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Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the
English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech ( spoken language), g ...

English language
spoken after the
Norman conquest The Norman Conquest (or the Conquest) was the 11th-century invasion and occupation of England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and ...
(1066) until the late 15th century. The English language underwent distinct variations and developments following the
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventu ...
period. Scholarly opinion varies, but the ''Oxford English Dictionary'' specifies the period when Middle English was spoken as being from 1150 to 1500. This stage of the development of the English language roughly followed the
High High may refer to: People with the name * High (surname) Science, technology and economics * Height * High (atmospheric), a high-pressure area * High (computability), a quality of a Turing degree, in computability theory * High (technical analy ...
to the
Late Middle Ages The Late Middle Ages or Late Medieval Period was the period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media * Period (music), a concept in musical comp ...
. Middle English saw significant changes to its vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and
orthography An orthography is a set of for a , including norms of , ation, , , , and . Most transnational languages in the modern period have a system of , and for most such languages a standard orthography has been developed, often based on a of the la ...
. Writing conventions during the Middle English period varied widely. Examples of writing from this period that have survived show extensive regional variation. The more standardized Old English language became fragmented, localized, and was, for the most part, being improvised. By the end of the period (about 1470) and aided by the
invention of the printing press Movable Type is a blog software, weblog publishing system developed by the company Six Apart. It was publicly announced on September 3, 2001; version 1.0 was publicly released on October 8, 2001. The current version is 7.0. Movable Type is proprie ...
by
Johannes Gutenberg Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (; – 3 February 1468) was a German inventor An invention is a unique or novel A novel is a relatively long work of narrative fiction, typically written in prose and published as a book. ...

Johannes Gutenberg
in 1439, a standard based on the London dialects (Chancery Standard) had become established. This largely formed the basis for Modern English spelling, although pronunciation has changed considerably since that time. Middle English was succeeded in England by
Early Modern English Early Modern English or Early New English (sometimes abbreviated EModE, EMnE, or EME) is the stage of the English language English is a of the , originally spoken by the inhabitants of . It is named after the , one of the ancient th ...
, which lasted until about 1650. Scots developed concurrently from a variant of the
Northumbrian dialect The Northumbrian dialect refers to any of several English language varieties spoken in the historic English region of Northumbria, which includes most of present-day North East England. This may include such varieties as: *Northumbrian Old English, ...
(prevalent in northern England and spoken in southeast
Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba ) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Tele ...

Scotland
). During the Middle English period, many Old English grammatical features either became simplified or disappeared altogether. Noun, adjective and verb
inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical obj ...
s were simplified by the reduction (and eventual elimination) of most
grammatical case Grammatical case is a term regarding a manner of categorizing s, s, s, s, and s according to their traditionally corresponding s within a given , , or . In some languages, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, s, participles, prepositions, numerals, art ...
distinctions. Middle English also saw considerable adoption of
Norman Norman or Normans may refer to: Ethnic and cultural identity * The Normans The Normans (Norman language, Norman: ''Normaunds''; french: Normands; la, Nortmanni/Normanni) were inhabitants of the early medieval Duchy of Normandy, descended from ...
vocabulary, especially in the areas of politics, law, the arts, and religion, as well as poetic and emotive diction. Conventional English vocabulary remained primarily Germanic in its sources, with
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia Scandinavia; : ''Skades ...
influences becoming more apparent. Significant changes in pronunciation took place, particularly involving long vowels and diphthongs, which in the later Middle English period began to undergo the
Great Vowel Shift The Great Vowel Shift was a series of changes in the pronunciation of the English language that took place primarily between 1400 and 1700, beginning in southern England and today having influenced effectively all dialects of English. Through ...

Great Vowel Shift
. Little survives of early
Middle English literature The term Middle English literature refers to the literature Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, d ...
, due in part to Norman domination and the prestige that came with writing in French rather than English. During the 14th century, a new style of literature emerged with the works of writers including
John Wycliffe John Wycliffe (; also spelled Wyclif, Wickliffe, and other variants; 1320s – 31 December 1384) was an English scholastic philosopher Scholasticism was a medieval In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itse ...

John Wycliffe
and
Geoffrey Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer (; – 25 October 1400) was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the 5th ...

Geoffrey Chaucer
, whose ''
Canterbury Tales ''The Canterbury Tales'' ( enm, Tales of Caunterbury) is a collection of 24 stories that runs to over 17,000 lines written in Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language spoken after the Norman conque ...

Canterbury Tales
'' remains the most studied and read work of the period.


History


Transition from Old English

The transition from Late
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventu ...
to Early Middle English occurred at some time during the 12th century. The influence of
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia Scandinavia; : ''Skades ...
aided the development of English from a
synthetic language A synthetic language uses inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy ...
with relatively free word order, to a more analytic or isolating language with a more strict word order. Both Old English and Old Norse (as well as the descendants of the latter,
Faroese Faroese ( ) or Faroish ( ) may refer to anything pertaining to the Faroe Islands, e.g.: *the Faroese language * the Faroese people {{Disambiguation Language and nationality disambiguation pages ...
and
Icelandic Icelandic refers to anything of, from, or related to Iceland and may refer to: *Icelandic people *Icelandic language *Icelandic alphabet *Icelandic cuisine See also

* Icelander (disambiguation) * Icelandic Airlines, a predecessor of Icelandai ...
) were synthetic languages with complicated inflections. The eagerness of
Vikings Vikings—"pirate", non, víkingr is the modern name given to seafaring people primarily from Scandinavia Scandinavia; : ''Skadesi-suolu''/''Skađsuâl''. ( ) is a in , with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. In ...

