midland district, made its dialect more and more midland. Contemporary London documents show that Chaucer’s language, which is distinctly more southern than standard English eventually became, is behind the London dialect of the day in this respect, and is at once more archaic and consequently more southern.
During the next hundred years English gained ground steadily, and by the reign of Edward III. French was so little known in England, even in the families of the great, that about 1350 “John Cornwal, a maystere of gramere, chaungede þe lore (= teaching) in gramere scole and construccion of [i.e. from] Freynsch into Englysch”;23 and in 1362-1363 English by statute took the place of French in the pleadings in courts of law. Every reason conspired that this “English” should be the midland dialect. It was the intermediate dialect, intelligible, as Trevisa has told us, to both extremes, even when these failed to be intelligible to each other; in its south-eastern form, it was the language of London, where the supreme law courts were, the centre of political and commercial life; it was the language in which the Wycliffite versions had given the Holy Scriptures to the people; the language in which Chaucer had raised English poetry to a height of excellence admired and imitated by contemporaries and followers. And accordingly after the end of the 14th century, all Englishmen who thought they had anything to say to their countrymen generally said it in the midland speech. Trevisa’s own work was almost the last literary effort of the southern dialect; henceforth it was but a rustic patois, which the dramatist might use to give local colouring to his creations, as Shakespeare uses it to complete Edgar’s peasant disguise in Lear, or which 19th century research might disinter to illustrate obscure chapters in the history of language. And though the northern English proved a little more stubborn, it disappeared also from literature in England; but in Scotland, which had now become politically and socially estranged from England, it continued its course as the national language of the country, attaining in the 15th and 16th centuries a distinct development and high literary culture, for the details of which readers are referred to the article on Scottish Language.
The 15th century of English history, with its bloody French war abroad and Wars of the Roses at home, was a barren period in literature, and a transition one in language, witnessing the decay and disappearance of the final e, and most of the syllabic inflections of Middle English. Already by 1420, in Chaucer’s disciple Hoccleve, final e was quite uncertain; in Lydgate it was practically gone. In 1450 the writings of Pecock against the Wycliffites show the verbal inflections in -en in a state of obsolescence; he has still the southern pronouns her and hem for the northern their, them:—
“And here-a?ens holi scripture wole þat men schulden lacke þe coueryng which wommen schulden haue, & thei schulden so lacke bi þat þe heeris of her heedis schulden be schorne, & schulde not growe in lengþe doun as wommanys heer schulde growe....
“Also here-wiþal into þe open si?t of ymagis in open chirchis, alle peple, men & wommen & children mowe come whanne euere þei wolen in ech tyme of þe day, but so mowe þei not come in-to þe vce of bokis to be delyuered to hem neiþer to be red bifore hem; & þerfore, as for to soone & ofte come into remembraunce of a long mater bi ech oon persoon, and also as forto make þat þe mo persoones come into remembraunce of a mater, ymagis & picturis serven in a specialer maner þan bokis doon, þou? in an oþer maner ful substanciali bokis seruen better into remembrauncing of þo same materis þan ymagis & picturis doon; & þerfore, þou? writing is seruen weel into remembrauncing upon þe bifore seid þingis, ?it not at þe ful: Forwhi þe bokis han not þe avail of remembrauncing now seid whiche ymagis han.”24
The change of the language during the second period of Transition, as well as the extent of dialectal differences, is quaintly expressed a generation later by Caxton, who in the prologue to one of the last of his works, his translation of Virgil’s Eneydos (1490), speaks of the difficulty he had in pleasing all readers:—
“I doubted that it sholde not please some gentylmen, whiche late blamed me, sayeng, yt in my translacyons I had ouer curyous termes, whiche coud not be vnderstande of comyn peple, and desired me to vse olde and homely termes in my translacyons. And fayn wolde I satysfy euery man; and so to doo, toke an olde boke and redde therein; and certaynly the englysshe was so rude and brood that I coude not wele vnderstande it. And also my lorde abbot of Westmynster ded do shewe to me late certayn euydences wryton in olde englysshe for to reduce it in to our englysshe now vsid. And certaynly it was wreton in suche wyse that it was more lyke to dutche than englysshe; I coude not reduce ne brynge it to be vnderstonden. And certaynly, our langage now vsed varyeth ferre from that whiche was vsed and spoken whan I was borne. For we englysshemen ben borne vnder the domynacyon of the mone, whiche is neuer stedfaste, but euer wauerynge, wexynge one season, and waneth and dycreaseth another season. And that comyn englysshe that is spoken in one shyre varyeth from a nother. In so much that in my days happened that certayn marchauntes were in a shipe in tamyse, for to haue sayled ouer the sea into zelande, and for lacke of wynde thei taryed atte forlond, and wente to lande for to refreshe them. And one of theym named sheffelde, a mercer, cam in to an hows and axed for mete, and specyally he axyd after eggys, And the goode wyf answerde, that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry, [Anchor] 595for he also coulde speke no frenshe, but wolde haue hadde egges; and she vnderstode hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren; then the good wyf sayd that she vnderstod hym wel. Loo! what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte, egges or eyren? certaynly, it is harde to playse euery man, by cause of dyuersite & chaunge of langage. For in these dayes, euery man that is in ony reputacyon in his countre wyll vtter his comynycacyon and maters in suche maners & termes that fewe men shall vnderstonde theym. And som honest and grete clerkes haue ben wyth me, and desired me to wryte the moste curyous termes that I coude fynde. And thus bytwene playn, rude and curyous, I stande abasshed; but in my Iudgemente, the comyn termes that be dayli vsed ben lyghter to be vnderstonde than the olde and auncyent englysshe.”
