Middle English (ME) is collectively the varieties of the English
language spoken after the
Norman Conquest (1066) until the late 15th
century; scholarly opinion varies but the Oxford English Dictionary
specifies the period of 1150 to 1500. This stage of the development
English language roughly followed the High to the Late Middle
Middle English developed out of Late Old English, seeing many dramatic
changes in its grammar, pronunciation and orthography. Writing customs
Middle English times varied widely, but by the end of the
period, about 1470, aided by the invention of the printing press, a
standard based on the
London dialect (Chancery Standard) had become
established. This largely forms the basis for
Modern English spelling,
although pronunciation has changed considerably since that time.
Middle English was succeeded in
England by the era of Early Modern
English, which lasted until about 1650. Also, by that time the Scots
language was developing from a variant of the Northumbrian dialect
(prevalent in northern
England and spoken in southeast Scotland).
Middle English period many
Old English grammatical features
were simplified or disappeared. Noun, adjective and verb inflections
were simplified, a process that included the reduction (and eventual
elimination) of most grammatical case distinctions. Middle English
also saw a mass adoption of Norman French vocabulary, especially in
areas such as politics, law, the arts, religion and other courtly
language. Everyday English vocabulary remained mostly Germanic, with
Old Norse influence becoming apparent. Significant changes in
pronunciation took place, especially for long vowels and diphthongs,
which in the later
Middle English period began to undergo the Great
Little survives of early
Middle English literature, most likely due to
the 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 notable writers such as John
Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer, whose
Canterbury Tales remains the most
studied and read work of the period. Poets wrote both in the
vernacular and courtly English.
1.1 Transition from Old English
1.2 Early Middle English
1.3 14th century
1.4 Late Middle English
4.2 Other symbols
4.3 Letter-to-sound correspondences
5 Sample texts
5.1 Ormulum, 12th century
5.2 Epitaph of John the smyth, died 1371
5.3 Wycliffe's Bible, 1384
5.4 Chaucer, 1390s
5.5 Gower, 1390
6 See also
8 External links
Transition from Old English
The latter part of the 11th century was a period of transition from
Old English to Early Middle English.
The influence of
Old Norse certainly helped move English from a
synthetic language with relatively free word order, towards a more
analytic or isolating language with more strict word order, a deep
change at the grammatical level. Both
Old English and Old Norse
were (and the latter's modern descendants, Faroese and Icelandic,
still are) synthetic languages with complicated inflectional
word-endings, but the endings were different. The eagerness of Vikings
Danelaw to communicate with their southern Anglo-Saxon
neighbors produced a friction that led to the erosion of inflection in
Old Norse likely had a greater impact on this
deep change to Middle and
Modern English 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. It was, after all, a salutary
influence. The gain was greater than the loss. There was a gain in
directness, in clarity, and in strength".
The strength of the Viking influence on
Old English appears from the
fact that the 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 the extensive word borrowings for, as Jespersen indicates, no texts
exist in either Scandinavia or in Northern
England from this time to
give certain evidence of an influence on syntax. The change to Old
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 happily resulted in
"simplifying English grammar."
While the influence of Scandinavian language was strongest in dialects
Danelaw region and Scotland, the spoken words crept into the
language in the tenth and eleventh centuries near the transition from
the Old to
Middle English period, but such borrowed words only
appeared in the
Middle English writing at the beginning of the
thirteenth century, likely because of a scarcity of literary texts
from an earlier date.
The Norman conquest of
England in 1066 saw the replacement of the top
levels of the English-speaking political and ecclesiastical
hierarchies by Norman rulers who spoke an
Old French dialect called
Old Norman, which in
England developed into a variety called
Anglo-Norman. Norman thus came into use as a language of polite
discourse and literature, and this fundamentally altered the role of
Old English in education and administration, even though many Normans
of the early period were illiterate and depended on the clergy for
written communication and record-keeping. Large numbers of words of
French origin started to be borrowed into the English language, often
existing alongside native English words of similar meaning, giving
rise to such
Modern English pairs as pig/pork, chicken/poultry,
calf/veal, cow/beef, sheep/mutton, wood/forest, house/mansion,
worthy/valuable, bold/courageous, freedom/liberty, sight/vision,
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 derive from Anglo-Norman: court, judge, jury, appeal,
parliament. There are also many Norman-derived terms relating to the
chivalric cultures that arose in the 12th century, an era of feudalism
Often, words were also taken from Latin, usually through French
transmission. This gave such sets as kingly (inherited from Old
English), royal (from French, which inherited it from Vulgar Latin),
regal (from French, which borrowed it from classical Latin). Later
French borrowings came from standard rather than Norman French; this
leads to such cognate pairs as warden (from Norman), guardian (from
later French; both of these words in fact derive from the same
The end of Anglo-Saxon rule did not, of course, change the language
immediately. The general population would have spoken the same
dialects as before the Conquest; these changed slowly until written
records of them became available for study, which varies in different
regions. Once the writing of
Old English came to an end, Middle
English had no standard language, only dialects that derived from the
dialects of the same regions in the Anglo-Saxon period.