Vikings
in the
Danelaw The Danelaw (, also known as the Danelagh; ang, Dena lagu; da, Danelagen) was the part of England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and ...
to communicate with their Anglo-Saxon neighbours resulted in the erosion of inflection in both languages. Old Norse may have had a more profound impact on Middle and Modern English development than any other language. Simeon Potter notes: "No less far-reaching was the influence of Scandinavian upon the inflexional endings of English in hastening that wearing away and leveling of grammatical forms which gradually spread from north to south.". Viking influence on
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventu ...
is most apparent in the more indispensable elements of the language. Pronouns, modals, comparatives, pronominal adverbs (like "hence" and "together"), conjunctions and prepositions show the most marked Danish influence. The best evidence of Scandinavian influence appears in extensive word borrowings, yet no texts exist in either Scandinavia or in Northern England from this period to give certain evidence of an influence on syntax. The change to Old English from Old Norse was substantive, pervasive, and of a democratic character. Like close cousins, Old Norse and Old English resembled each other, and with some words in common, they roughly understood each other; in time the inflections melted away and the analytic pattern emerged. It is most "important to recognise that in many words the English and Scandinavian language differed chiefly in their inflectional elements. The body of the word was so nearly the same in the two languages that only the endings would put obstacles in the way of mutual understanding. In the mixed population which existed in the Danelaw these endings must have led to much confusion, tending gradually to become obscured and finally lost." This blending of peoples and languages resulted in "simplifying English grammar." While the influence of Scandinavian languages was strongest in the dialects of the
Danelaw The Danelaw (, also known as the Danelagh; ang, Dena lagu; da, Danelagen) was the part of England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and ...
region and Scotland, words in the spoken language emerge in the 10th and 11th centuries near the transition from the Old to Middle English. Influence on the written language only appeared at the beginning of the 13th century, likely because of a scarcity of literary texts from an earlier date. The
Norman conquest of England The Norman Conquest (or the Conquest) was the 11th-century invasion and occupation of England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and ...
in 1066 saw the replacement of the top levels of the English-speaking political and ecclesiastical hierarchies by
Norman Norman or Normans may refer to: Ethnic and cultural identity * The Normans The Normans (Norman language, Norman: ''Normaunds''; french: Normands; la, Nortmanni/Normanni) were inhabitants of the early medieval Duchy of Normandy, descended from ...

Norman
rulers who spoke a dialect of
Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the Latin spok ...
known as
Old Norman Old Norman, also called Old Northern French or Old Norman French ( fro, Ancien Normant, nrf, Ancien Normaund), was one of many ''langues d'oïl The ''langues d'oïl'' (; ) are a dialect continuum A dialect continuum or dialect chain is a se ...
, which developed in England into
Anglo-NormanAnglo-Norman may refer to: *Anglo-Normans The Anglo-Normans ( nrf, Anglo-Normaunds, ang, Engel-Norðmandisca) were the medieval ruling class in England, composed mainly of a combination of ethnic Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Bretons, Flemish people, F ...
. The use of Norman as the preferred language of literature and polite discourse fundamentally altered the role of Old English in education and administration, even though many Normans of this period were illiterate and depended on the clergy for written communication and record-keeping. A significant number of words of
Norman Norman or Normans may refer to: Ethnic and cultural identity * The Normans The Normans (Norman language, Norman: ''Normaunds''; french: Normands; la, Nortmanni/Normanni) were inhabitants of the early medieval Duchy of Normandy, descended from ...
origin began to appear in the English language alongside native English words of similar meaning, giving rise to such Modern English synonyms as ''
pig The pig (''Sus domesticus''), often called swine, hog, or domestic pig when distinguishing from other members of the genus '' Sus'', is an omnivorous An omnivore () is an animal that has the ability to eat and survive on both plant and ani ...

pig
/
pork Pork is the culinary name for the meat of the Pig, domestic pig (''Sus scrofa domesticus''). It is the most commonly consumed meat worldwide, with evidence of pig animal husbandry, husbandry dating back to 5000 BC. Pork is eaten both freshly ...

pork
,
chicken The chicken (''Gallus gallus domesticus'') is a domesticated Domestication is a sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another g ...

chicken
/
poultry Poultry () are domesticated Domestication is a sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another group to secure a more predictable s ...

poultry
,
calf A calf (plural calves) is a young domestic or . Calves are reared to become adult cattle or are slaughtered for their meat, called , and . The term ''calf'' is also used for some other species. See "" below. Terminology "Calf" is the term ...
/
veal Veal is the meat of calves Calves is a hamlet in Póvoa de Varzim Póvoa de Varzim (, ) is a Portugal, Portuguese city in Norte Region, Portugal, Northern Portugal and sub-region of Greater Porto, 30 km from its city centre. It sits ...