In the productions of Caxton’s press we see the passage from Middle to Early Modern English completed. The earlier of these have still an occasional verbal plural in -n, especially in the word they ben; the southern her and hem of Middle English vary with the northern and Modern English their, them. In the late works, the older forms have been practically ousted, and the year 1485, which witnessed the establishment of the Tudor dynasty, may be conveniently put as that which closed the Middle English transition, and introduced Modern English. Both in the completion of this result, and in its comparative permanence, the printing press had an important share. By its exclusive patronage of the midland speech, it raised it still higher above the sister dialects, and secured its abiding victory. As books were multiplied and found their way into every corner of the land, and the art of reading became a more common acquirement, the man of Northumberland or of Somersetshire had forced upon his attention the book-English in which alone these were printed. This became in turn the model for his own writings, and by-and-by, if he made any pretensions to education, of his own speech. The written form of the language also tended to uniformity. In previous periods the scribe made his own spelling with a primary aim at expressing his own speech, according to the particular values attached by himself or his contemporaries to the letters and combinations of the alphabet, though liable to disturbance in the most common words and combinations by his ocular recollections of the spelling of others. But after the introduction of printing, this ocular recognition of words became ever more and more an aim; the book addressed the mind directly through the eye, instead of circuitously through eye and ear; and thus there was a continuous tendency for written words and parts of words to be reduced to a single form, and that the most usual, or through some accident the best known, but not necessarily that which would have been chosen had the ear been called in as umpire. Modern English spelling, with its rigid uniformity as to individual results and whimsical caprice as to principles, is the creation of the printing-office, the victory which, after a century and a half of struggle, mechanical convenience won over natural habits. Besides eventually creating a uniformity in writing, the introduction of printing made or at least ratified some important changes. The British and Old English form of the Roman alphabet has already been referred to. This at the Norman Conquest was superseded by an alphabet with the French forms and values of the letters. Thus k took the place of the older c before e and i; qu replaced cw; the Norman w took the place of the wén(Þ), &c.; and hence it has often been said that Middle English stands nearer to Old English in pronunciation, but to Modern English in spelling. But there were certain sounds in English for which Norman writing had no provision; and for these, in writing English, the native characters were retained. Thus the Old English g ( ), beside the sound in go, had a guttural sound as in German tag, Irish magh, and in certain positions a palatalized form of this approaching y as in you (if pronounced with aspiration hyou or ghyou). These sounds continued to be written with the native form of the letter as bur?, ?our, while the French form was used for the sounds in go, age,—one original letter being thus represented by two. So for the sounds of th, especially the sound in that, the Old English thorn (þ) continued to be used. But as these characters were not used for French and Latin, their use even in English became disturbed towards the 15th century, and when printing was introduced, the founts, cast for continental languages, had no characters for them, so that they were dropped entirely, being replaced, ? by gh, yh, y, and þ by th. This was a real loss to the English alphabet. In the north it is curious that the printers tried to express the forms rather than the powers of these letters, and consequently ? was represented by z, the black letter form of which was confounded with it, while the þ was expressed by y, which its MS. form had come to approach or in some cases simulate. So in early Scotch books we find zellow, ze, yat, yem = yellow, ye, that, them; and in Modern Scottish, such names as Menzies, Dalziel, Cockenzie, and the word gaberlunzie, in which the z stands for y.
Modern English thus dates from Caxton. The language had at length reached the all but flectionless state which it now presents. A single older verbal form, the southern -eth of the third person singular, continued to be the literary prose form throughout the 16th century, but the northern form in -s was intermixed with it in poetry (where it saved a syllable), and must ere long, as we see from Shakespeare, have taken its place in familiar speech. The fuller an, none, mine, thine, in the early part of the 16th century at least, were used in positions where their shortened forms a, no, my,thy are now found (none other, mine own = no other, my own). But with such minute exceptions, the accidence of the 16th century was the accidence of the 19th. While, however, the older inflections had disappeared, there was as yet no general agreement as to the mode of their replacement. Hence the 16th century shows a syntactic licence and freedom which distinguishes it strikingly from that of later times. The language seems to be in a plastic, unformed state, and its writers, as it were, experiment with it, bending it to constructions which now seem indefensible. Old distinctions of case and mood have disappeared from noun and verb, without custom having yet decided what prepositions or auxiliary verbs shall most fittingly convey their meaning. The laxity of word-order which was permitted in older states of the language by the formal expression of relations was often continued though the inflections which expressed the relations had disappeared. Partial analogy was followed in allowing forms to be identified in one case, because, in another, such identification was accidentally produced, as for instance the past participles of write and take were often madewrote and took, because the contracted participles of bind and break were bound and broke. Finally, because, in dropping inflections, the former distinctions even between parts of speech had disappeared, so that iron, e.g., was at once noun, adjective and verb, clean, adjective, verb and adverb, it appeared as if any word whatever might be used in any grammatical relation, where it conveyed the idea of the speaker. Thus, as has been pointed out by Dr Abbott, “you can happy your friend, malice or foot your enemy, or fall an axe on his neck. You can speak and act easy, free, excellent, you can talk of fair instead of beauty (fairness), and a pale instead of a paleness. A he is used for a man, and a lady is described by a gentleman as ‘the fairest she he has yet beheld.’ An adverb can be used as a verb, as ’they askance their eyes’; as a noun, ‘the backward and abyss of time’; or as an adjective, a ‘seldom pleasure.’”25 For, as he also says, “clearness was preferred to grammatical correctness, and brevity both to correctness and clearness. Hence it was common to place words in the order in which they came uppermost in the mind without much regard to syntax, and the result was a forcible and perfectly unambiguous but ungrammatical sentence, such as
The prince that feeds great natures they will slay him.