Early Middle English
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 inflectional system. The
grammatical relations that were expressed in
Old English by the dative
and instrumental cases are replaced in Early
Middle English with
prepositional constructions. The
Old English genitive -es survives in
the -'s of the modern English possessive, but most of the other case
endings disappeared in the Early
Middle English period, including most
of the roughly one dozen forms of the definite article ("the"). The
dual personal pronouns (denoting exactly two) also disappeared from
English during this period.
Gradually, the wealthy and the government Anglicised 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
loss of case endings was part of a general trend from inflections to
fixed word order that also occurred in other Germanic languages, and
therefore cannot be attributed simply to the influence of
French-speaking sections of the population: English did, after all,
remain the vernacular. 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
Important texts for the reconstruction of the evolution of Middle
English out of
Old English are the Peterborough Chronicle, which
continued to be compiled up to 1154; the Ormulum, a biblical
commentary probably composed in
Lincolnshire in the second half of the
12th century, incorporating a unique phonetic spelling system; and the
Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group, religious texts written for
anchoresses, apparently in the West Midlands in the early 13th
century. The language found in the last two works is sometimes
called the AB language.
More literary sources of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries include
Lawman's Brut and The Owl and the Nightingale
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
Auchinleck manuscript ca. 1330).
From around the early 14th century there was significant migration
into London, particularly from the counties of the East Midlands, and
a new prestige
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 Ayenbite of Inwyt, a
translation of a French confessional prose work, completed in 1340, is
written in a Kentish dialect. The best known writer of Middle English,
Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote in the second half of the 14th century in the
London dialect, although he also portrays some of his
characters as speaking in northern dialects, as in the "Reeve's Tale".
In the English-speaking areas of lowland Scotland, an independent
standard was developing, based on the Northumbrian dialect. This would
develop into what came to be known as the Scots language.
Late Middle English
The Chancery Standard of written English emerged c. 1430 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 French and Latin, influencing the forms
they chose. The Chancery Standard, which was adopted slowly, was used
England by bureaucrats for most official purposes, excluding those
of the Church and legalities, which used
Law French (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 formed.
Early Modern English
Early Modern English emerged with the help of
William Caxton'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. Early
Modern English officially [according to whom?] began in the 1540s
after the printing and wide distribution of the
English Bible and
Prayer Book, which made the new standard of English publicly
recognizable, and lasted until about 1650.
Middle English phonology
The main changes between the
Old English sound system and that of
Middle English include:
Emergence of the voiced fricatives /v/, /ð/, /z/ as separate
phonemes, rather than mere allophones of the corresponding voiceless
Reduction of the
Old English diphthongs to monophthongs, and the
emergence of new diphthongs due to vowel breaking in certain
positions, change of
Old English post-vocalic /j/, /w/ (sometimes
resulting from the [ɣ] allophone of /ɡ/) to offglides, and borrowing
Old English /æ/ and /ɑ/ into a single vowel /a/.
Raising of the long vowel /æː/ to /ɛː/, and (in the south) raising
and rounding of /ɑː/ to /ɔː/.
Unrounding of the front rounded vowels in most dialects.
Lengthening of vowels in open syllables (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, which began during the later
Middle English period.
Loss of gemination (double consonants came to be pronounced as single
Loss of weak final vowels (schwa, written ⟨e⟩). By Chaucer's time
this vowel was silent in normal speech, although it was normally
pronounced in verse as the meter required (much as occurs in modern
French). Also, non-final unstressed ⟨e⟩ was dropped when adjacent
to only a single consonant on either side if there was another short
⟨e⟩ in an adjoining syllable. Thus, every began to be pronounced
as "evry", and palmeres as "palmers".
The combination of the last three processes listed above led to the
spelling conventions associated with silent ⟨e⟩ and doubled
consonants (see under Orthography, below).
Middle English retains only two distinct noun-ending patterns from the
more complex system of inflection in Old English. The Early Middle
English nouns engel ("angel") and name ("name") demonstrate the two
Some nouns of the engel 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
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.
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).
Middle English personal pronouns were mostly developed from those of
Old English, with the exception of the third-person plural, a
Old Norse (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 sche (modern she), but
the alternative heyr remained in some areas for a long time.