veal
,
cow Cow Cattle, or cows (female) and bulls (male), are the most common type of large domesticated Domestication is a sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the ...

cow
/
beef Beef is the culinary nameCulinary names, menu names, or kitchen names are names of foods used in the preparation or selling of food, as opposed to their names in agriculture Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating pl ...

beef
,
sheep Sheep (''Ovis aries'') are quadruped The zebra is a quadruped. Quadrupedalism is a form of terrestrial locomotion where a tetrapod Tetrapods (; from Greek 'four' and 'foot') are four-limbed animals constituting the superclass Tetrapo ...

sheep
/
mutton Lamb, hogget, and mutton, generically sheep meat, are the meat of domestic sheep Sheep (''Ovis aries'') are quadrupedal, ruminant mammals typically kept as livestock. Like all ruminants, sheep are members of the order (biology), order Artio ...
, wood/
forest A forest is an area of land dominated by tree In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated Plant stem, stem, or trunk (botany), trunk, supporting branches and leaves in most species. In some usages, the definition of a ...

forest
, house/
mansion A mansion is a large dwelling house. The word itself derives through Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Emp ...

mansion
, worthy/valuable, bold/courageous, freedom/
liberty Broadly speaking, liberty is the ability to do as one pleases, or a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant (i.e. privilege). It is a synonym for the word freedom Freedom, generally, is having the ability to act or change without c ...

liberty
, sight/vision, eat/dine''. The role of Anglo-Norman as the language of government and law can be seen in the abundance of Modern English words for the mechanisms of government that are derived from Anglo-Norman: ''
court A court is any person or institution, often as a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''Sta ...

court
'', ''
judge A judge is a person who presides over court A court is any person or institution, often as a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In th ...

judge
'', ''
jury A jury is a sworn body of people (the jurors) convened to render an impartial Impartiality (also called evenhandedness or fair-mindedness) is a principle of justice holding that decisions should be based on objectivity (philosophy), objective ...

jury
'', ''
appeal In law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described ...
'', ''
parliament In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws and overseeing the ...

parliament
''. There are also many Norman-derived terms relating to the
chivalric Chivalry, or the chivalric code, is an informal and varying code of conduct developed between 1170 and 1220. It was associated with the medieval Christian institution of knight A knight is a person granted an honorary title A title is o ...
cultures that arose in the 12th century; an era of
feudalism Feudalism, also known as the feudal system, was the combination of the legal, economic, military, and cultural customs that flourished in Medieval Europe In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted from the 5t ...
, seigneurialism and crusading. Words were often taken from
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...

Latin
, usually through French transmission. This gave rise to various synonyms including ''kingly'' (inherited from Old English), ''royal'' (from French, which inherited it from Vulgar Latin), and ''regal'' (from French, which borrowed it from classical Latin). Later French appropriations were derived from standard, rather than Norman, French. Examples of resultant cognate pairs include the words ''warden'' (from Norman), and ''guardian'' (from later French; both share a common Germanic ancestor). The end of Anglo-Saxon rule did not result in immediate changes to the language. The general population would have spoken the same
dialects The term dialect (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of th ...

dialects
as they had before the Conquest. Once the writing of Old English came to an end, Middle English had no standard language, only dialects that derived from the in the Anglo-Saxon period.