or, as instances of brevity,
Be guilty of my death since of my crime.
It cost more to get than to lose in a day.
These characteristics, together with the presence of words now obsolete or archaic, and the use of existing words in senses [Anchor] 596different from our own, as general for specific, literal for metaphorical, and vice versa, which are so apparent to every reader of the 16th-century literature, make it useful to separate Early Modern or Tudor English from the subsequent and still existing stage, since the consensus of usage has declared in favour of individual senses and constructions which are alone admissible in ordinary language.
The beginning of the Tudor period was contemporaneous with the Renaissance in art and literature, and the dawn of modern discoveries in geography and science. The revival of the study of the classical writers of Greece and Rome, and the translation of their works into the vernacular, led to the introduction of an immense number of new words derived from these languages, either to express new ideas and objects or to indicate new distinctions in or grouping of old ideas. Often also it seemed as if scholars were so pervaded with the form as well as the spirit of the old, that it came more natural to them to express themselves in words borrowed from the old than in their native tongue, and thus words of Latin origin were introduced even when English already possessed perfectly good equivalents. As has already been stated, the French words of Norman and Angevin introduction, being principally Latin words in an altered form, when used as English supplied models whereby other Latin words could be converted into English ones, and it is after these models that the Latin words introduced during and since the 16th century have been fashioned. There is nothing in the form of the words procession and progression to show that the one was used in England in the 11th, the other not till the 16th century. Moreover, as the formation of new words from Latin had gone on in French as well as in English since the Renaissance, we often cannot tell whether such words, e.g. as persuade and persuasion, were borrowed from their French equivalents or formed from Latin in England independently. With some words indeed it is impossible to say whether they were formed in England directly from Latin, borrowed from contemporary late French, or had been in England since the Norman period, even photograph, geology and telephone have the form that they would have had if they had been living words in the mouths of Greeks, Latins, French and English from the beginning, instead of formations of the 19th century.26 While every writer was thus introducing new words according to his notion of their being needed, it naturally happened that a large number were not accepted by contemporaries or posterity; a long list might be formed of these mintages of the 16th and 17th centuries, which either never became current coin, or circulated only as it were for a moment. The revived study of Latin and Greek also led to modifications in the spelling of some words which had entered Middle English in the French form. So Middle English doute, dette, were changed to doubt, debt, to show a more immediate connexion with Latin dubitum, debitum; the actual derivation from the French being ignored. Similarly, words containing a Latin and French t, which might be traced back to an original Greek θ, were remodelled upon the Greek, e.g. theme, throne, for Middle English teme, trone, and, by false association with Greek, anthem, Old English antefne, Latin antiphona; Anthony, Latin Antonius; Thames, Latin Tamesis, apparently after Thomas.
The voyages of English navigators in the latter part of the 16th century introduced a considerable number of Spanish words, and American words in Spanish forms, of which negro, potato, tobacco, cargo, armadillo, alligator, galleon may serve as examples.