Early Middle English

Early Middle English (1150–1300) has a largely Anglo-Saxon vocabulary (with many Norse borrowings in the northern parts of the country), but a greatly simplified
inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical obj ...
al system. The grammatical relations that were expressed in Old English by the
dative In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as we ...
and
instrumental case In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as wel ...
s are replaced in Early Middle English with
preposition Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in English, simply prepositions), are a used to express spatial or temporal relations (''in'', ''under'', ''towards'', ''before'') or mark various (''of'', ''for''). A pre ...
al constructions. The Old English
genitive In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as ...
- survives in the ''-'s'' of the modern
English possessive In English, possessive A possessive or ktetic form ( abbreviated ; from la, possessivus; grc, κτητικός ''ktētikós'') is a word or grammatical construction used to indicate a relationship of possession in a broad sense. This can inclu ...
, but most of the other case endings disappeared in the Early Middle English period, including most of the of the
definite article An article is any member of a class of dedicated words that are used with noun phrases A noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a that has a or as its or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common , and the ...
("the"). The
dual Dual or Duals may refer to: Paired/two things * Dual (mathematics), a notion of paired concepts that mirror one another ** Dual (category theory), a formalization of mathematical duality ** . . . see more cases in :Duality theories * Dual ...
personal pronouns (denoting exactly two) also disappeared from English during this period. Gradually, the wealthy and the government
Anglicised Linguistic anglicisation (or anglicization, occasionally anglification, anglifying, or Englishing) is the practice of modifying foreign words, names, and phrases to make them easier to spell, pronounce, or understand in English language, English. ...
again, although Norman (and subsequently French) remained the dominant language of literature and law until the 14th century, even after the loss of the majority of the continental possessions of the
English monarchy The monarchy of the United Kingdom, commonly referred to as the British monarchy, is the constitutional monarchy A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the monarch exercises authority in accordance with a written or ...
. The loss of case endings was part of a general trend from inflections to fixed
word order In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languag ...
that also occurred in other Germanic languages (though more slowly and to a lesser extent), and therefore it cannot be attributed simply to the influence of French-speaking sections of the population: English did, after all, remain the
vernacular A vernacular or vernacular language refers to the language or dialect that is spoken by people that are inhabiting a particular country or region. The vernacular is typically the native language, normally Spoken language, spoken informally rath ...
. It is also argued that Norse immigrants to England had a great impact on the loss of inflectional endings in Middle English. One argument is that, although Norse- and English-speakers were somewhat comprehensible to each other due to similar morphology, the Norse-speakers' inability to reproduce the ending sounds of English words influenced Middle English's loss of inflectional endings. Important texts for the reconstruction of the evolution of Middle English out of Old English are the ''
Peterborough Chronicle The ''Peterborough Chronicle'' (also called the Laud manuscript and the E manuscript), one of the ''Anglo-Saxon Chronicle The ''Anglo-Saxon Chronicle'' is a collection of annals in Old English, chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. T ...
'', which continued to be compiled up to 1154; the ''
Ormulum The ''Ormulum'' or ''Orrmulum'' is a twelfth-century work of biblical exegesis Exegesis (; from the Greek from , "to lead out") is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text. Traditionally, the term was used primarily for work with ...
'', a biblical commentary probably composed in
Lincolnshire Lincolnshire (abbreviated Lincs.) is a Counties of England, county in the East Midlands of England, with a long coastline on the North Sea to the east. It borders Norfolk to the south-east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south-w ...

Lincolnshire
in the second half of the 12th century, incorporating a unique phonetic spelling system; and the and the Katherine Group, religious texts written for
anchoress "The Anchorite" (1881), by Teodor Axentowicz. An anchorite or anchoret (female: anchoress) is someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer Prayer is an invocation or act ...
es, apparently in the
West MidlandsWest Midlands may refer to: Places * West Midlands (region), a region of the United Kingdom **West Midlands (county), the metropolitan county in the West Midlands region ** West Midlands conurbation, the large conurbation in the West Midlands region ...
in the early 13th century. The language found in the last two works is sometimes called the AB language. More literary sources of the 12th and 13th centuries include ''
Layamon's Brut Layamon's ''Brut'' (ca. 1190 - 1215), also known as ''The Chronicle of Britain'', is a Middle English poem compiled and recast by the English priest Layamon. The ''Brut'' is 16,096 lines long and narrates the history of Britain: it is the first hi ...
'' and ''
The Owl and the Nightingale ''The Owl and the Nightingale'' is a twelfth- or thirteenth-century Middle English poem detailing a debate between an owl and a nightingale The common nightingale, rufous nightingale or simply nightingale (''Luscinia megarhynchos''), is a smal ...
''. Some scholars have defined "Early Middle English" as encompassing English texts up to 1350. This longer time frame would extend the corpus to include many Middle English Romances (especially those of the '' Auchinleck manuscript'' ).


14th century

From around the early
14th century As a means of recording the passage of time Time is the indefinite continued sequence, progress of existence and event (philosophy), events that occur in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible succession from the past, through th ...
, there was significant migration into
London London is the Capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary down to the North Sea, and has b ...

London
, particularly from the counties of the
East Midlands The East Midlands is one of nine official regions of England at the ITL 1 statistical regions of England, first level of International Territorial Level, ITL for Statistics, statistical purposes. It consists of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Linc ...
, and a new
prestige Prestige refers to a good reputation or high esteem; in earlier usage, ''prestige'' meant "showiness". (19th c.) Prestige may also refer to: Arts, entertainment and media Films *Prestige (film), ''Prestige'' (film), a 1932 American film directed ...
London dialect began to develop, based chiefly on the speech of the East Midlands, but also influenced by that of other regions. The writing of this period, however, continues to reflect a variety of regional forms of English. The , a translation of a French confessional prose work, completed in 1340, is written in a
Kentish dialect Estuary English is an regional accents of English, English accent associated with the area along the River Thames and its Thames Estuary, estuary, including London. Phonetician John C. Wells proposed a definition of Estuary English as "Standard E ...
. The best known writer of Middle English,
Geoffrey Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer (; – 25 October 1400) was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the 5th ...

Geoffrey Chaucer
, wrote in the second half of the 14th century in the emerging London dialect, although he also portrays some of his characters as speaking in northern dialects, as in the "
Reeve's Tale "The Reeve's Tale" is the third story told in Geoffrey Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer (; – 25 October 1400) was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages, he is best known for ''The Canterbury ...
". In the English-speaking areas of lowland
Scotland Scotland ( sco, Scotland, gd, Alba ) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Tele ...

Scotland
, an independent standard was developing, based on the
Northumbrian dialect The Northumbrian dialect refers to any of several English language varieties spoken in the historic English region of Northumbria, which includes most of present-day North East England. This may include such varieties as: *Northumbrian Old English, ...
. This would develop into what came to be known as the
Scots language Scots (endonym An endonym (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is a ...
. A large number of terms for abstract concepts were adopted directly from scholastic philosophical Latin (rather than via French). Examples are "absolute", "act", "demonstration", "probable".


Late Middle English

The Chancery Standard of written English emerged in official documents that, since the Norman Conquest, had normally been written in French. Like Chaucer's work, this new standard was based on the East-Midlands-influenced speech of London. Clerks using this standard were usually familiar with and
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...

Latin
, influencing the forms they chose. The Chancery Standard, which was adopted slowly, was used in England by bureaucrats for most official purposes, excluding those of the Church and legalities, which used Latin and
Law French Law French ( nrf, Louai Français, enm, Lawe Frensch) is an archaic language originally based on Old Norman and Anglo-Norman language, Anglo-Norman, but increasingly influenced by Parisian French and, later, English. It was used in the Courts ...
(and some Latin), respectively. The Chancery Standard's influence on later forms of written English is disputed, but it did undoubtedly provide the core around which
Early Modern English Early Modern English or Early New English (sometimes abbreviated EModE, EMnE, or EME) is the stage of the English language English is a of the , originally spoken by the inhabitants of . It is named after the , one of the ancient th ...
formed. Early Modern English emerged with the help of
William Caxton William Caxton ( 1422 – 1491) was an English merchant A merchant is a person who trades in commodities produced by other people, especially one who trades with foreign countries. Historically, a merchant is anyone who is involved in busine ...
's printing press, developed during the 1470s. The press stabilized English through a push towards standardization, led by Chancery Standard enthusiast and writer
Richard Pynson Richard Pynson (c.1449 – c.1529) was one of the first printers of English books. Born in Normandy Normandy (; french: link=no, Normandie ; nrf, Normaundie; from Old French , plural of ''Normant'', originally from the word for "northman" in ...

Richard Pynson
. Early Modern English began in the 1540s after the printing and wide distribution of the
English Bible Partial Bible translations The Bible has been translated into many languages from the biblical languages of Biblical Hebrew, Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic, Aramaic and Koine Greek, Greek. the full Bible has been translated into 704 languages, ...
and
Prayer Book A prayer book is a book containing prayer Prayer is an invocation An invocation (from the Latin verb ''invocare'' "to call on, invoke, to give") may take the form of: * Supplication, prayer Prayer is an invocation or act that seek ...

Prayer Book
, which made the new standard of English publicly recognizable, and lasted until about 1650.


Phonology

The main changes between the Old English sound system and that of Middle English include: *Emergence of the voiced
fricative Fricatives are consonants manner of articulation, produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two Place of articulation, articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the bac ...
s , , as separate
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
s, rather than mere
allophone In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or constituent parts of signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound or sign system of any particu ...
s of the corresponding
voiceless In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...

voiceless
fricatives. *Reduction of the Old English
diphthong A diphthong ( ; , ), also known as a gliding vowel, is a combination of two adjacent vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of spe ...
s to monophthongs, and the emergence of new diphthongs due to vowel breaking in certain positions, change of Old English post-vocalic , (sometimes resulting from the allophone of ) to offglides, and borrowing from French. *Merging of Old English into a single vowel . *Raising of the long vowel to . *Rounding of to in the southern dialects. *Unrounding of the front
rounded vowel In phonetics, vowel roundedness refers to the amount of rounding in the lips during the articulation of a vowel. It is labialization of a vowel. When a ''rounded'' vowel is pronounced, the lips form a circular opening, and ''unrounded'' vowels ar ...
s in most dialects. *Lengthening of vowels in
open syllable Open or OPEN may refer to: Music * Open (band) Open is a band. Background Drummer Pete Neville has been involved in the Sydney/Australian music scene for a number of years. He has recently completed a Masters in screen music at the Australian ...
s (and in certain other positions). The resultant long vowels (and other pre-existing long vowels) subsequently underwent changes of quality in the
Great Vowel Shift The Great Vowel Shift was a series of changes in the pronunciation of the English language that took place primarily between 1400 and 1700, beginning in southern England and today having influenced effectively all dialects of English. Through ...

Great Vowel Shift
, which began during the later Middle English period. *Loss of
gemination In phonetics and phonology, gemination (), or consonant lengthening (from Latin 'doubling', itself from ''Gemini (constellation), gemini'' 'twins'), is an articulation of a consonant for a longer period of time than that of a singleton consonan ...

gemination
(double consonants came to be pronounced as single ones). *Loss of weak final vowels (
schwa In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as t ...
, written ). By
Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer (; – 25 October 1400) was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the 5th ...