The date of 1611, which nearly coincides with the end of Shakespeare’s literary work, and marks the appearance of the Authorized Version of the Bible (a compilation from the various 16th-century versions), may be taken as marking the close of Tudor English. The language was thenceforth Modern in structure, style and expression, although the spelling did not settle down to present usage till about the revolution of 1688. The latter date also marks the disappearance from literature of a large number of words, chiefly of such as were derived from Latin during the 16th and 17th centuries. Of these nearly all that survived 1688 are still in use; but a long list might be made out of those that appear for the last time before that date. This sifting of the literary vocabulary and gradual fixing of the literary spelling, which went on between 1611, when the language became modern in structure, and 1689, when it became modern also in form, suggests for this period the name of Seventeenth-Century Transition. The distinctive features of Modern English have already been anticipated by way of contrast with preceding stages of the language. It is only necessary to refer to the fact that the vocabulary is now much more composite than at any previous period. The immense development of the physical sciences has called for a corresponding extension of terminology which has been supplied from Latin and especially Greek; and although these terms are in the first instance technical, yet, with the spread of education and general diffusion of the rudiments and appliances of science, the boundary line betweentechnical and general, indefinite at the best, tends more and more to melt away—this in addition to the fact that words still technical become general in figurative or metonymic senses. Ache, diamond, stomach, comet, organ, tone, ball, carte, are none the less familiar because once technical words. Commercial, social, artistic or literary contact has also led to the adoption of numerous words from modern European languages, especially French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch (these two at a less recent period): thus from French soirée, séance, dépôt, débris, programme, prestige; from Italian bust,canto, folio, cartoon, concert, regatta, ruffian; from Portuguese caste, palaver; from Dutch yacht, skipper, schooner, sloop. Commercial intercourse and colonization have extended far beyond Europe, and given us words more or fewer from Hindostani, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Malay, Chinese, and from American, Australian, Polynesian and African languages.27 More important even than these, perhaps, are the dialect words that from time to time obtain literary recognition, restoring to us obsolete Old English forms, and not seldom words of Celtic or Danish origin, which have been preserved in local dialects, and thus at length find their way into the standard language.
As to the actual proportion of the various elements of the language, it is probable that original English words do not now form more than a fourth or perhaps a fifth of the total entries in a full English dictionary; and it may seem strange, therefore, that we still identify the language with that of the 9th century, and class it as a member of the Low German division. But this explains itself, when we consider that of the total words in a dictionary only a small portion are used by any one individual in speaking or even in writing; that this portion includes the great majority of the Anglo-Saxon words, and but a minority of the others. The latter are in fact almost all names—the vast majority names of things (nouns), a smaller number names of attributes and actions (adjectives and verbs), and, from their very nature, names of the things, attributes and actions which come less usually or, it may be, very rarely under our notice. Thus in an ordinary book, a novel or story, the foreign elements will amount to from 10 to 15% of the whole; as the subject becomes more recondite or technical their number will increase; till in a work on chemistry or abstruse mathematics the proportion may be 40%. But after all, it is not the question whence words may have been taken, but how they are used in a language that settles its character. If new words when adopted conform themselves to the manner and usage of the adopting language, it makes absolutely no difference whether they are taken over from some other language, or invented off at the ground. In either case they are new words to begin with; in either case also, if they are needed, they will become as thoroughly native, i.e. familiar from childhood to those who use them, as those that possess the longest native pedigree. In this respect English is still the same language it was in the days of Alfred; and, comparing its history with that of other Low German tongues, there is no reason to believe that [Anchor] 597its grammar or structure would have been very different, however different its vocabulary might have been, if the Norman Conquest had never taken place.
A general broad view of the sources of the English vocabulary and of the dates at which the various foreign elements flowed into the language, as well as of the great change produced in it by the Norman Conquest, and consequent influx of French and Latin elements, is given in the accompanying chart. The transverse lines represent centuries, and it will be seen how limited a period after all is occupied by modern English, how long the language had been in the country before the Norman Conquest, and how much of this is prehistoric and without any literary remains. Judging by what has happened during the historic period, great changes may and indeed must have taken place between the first arrival of the Saxons and the days of King Alfred, when literature practically begins. The chart also illustrates the continuity of the main stock of the vocabulary, the body of primary “words of common life,” which, notwithstanding numerous losses and more numerous additions, has preserved its corporate identity through all the periods. But the “poetic and rhetorical,” as well as the “scientific” terms of Old English have died out, and a new vocabulary of “abstract and general terms” has arisen from French, Latin and Greek, while a still newer “technical, commercial and scientific” vocabulary is composed of words not only from these, but from every civilized and many uncivilized languages.