Chaucer
's time this vowel was silent in normal speech, although it was normally pronounced in verse as the
meter The metre ( Commonwealth spelling) or meter (American spelling Despite the various English dialects spoken from country to country and within different regions of the same country, there are only slight regional variations in English ...
required (much as occurs in modern ). Also, non-final unstressed was dropped when adjacent to only a single consonant on either side if there was another short in an adjoining syllable. Thus, began to be pronounced as , and as . The combination of the last three processes listed above led to the spelling conventions associated with silent e, silent and double letter, doubled consonants (see under #Orthography, Orthography, below).


Morphology


Nouns

Middle English retains only two distinct noun-ending patterns from the more complex system of Old English grammar#Nouns, inflection in Old English: Some nouns of the strong type have an ''-e'' in the nominative/accusative singular, like the weak declension, but otherwise strong endings. Often these are the same nouns that had an ''-e'' in the nominative/accusative singular of Old English (they, in turn, were inherited from Proto-Germanic ''ja''-stem and ''i''-stem nouns). The distinct dative case was lost in early Middle English. The genitive survived, however, but by the end of the Middle English period, only the strong ''-'s'' ending (variously spelt) was in use. Some formerly feminine nouns, as well as some weak nouns, continued to make their genitive forms with ''-e'' or no ending (e.g. , horses' hoves), and nouns of relationship ending in ''-er'' frequently have no genitive ending (e.g. , "father's bane").Burrow & Turville-Petre 2005, p. 23 The strong ''-(e)s'' plural form has survived into Modern English. The weak ''-(e)n'' form is now rare and used only in ''oxen'' and, as part of a double plural, in ''children'' and ''brethren''. Some dialects still have forms such as ''eyen'' (for ''eyes''), ''shoon'' (for ''shoes''), ''hosen'' (for ''hose(s)''), ''kine'' (for ''cows''), and ''been'' (for ''bees''). Grammatical gender survived to a limited extent in early Middle English, before being replaced by natural gender in the course of the Middle English period. Grammatical gender was indicated by agreement of articles and pronouns, i.e. ("the-feminine owl") or using the pronoun to refer to masculine nouns such as ("helmet"), or phrases such as (strong shaft) with the masculine accusative adjective ending ''-ne''.Burrow & Turville-Petre 2005, p. 38


Adjectives

Single syllable adjectives add ''-e'' when modifying a noun in the plural and when used after the definite article (), after a demonstrative (, ), after a possessive pronoun (e.g. , ), or with a name or in a form of address. This derives from the Old English "weak" declension of adjectives.Burrow & Turville-Petre 2005, pp. 27–28 This inflexion continued to be used in writing even after final -e had ceased to be pronounced.Burrow & Turville-Petre 2005, p. 28 In earlier texts, multi-syllable adjectives also receive a final ''-e'' in these situations, but this occurs less regularly in later Middle English texts. Otherwise adjectives have no ending, and adjectives already ending in ''-e'' etymologically receive no ending as well. Earlier texts sometimes inflect adjectives for case as well.
Layamon's Brut Layamon's ''Brut'' (ca. 1190 - 1215), also known as ''The Chronicle of Britain'', is a Middle English poem compiled and recast by the English priest Layamon. The ''Brut'' is 16,096 lines long and narrates the history of Britain: it is the first hi ...
inflects adjectives for the masculine accusative, genitive, and dative, the feminine dative, and the plural genitive.Burrow & Turville-Petre 2005, pp. 28–29 ''The Owl and the Nightingale'' adds a final ''-e'' to all adjectives not in the nominative, here only inflecting adjectives in the weak declension (as described above).Burrow & Turville-Petre 2005, p. 29 Comparatives and superlatives are usually formed by adding ''-er'' and ''-est''. Adjectives with long vowels sometimes shorten these vowels in the comparative and superlative, e.g. (great) (greater). Adjectives ending in ''-ly'' or ''-lich'' form comparatives either with ''-lier'', ''-liest'' or ''-loker'', ''-lokest''. A few adjectives also display Germanic umlaut in their comparatives and superlatives, such as , . Other irregular forms are mostly the same as in modern English.


Pronouns

Middle English personal pronouns were mostly developed from Old English pronouns, those of Old English, with the exception of the third-person plural, a borrowing from
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia Scandinavia; : ''Skades ...
(the original Old English form clashed with the third person singular and was eventually dropped). Also, the nominative form of the feminine third-person singular was replaced by a form of the demonstrative that developed into (modern ''she''), but the alternative remained in some areas for a long time. As with nouns, there was some inflectional simplification (the distinct Old English dual (grammatical number), dual forms were lost), but pronouns, unlike nouns, retained distinct nominative and accusative forms. Third-person pronouns also retained a distinction between accusative and dative forms, but that was gradually lost: the masculine was replaced by south of the Thames by the early 14th century, and the neuter dative was ousted by ''it'' in most dialects by the 15th. The following table shows some of the various Middle English pronouns. Many other variations are noted in Middle English sources because of differences in spellings and pronunciations at different times and in different dialects.


Verbs

As a general rule, the indicative first person singular of verbs in the present tense ends in ''-e'' (, 'I hear'), the second person in ''-(e)st'' (, 'thou speakest'), and the third person in ''-eþ'' (, 'he cometh/he comes'). (''Thorn (letter), þ'' (the letter 'thorn') is pronounced like the unvoiced ''th'' in "think", but, under certain circumstances, it may be like the voiced ''th'' in "that"). The following table illustrates a typical conjugation pattern: Plural forms vary strongly by dialect, with Southern dialects preserving the Old English ''-eþ'', Midland dialects showing ''-en'' from about 1200 and Northern forms using ''-es'' in the third person singular as well as the plural. The past tense of weak verbs is formed by adding an ''-ed(e)'', ''-d(e)'' or ''-t(e)'' ending. The past-tense forms, without their personal endings, also serve as past participles with past-participle prefixes derived from Old English: ''i-'', ''y-'' and sometimes ''bi-''. Germanic strong verb, Strong verbs, by contrast, form their past tense by changing their stem vowel ( becomes , a process called apophony), as in Modern English.


Orthography

With the discontinuation of the Late West Saxon standard used for the Old English orthography, writing of Old English in the period prior to the Norman Conquest, Middle English came to be written in a wide variety of scribal forms, reflecting different regional dialects and orthographic conventions. Later in the Middle English period, however, and particularly with the development of the #Chancery Standard, Chancery Standard in the 15th century, orthography became relatively standardised in a form based on the East Midlands-influenced speech of London. Spelling at the time was mostly quite regular spelling, regular (there was a fairly consistent correspondence between letters and sounds). The irregularity of English orthography, present-day English orthography is largely due to Phonological history of English, pronunciation changes that have taken place over the
Early Modern English Early Modern English or Early New English (sometimes abbreviated EModE, EMnE, or EME) is the stage of the English language English is a of the , originally spoken by the inhabitants of . It is named after the , one of the ancient th ...
and Modern English eras. Middle English generally did not have silent letters. For example, ''knight'' was pronounced (with both the and the pronounced, the latter sounding as the in German ). The major exception was the silent e, silent – originally pronounced, but lost in normal speech by Chaucer's time. This letter, however, came to indicate a lengthened – and later also modified – pronunciation of a preceding vowel. For example, in ''name'', originally pronounced as two syllables, the /a/ in the first syllable (originally an open syllable) lengthened, the final weak vowel was later dropped, and the remaining long vowel was modified in the
Great Vowel Shift The Great Vowel Shift was a series of changes in the pronunciation of the English language that took place primarily between 1400 and 1700, beginning in southern England and today having influenced effectively all dialects of English. Through ...

Great Vowel Shift
(for these sound changes, see under #Phonology, Phonology, above). The final , now silent, thus became the indicator of the longer and changed pronunciation of . In fact vowels could have this lengthened and modified pronunciation in various positions, particularly before a single consonant letter and another vowel, or before certain pairs of consonants. A related convention involved the doubling of consonant letters to show that the preceding vowel was not to be lengthened. In some cases the double consonant represented a sound that was (or had previously been) gemination, geminated, i.e. had genuinely been "doubled" (and would thus have regularly blocked the lengthening of the preceding vowel). In other cases, by analogy, the consonant was written double merely to indicate the lack of lengthening.


Alphabet

The basic Old English Latin alphabet had consisted of 20 standard letters plus four additional letters: ash (letter), ash , eth , thorn (letter), thorn and wynn . There was not yet a distinct ''j'', ''v'' or ''w'', and Old English scribes did not generally use ''k'', ''q'' or ''z''. Ash was no longer required in Middle English, as the Old English vowel that it represented had #Phonology, merged into /a/. The symbol nonetheless came to be used as a typographic ligature, ligature for the digraph in many words of Greek or Latin origin, as did for . Eth and thorn both represented or its
allophone In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or constituent parts of signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound or sign system of any particu ...
in Old English. Eth fell out of use during the 13th century and was replaced by thorn. Thorn mostly fell out of use during the 14th century, and was replaced by th (digraph), . Anachronistic usage of the scribal abbreviation (, i.e. "the") has led to the modern mispronunciation of ''thorn'' as in this context; see ''ye olde''. Wynn, which represented the phoneme , was replaced by during the 13th century. Due to its similarity to the letter , it is mostly represented by in modern editions of Old and Middle English texts even when the manuscript has wynn. Under Norman influence, the continental Carolingian minuscule replaced the insular script that had been used for Old English. However, because of the significant difference in appearance between the old insular G, insular ''g'' and the Carolingian G, Carolingian ''g'' (modern ''g''), the former continued in use as a separate letter, known as yogh, written . This was adopted for use to represent a variety of sounds: , while the Carolingian ''g'' was normally used for [g]. Instances of yogh were eventually replaced by or , and by in words like ''night'' and ''laugh''. In Middle Scots yogh became indistinguishable from cursive ''z'', and printers tended to use when ''yogh'' was not available in their fonts; this led to new spellings (often giving rise to new pronunciations), as in Mackenzie (surname), ''McKenzie'', where the replaced a yogh which had the pronunciation . Under continental influence, the letters , and , which had not normally been used by Old English scribes, came to be commonly used in the writing of Middle English. Also the newer Latin letter was introduced (replacing wynn). The distinct letter forms and came into use, but were still used interchangeably; the same applies to and .Salmon, V., (in) Lass, R. (ed.), ''The Cambridge History of the English Language'', Vol. III, CUP 2000, p. 39. (For example, spellings such as and for ''wife'' and ''paradise'' can be found in Middle English.) The consonantal / was sometimes used to transliterate the Hebrew language, Hebrew letter yodh, representing the palatal approximant sound (and transliterated in Greek language, Greek by iota and in Latin by ); words like ''Jerusalem'', ''Joseph'', etc. would have originally followed the Latin pronunciation beginning with , that is, the sound of in ''yes''. In some words, however, notably from
Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the Latin spok ...
, / was used for the affricate consonant , as in (modern "joy"), used in Wycliffe's Bible."J", ''Oxford English Dictionary,'' 2nd edition (1989) This was similar to the gemination, geminate sound , which had been represented as in Old English. By the time of Modern English, the sound came to be written as / at the start of words (like ''joy''), and usually as elsewhere (as in ''bridge''). It could also be written, mainly in French loanwords, as , with the adoption of the hard and soft G, soft G convention (''age'', ''page'', etc.)