The preceding sketch has had reference mainly to the grammatical changes which the language has undergone; distinct from, though intimately connected with these (as where the confusion or loss of inflections was a consequence of the weakening of final sounds) are the great phonetic changes which have taken place between the 8th and 19th centuries, and which result in making modern English words very different from their Anglo-Saxon originals, even where no element has been lost, as in words like stone, mine, doom, day, nail, child, bridge, shoot, Anglo-Saxon stán,mín, dóm, dæg, nægel, cild, brycg, scéot. The history of English sounds (see Phonetics) has been treated at length by Dr A.J. Ellis and Dr Henry Sweet; and it is only necessary here to indicate the broad facts, which are the following, (1) In an accented closed syllable, original short vowels have remained nearly unchanged; thus the words at, men, bill, God, dust are pronounced now nearly as in Old English, though the last two were more like the Scotch o and North English u respectively, and in most words the short a had a broader sound like the provincial a in man. (2) Long accented vowels and diphthongs have undergone a regular sound shift towards closer and more advanced positions, so that the words bán, hær, soece or séce,stól (bahn or bawn, hêr, sök or saik, stole) are now bone, hair, seek, stool; while the two high vowels ú (= oo) and i (ee) have become diphthongs, ashús, scír, now house, shire, though the old sound of u remains in the north (hoose), and the original i in the pronunciation sheer, approved by Walker, “as in machine, and shire, and magazine.” (3) Short vowels in an open syllable have usually been lengthened, as in na-ma, co-fa, now name, cove; but to this there are exceptions, especially in the case of i and u. (4) Vowels in terminal unaccented syllables have all sunk into short obscure e, and then, if final, disappeared; so oxa, séo, wudu became ox-e, se-e, wud-e, and then ox, see, wood; oxan, lufod, now oxen, loved, lov’d; settan, setton, later setten, sette, sett, now set. (5) The back consonants, c, g, sc, in connexion with front vowels, have often become palatalized to ch, j, sh, as circe,rycg, fisc, now church, ridge, fish. A medial or final g has passed through a guttural or palatal continuant to w or y, forming a diphthong or new vowel, as in boga, laga, dæg, heg, drig, now bow, law, day, hay, dry. W and h have disappeared before r and l, as in write, (w)lisp, (h)ring; h final (=gh) has become f, k, w or nothing, but has developed the glides u or i before itself, these combining with the preceding vowel to form a diphthong, or merging with it into a simple vowel-sound, as ruh, hoh, boh, deah, heah, hleah, now rough, hough, bough, dough, high, laugh=ruf, hok, bow, do, hi,lâf. R after a vowel has practically disappeared in standard English, or at most become vocalized, or combined with the vowel, as in hear, bar, more,her. These and other changes have taken place gradually, and in accordance with well-known phonetic laws; the details as to time and mode may be studied in special works. It may be mentioned that the total loss of grammatical gender in English, and the almost complete disappearance of cases, are purely phonetic phenomena. Gender (whatever its remote origin) was practically the use of adjectives and pronouns with certain distinctive terminations, in accordance with the genus, genre, gender or kind of nouns to which they were attached; when these distinctive terminations were uniformly levelled to final e, or other weak sounds, and thus ceased to distinguish nouns into kinds, the distinctions into genders or kinds having no other existence disappeared. Thus when þæt godé hors, þone godan hund, þa godan bóc, became, by phonetic weakening, þe gode hors, þe gode hownd, þe gode boke, and later still the good horse, the good hound, the good book, the words horse, hound, book were no longer grammatically different kinds of nouns; grammatical gender had ceased to exist. The concord of adjectives has entirely disappeared; the concord of the pronouns is now regulated by rationality and sex, instead of grammatical gender, which has no existence in English. The man who lost his life; the bird whichbuilt its nest.
Our remarks from the end of the 14th century have been confined to the standard or literary form of English, for of the other dialects from that date (with the exception of the northern [Anchor] 598English in Scotland, where it became in a social and literary sense a distinct language), we have little history. We know, however, that they continued to exist as local and popular forms of speech, as well from occasional specimens and from the fact that they exist still as from the statements of writers during the interval. Thus Puttenham in his Arte of English Poesie (1589) says:—
“Our maker [i.e. poet] therfore at these dayes shall not follow Piers Plowman, nor Gower, nor Lydgate, not yet Chaucer, for their language is now not of use with us: neither shall he take the termes of Northern-men, such as they use in dayly talke, whether they be noble men or gentle men or of their best clarkes, all is a [= one] matter; nor in effect any speach used beyond the river of Trent, though no man can deny but that theirs is the purer English Saxon at this day, yet it is not so Courtly nor so currant as our Southerne English is, no more is the far Westerne mans speach: ye shall therefore take the usual speach of the Court, and that of London and the shires lying about London within lx myles, and not much above. I say not this but that in every shyre of England there be gentlemen and others that speake but specially write as good Southerne as we of Middlesex or Surrey do, but not the common people of every shire, to whom the gentlemen, and also their learned clarkes do for the most part condescend, but herein we are already ruled by th’ English Dictionaries and other bookes written by learned men.”—Arber’s Reprint, p. 157.
In comparatively modern times there has been a revival of interest in these forms of English, several of which following in the wake of the revival of Lowland Scots in the 18th and 19th centuries, have produced a considerable literature in the form of local poems, tales and “folk-lore.” In these respects Cumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, the “far north” and “far west” of Puttenham, where the dialect was felt to be so independent of literary English as not to be branded as a mere vulgar corruption of it, stand prominent. More recently the dialects have been investigated philologically, a department in which, as in other departments of English philology, the elder Richard Garnett must be named as a pioneer. The work was carried out zealously by Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte and Dr A.J. Ellis, and more recently by the English Dialect Society, founded by the Rev. Professor Skeat, for the investigation of this branch of philology. The efforts of this society resulted in the compilation and publication of glossaries or word-books, more or less complete and trustworthy, of most of the local dialects, and in the production of grammars dealing with the phonology and grammatical features of a few of these, among which that of the Windhill dialect in Yorkshire, by Professor Joseph Wright, and that of West Somerset, by the late F.T. Elworthy, deserve special mention. From the whole of the glossaries of the Dialect Society, and from all the earlier dialect works of the 18th and 19th centuries, amplified and illustrated by the contributions of local collaborators in nearly every part of the British Isles, Professor Joseph Wright has constructed his English Dialect Dictionary, recording the local words and senses, with indication of their geographical range, their pronunciation, and in most cases with illustrative quotations or phrases. To this he has added an English Dialect Grammar, dealing very fully with the phonology of the dialects, showing the various sounds which now represent each Old English sound, and endeavouring to define the area over which each modern form extends; the accidence is treated more summarily, without going minutely into that of each dialect-group, for which special dialect grammars must be consulted. The work has also a very full and valuable index of every word and form treated.