Other symbols

Many scribal abbreviations were also used. It was common for the Lollardy, Lollards to abbreviate the name of Jesus (as in Latin manuscripts) to ''Christogram, ihc''. The letters and were often omitted and indicated by a Macron (diacritic), macron above an adjacent letter, so for example ''in'' could be written as ''ī''. A thorn with a superscript or could be used for ''that'' and ''the''; the thorn here resembled a , giving rise to the ''ye'' of "Ye Olde". Various forms of the ampersand replaced the word ''and''. Numbers were still always written using Roman numerals, except for some rare occurrences of Arabic numerals during the 15th century.


Letter-to-sound correspondences

Although Middle English spelling was never fully standardised, the following table shows the pronunciations most usually represented by particular letters and digraph (orthography), digraphs towards the end of the Middle English period, using the notation given in the article on Middle English phonology. As explained above, single vowel letters had alternative pronunciations depending on whether they were in a position where their sounds had been subject to lengthening. Long vowel pronunciations were in flux due to the beginnings of the
Great Vowel Shift The Great Vowel Shift was a series of changes in the pronunciation of the English language that took place primarily between 1400 and 1700, beginning in southern England and today having influenced effectively all dialects of English. Through ...

Great Vowel Shift
.


Sample texts

Most of the following Modern English translations are poetic sense-for-sense translations, not word-for-word translations.


Ormulum, 12th century

This passage explains the background to the Nativity of Jesus, Nativity(3494–501):


Epitaph of John the smyth, died 1371

An epitaph from a monumental brass in an Oxfordshire parish church:


Wycliffe's Bible, 1384

From the Wycliffe's Bible, (1384):


Chaucer, 1390s

The following is the very beginning of the General Prologue from ''The Canterbury Tales'' by
Geoffrey Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer (; – 25 October 1400) was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the 5th ...

Geoffrey Chaucer
. The text was written in a dialect associated with London and spellings associated with the then-emergent Chancery Standard. Translation into Modern U.K. English prose: When April with its sweet showers has drenched March's drought to the roots, filling every capillary with nourishing sap prompting the flowers to grow, and when the breeze (Zephyrus) with his sweet breath has coaxed the tender plants to sprout in every wood and dale, as the springtime sun passes halfway through the sign of Aries (astrology), Aries, and small birds that sleep all night with half-open eyes chirp melodies, their spirits thus aroused by Nature; it is at these times that people desire to go on pilgrimages and pilgrims (Palmer (pilgrim), palmers) seek new shores and distant shrines venerated in other places. Particularly they go to Canterbury, from every county of England, in order to visit the Thomas Becket, holy blessed martyr, who has helped them when they were unwell.


Gower, 1390

The following is the beginning of the Prologue from ''Confessio Amantis'' by John Gower. Translation in Modern English: (by J. Dow)


See also

*''Medulla Grammatice'' (collection of glossaries) *Middle English creole hypothesis *Middle English Dictionary *
Middle English literature The term Middle English literature refers to the literature Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, d ...
*A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English


References

*Brunner, Karl (1962) ''Abriss der mittelenglischen Grammatik''; 5. Auflage. Tübingen: M. Niemeyer (1st ed. Halle (Saale): M. Niemeyer, 1938) *Brunner, Karl (1963) ''An Outline of Middle English Grammar''; translated by Grahame Johnston. Oxford: Blackwell * *Tauno Frans Mustanoja, Mustanoja, Tauno (1960) "A Middle English Syntax. 1. Parts of Speech". Helsinki : Société néophilologique.


External links


A. L. Mayhew and Walter William Skeat. ''A Concise Dictionary of Middle English from A.D. 1150 to 1580''
* With grammatical introduction, notes, and glossary. {{Authority control English languages Medieval languages, English, Middle History of the English language Middle English language, Middle English Languages attested from the 11th century 11th-century establishments in Europe Languages extinct in the 15th century 15th-century disestablishments in Europe