The researches of Prince L.L. Bonaparte and Dr Ellis were directed specially to the classification and mapping of the existing dialects,28 and the relation of these to the dialects of Old and Middle English. They recognized a Northern dialect lying north of a line drawn from Morecambe Bay to the Humber, which, with the kindred Scottish dialects (already investigated and classed),29 is the direct descendant of early northern English, and aSouth-western dialect occupying Somerset, Wilts, Dorset, Gloucester and western Hampshire, which, with the Devonian dialect beyond it, are the descendants of early southern English and the still older West-Saxon of Alfred. This dialect must in the 14th Century have been spoken everywhere south of Thames; but the influence of London caused its extinction in Surrey, Sussex and Kent, so that already in Puttenham it had become “far western.” An East Midland dialect, extending from south Lincolnshire to London, occupies the cradle-land of the standard English speech, and still shows least variation from it. Between and around these typical dialects are ten others, representing the old Midland proper, or dialects between it and the others already mentioned. Thus “north of Trent” the North-western dialect of south Lancashire, Cheshire, Derby and Stafford, with that of Shropshire, represents the early West Midland English, of which several specimens remain; while the North-eastern of Nottingham and north Lincolnshire represents the dialect of the Lay of Havelok. With the North Midland dialect of south-west Yorkshire, these represent forms of speech which to the modern Londoner, as to Puttenham, are still decidedly northern, though actually intermediate between northern proper and midland, and preserving interesting traces of the midland pronouns and verbal inflections. There is an Eastern dialect in the East Anglian counties; a Midland in Leicester and Warwick shires; a Western in Hereford, Worcester and north Gloucestershire, intermediate between south-western and north-western, and representing the dialect of Piers Plowman. Finally, between the east midland and south-western, in the counties of Buckingham, Oxford, Berks, Hants, Surrey and Sussex, there is a dialect which must have once been south-western, but of which the most salient characters have been rubbed off by proximity to London and the East Midland speech. In east Sussex and Kent this South-eastern dialect attains to a more distinctive character. TheKentish form of early Southern English evidently maintained its existence more toughly than that of the counties immediately south of London. It was very distinct in the days of Sir Thomas More; and even, as we see from the dialect attributed to Edgar in Lear, was still strongly marked in the days of Shakespeare. In the south-eastern corner of Ireland, in the baronies of Forth and Bargy, in county Wexford, a very archaic form of English, of which specimens have been preserved,30 was still spoken in the 18th century. In all probability it dated from the first English invasion. In many parts of Ulster forms of Lowland Scotch dating to the settlement under James I. are still spoken; but the English of Ireland generally seems to represent 16th and 17th century English, as in the pronunciation of tea, wheat (tay, whait), largely affected, of course, by the native Celtic. The subsequent work of the English Dialect Society, and the facts set forth in the English Dialect Dictionary, confirm in a general way the classification of Bonaparte and Ellis; but they bring out strongly the fact that only in a few cases can the boundary between dialects now be determined by precise lines. For every dialect there is a central region, larger or smaller, in which its characteristics are at a maximum; but towards the edges of the area these become mixed and blended with the features of the contiguous dialects, so that it is often impossible to define the point at which the one dialect ends and the other begins. The fact is that the various features of a dialect, whether its distinctive words, characteristic pronunciations or special grammatical features, though they may have the same centre, have not all the same circumference. Some of them extend to a certain distance round the centre; others to a much greater distance. The only approximately accurate way to map the area of any dialect, whether in England, France, Germany or elsewhere, is to take a well-chosen set of its characteristic features—words, senses, sounds or grammatical peculiarities, and draw a line round the area over which each of these extends; between the innermost and outermost of these there will often be a large border district. If the same process be followed with the contiguous dialects, it will be found that some of the lines of each intersect some of the lines of the other, and that the passing of one dialect into another is not effected by the formation of intermediate or blended forms of any one characteristic, but by the overlapping or intersecting of more or fewer of the features of each. Thus a definite border village or district may use 10 of the 20 features of dialect A and 10 of those of B, while a village on the one side has 12 of those of A with 8 of those of B, and one on the other side has 7 of those of A with 13 of those of B. Hence a dialect boundary line can at best indicate the line within which the dialect has, on the whole, more of the features of A than of B or C; and usually no single line can be drawn as a dialect boundary, but that without it there are some features of the same dialect, and within it some features of the contiguous dialects.
CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE OF THE PERIODS AND DIALECTS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
The vertical lines represent the four leading forms of English—Northern, Midland, Southern, and Kentish—and the names occurring down the course of each are those of writers and works in that form of English at the given date. The thickness of the line shows the comparative literary position of this form of speech at the time: thick indicating a literary language; medium, a literary dialect; thin, a popular dialect or patois; a dottedline shows that this period is unrepresented by specimens. The horizontal lines divide the periods; these (after the first two) refer mainly to the Midland English; in inflectional decay the Northern English was at least a century in advance of the Midland, and the Southern nearly as much behind it.
Beyond the limits of the British Isles, English is the language of extensive regions, now or formerly colonies. In all these countries the presence of numerous new objects and new conditions of life has led to the supplementing of the vocabulary by the adoption of words from native languages, and special adaptation and extension of the sense of English words. The use of a common literature, however, prevents the overgrowth of these local peculiarities, and also makes them more or less familiar to Englishmen at home. It is only in the older states of the American Union that anything like a local dialect has been produced; and even there many of the so-called Americanisms are quite as much archaic English forms which have been lost or have become dialectal in England as developments of the American soil.
The steps by which English, from being the language of a few thousand invaders along the eastern and southern seaboard of Britain, has been diffused by conquest and colonization over its present area form a subject too large for the limits of this article. It need only be remarked that within the confines of Britain itself the process is not yet complete. Representatives of earlier languages survive in Wales and the Scottish Highlands, though in neither case can the substitution of English be very remote. In Ireland, where English was introduced by conquest much later, Irish is still spoken in patches all over the country; though English is understood, and probably spoken after a fashion, almost everywhere. At opposite extremities of Britain, the Cornish of Cornwall and the Norse dialects of Orkney and Shetland died out very gradually in the course of the 18th century. The Manx, or Celtic of Man, is even now in the last stage of dissolution; and in the Channel Isles the Norman patois of Jersey and Guernsey have largely yielded to English.
The table on p. 599 (a revision of that brought before the Philological Society in Jan. 1876) graphically presents the chronological and dialectal development of English. Various names have been proposed for the different stages; it seems only necessary to add to those in the table the descriptive names of Dr Abbott, who has proposed (How to Parse, p. 298) to call the Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, the “Synthetical or Inflexional Period”; the Old English Transition (Late Anglo-Saxon of Dr Skeat), the “Period of Confusion”; the Early Middle English, “Analytical Period” (1250-1350); the normal Middle English, “National Period” (1350-1500); the Tudor English, “Period of Licence”; and the Modern English, “Period of Settlement.”
Bibliography.—As the study of English has made immense advances within the last generation, it is only in works recently published that the student will find the subject satisfactorily handled. Among the earlier works treating of the whole subject or parts of it may be mentioned—A History of English Rhythms, by Edwin Guest (London, 1838); the Philological Essays of Richard Garnett (1835-1848), edited by his son (London, 1859); The English Language, by R.G. Latham (5th ed., London, 1862); Origin and History of the English Language, by G.P. Marsh (revised 1885); Lectures on the English Language, by the same (New York and London, 1863); Historische Grammatik der englischen Sprache, by C.F. Koch (Weimar, 1863, &c.); Englische Grammatik, by Eduard Mätzner (Berlin, 1860-1865), (an English translation by C.J. Grece, LL.B., London, 1874); The Philology of the English Tongue, by John Earle, M.A. (Oxford, 1866, 5th ed. 1892); Comparative Grammar of the Anglo-Saxon Language, by F.A. March (New York, 1870); Historical Outlines of English Accidence, by the Rev. R. Morris, LL.D. (London, 1873), (new ed. by Kellner); Elementary Lessons in Historical English Grammar, by the same (London, 1874); The Sources of Standard English, by T.L. Kington Oliphant, M.A. (London, 1873); Modern English, by F. Hall (London, 1873); A Shakespearian Grammar, by E.A. Abbott, D.D. (London, 1872);How to Parse, by the same (London, 1875); Early English Pronunciation, &c., by A.J. Ellis (London, 1869); The History of English Sounds, by Henry Sweet (London, 1874, 2nd ed. 1888); as well as many separate papers by various authors in the Transactions of the Philological Society, and the publications of the Early English Text Society.
Among more recent works are: M. Kaluza, Historische Grammatik der englischen Sprache (Berlin, 1890); Professor W.W. Skeat, Principles of English Etymology (Oxford, 1887-1891); Johan Storm, Englische Philologie (Leipzig, 1892-1896); L. Kellner, Historical Outlines of English Syntax (London, 1892); O.F. Emerson, History of the English Language (London and New York, 1894); Otto Jespersen, Progress in Language, with special reference to English (London, 1894); Lorenz Morsbach, Mittelenglische Grammatik, part i. (Halle, 1896); Paul, “Geschichte der englischen Sprache,” in Grundriss der german. Philologie (Strassburg, 1898); Eduard Sievers, Angelsächsische Grammatik (3rd ed., Halle, 1898); Eng. transl. of same (2nd ed.), by A.S. Cook (Boston, 1887); K.D. Bülbring, Altenglisches Elementarbuch (Heidelberg, 1902); Greenough and Kittredge, Words and their Ways in English Speech (London and New York, 1902); Henry Bradley, The Making of English (London, 1904). Numerous contributions to the subject have also been made in Englische Studien (ed. Kölbing, later Hoops; Leipzig, 1877 onward); Anglia (ed. Wülker, Flügel, &c.; Halle, 1878 onward); publications of Mod. Lang. Assoc. of America (J.W. Bright; Baltimore, 1884 onward), and A.M. Elliott,Modern Language Notes (Baltimore, 1886 onward).
(J. A. H. M.; H. M. R. M.)
1A careful examination of several letters of Bosworth’s Anglo-Saxon dictionary gives in 2000 words (including derivatives and compounds, but excluding orthographic variants) 535 which still exist as modern English words.
2The practical convenience of having one name for what was the same thing in various stages of development is not affected by the probability that (E.A. Freeman notwithstanding) Engle and Englisc were, at an early period, not applied to the whole of the inhabitants of Teutonic Britain, but only to a part of them. The dialects of Engle and Seaxan were alike old forms of what was afterwards English speech, and so, viewed in relation to it, Old English, whatever their contemporary names might be.
3The works of Gildas in the original Latin were edited by Mr Stevenson for the English Historical Society. There is an English translation in Six Old English Chronicles in Bohn’s Antiquarian library.
4As to the continued existence of Latin in Britain, see further in Rhys’s Lectures on Welsh Philology, pp. 226-227; also Dogatschar, Lautlehre d. gr., lat. u. roman. Lehnworte im Altengl. (Strassburg, 1888).
5Æthelstan in 934 calls himself in a charter “Ongol-Saxna cyning and Brytaenwalda eallaes thyses iglandes”; Eadred in 955 is “Angul-seaxna cyning and cásere totius Britanniae,” and the name is of frequent occurrence in documents written in Latin. These facts ought to be remembered in the interest of the scholars of the 17th century, who have been blamed for the use of the term Anglo-Saxon, as if they had invented it. By “Anglo-Saxon” language they meant the language of the people who sometimes at least called themselves “Anglo-Saxons.” Even now the name is practically useful, when we are dealing with the subject per se, as is Old English, on the other hand, when we are treating it historically or in connexion with English as a whole.
6Transactions of the Philological Society (1873-1874), p. 620; new and much enlarged edition, 1888.
7See on this Rhys, Lectures on Welsh Philology, v.
8During the Old English period both c and appear to have acquired a palatal value in conjunction with front or palatal vowel-sounds, except in the north where c, and in some cases , tended to remain guttural in such positions. This value was never distinguished in Old English writing, but may be deduced from certain phonetic changes depending upon it, and from the use of c, cc, as an alternative for tj (as in ort eard, orceard = orchard, fetian, feccean = fetch), as well as from the normal occurrence of ch and y in these positions in later stages of the language, e.g. cild = child, taècean = teach, iellan = yell,dae = day, &c.
9For a discriminating view of the effects of the Norman Conquest on the English Language, see Freeman, Norman Conquest, ch. xxv.
10There is no reason to suppose that any attempt was made to proscribe or suppress the native tongue, which was indeed used in some official documents addressed to Englishmen by the Conqueror himself. Its social degradation seemed even on the point of coming to an end, when it was confirmed and prolonged for two centuries more by the accession of the Angevin dynasty, under whom everything French received a fresh impetus.
11MS. Cotton Vesp. A. 22.
12Gospels in Anglo-Saxon, &c., ed. for Cambridge Press, by W.W. Skeat (1871-1887), second text.
13Old English Homilies of Twelfth Century, first and second series, ed. R. Morris (E.E.T.S.), (1868-1873).
14The article þe becomes te after a preceding t or d by assimilation.
15Earle, Two of the Saxon Chronicles parallel (1865), p. 265.
16Skeat, Anglo-Saxon and Northumbrian Gospels (1874).
17Edited for the Surtees Society, by Rev. J. Stevenson.
18Edited for the Early English Text Society, by Rev. Dr Morris.
19The Vision of William concerning Piers the Ploughman exists in three different recensions, all of which have been edited for the Early English Text Society by Rev. W.W. Skeat.
20Edited by Rev. Dr Morris for Early English Text Society, in 1866.
21Here, and in tatt, tu, taer, for þatt, þu, þaet, after t, d, there is the same phonetic assimilation as in the last section of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle above.
22Edited for the Early English Text Society by Dr Morris (1865).
23Trevisa, Translation of Higden’s Polychronicon.
24Skeat, Specimens of English Literature, pp. 49, 54.
25A Shakspearian Grammar, by Dr E.A. Abbott. To this book we are largely indebted for its admirable summary of the characters of Tudor English.
26Evangelist, astronomy, dialogue, are words that have so lived, of which their form is the result. Photograph, geology, &c., take this form as if they had the same history.
27See extended lists of the foreign words in English in Dr Morris’s Historical Outlines of English Accidence, p. 33.
28See description and map in Trans. of Philol. Soc., 1875-1876, p. 570.
29The Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland, its Pronunciation, Grammar and Historical Relations, with an Appendix on the present limits of the Gaelic and Lowland Scotch, and the Dialectal Divisions of the Lowland Tongue; and a Linguistical Map of Scotland, by James A.H. Murray (London, 1873).
30A Glossary (with some pieces of Verse) of the Old Dialect of the English Colony of Forth and Bargy, collected by Jacob Poole, edited by W. Barnes, B.D. (London, 1867).