As with nouns, there was some inflectional simplification (the
Old English 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 hine was replaced by
him south of the Thames by the early 14th century, and the neuter
dative him was ousted by it in most dialects by the 15th.
The following table shows some of the various
Middle English pronouns,
together with their modern (in quotation marks) and (sometimes) Old
English equivalents. Many other variations are noted in Middle English
sources because of differences in spellings and pronunciations at
different times and in different dialects.
Old English forms (N, A, D, G)
min one/mi selven
iċ, mec/mē, mē, mīn
þū, þec/þē, þē, þīn
hē, hine, him, his
"her" "to/for her"
hēo, hīe, hiere, hiere
hit, hit, him, his
us self/ous silve
wē, ūsic, ūs, ūser/ūre (dual: wit, etc.)
ȝou self/ou selve ''yourselves''
ġē, ēowic, ēow, ēower (dual: ġit, etc.)
From Old English
hīe, hīe, heom, heora
From Old Norse
As a general rule, the indicative first person singular of verbs in
the present tense ends in -e ("ich here" I hear), the second person in
-(e)st ("þou spekest" thou speakest), and the third person in -eþ
("he comeþ" he cometh/he comes). (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 the conjugation pattern of but one dialect.
strong verbs present tense
weak verbs present tense
present tense to be
present tense to have
present tense to want
strong verbs past tense
weak verbs past tense
past tense to be
past tense to have
past tense to want
Plural forms vary strongly by dialect, with Southern dialects
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-.
Strong verbs, by contrast, form their past tense by changing their
stem vowel (binden becomes bound, a process called apophony), as in
With the discontinuation of the
Late West Saxon
Late West Saxon standard used for the
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 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 (there was a fairly consistent correspondence between
letters and sounds). The irregularity of present-day English
orthography is largely due to pronunciation changes that have taken
place over the
Early Modern English
Early Modern English and
Modern English eras.
Middle English generally did not have silent letters. For example,
knight was pronounced [ˈkniçt] (with both the ⟨k⟩ and the
⟨gh⟩ pronounced, the latter sounding as the ⟨ch⟩ in German
Knecht). The major exception was the silent ⟨e⟩ – 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
(for these sound changes, see under Phonology, above). The final
⟨e⟩, now silent, thus became the indicator of the longer and
changed pronunciation of ⟨a⟩. 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) 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.
Latin alphabet had consisted of 20 standard
letters (there was not yet a distinct j, v or w, and Old English
scribes did not generally use k, q or z) plus four additional letters:
ash ⟨æ⟩, eth ⟨ð⟩, thorn ⟨þ⟩ and wynn ⟨ƿ⟩.
Ash was no longer required in Middle English, as the
Old English vowel
/æ/ that it represented had merged into /a/. The symbol nonetheless
came to be used as a ligature for the digraph ⟨ae⟩ in many words
of Greek or
Latin origin, as did œ for ⟨oe⟩.
Eth and thorn both represented /θ/ 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⟩.
(Anachronistic usage of the scribal abbreviation ("þe", i.e. "the")
has led to the modern mispronunciation of thorn as ⟨y⟩ in this
context; see ye olde.)
Wynn, which represented the phoneme /w/, was replaced by ⟨w⟩
during the 13th century. Due to its similarity to the letter ⟨p⟩,
it is mostly represented by ⟨w⟩ 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 and the Carolingian g, the former continued in use as a
separate letter, known as yogh, written ⟨ȝ⟩. This was adopted for
use to represent a variety of sounds: [ɣ], [j], [dʒ], [x], [ç],
while the Carolingian g was normally used for [g]. Instances of yogh
were eventually replaced by ⟨j⟩ or ⟨y⟩, and by ⟨gh⟩ in
words like night and laugh. In
Middle Scots yogh became
indistinguishable from cursive z, and printers tended to use ⟨z⟩
when yogh was not available in their fonts; this led to new spellings
(often giving rise to new pronunciations), as in McKenzie, where the
⟨z⟩ replaced a yogh which had the pronunciation /j/.
Under continental influence, the letters ⟨k⟩, ⟨q⟩ and ⟨z⟩,
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 ⟨w⟩ was introduced (replacing wynn). The distinct letter
forms ⟨v⟩ and ⟨u⟩ came into use, but were still used
interchangeably; the same applies to ⟨j⟩ and ⟨i⟩. (For
example, spellings such as wijf and paradijs for wife and paradise can
be found in Middle English.)
The consonantal ⟨j⟩/⟨i⟩ was sometimes used to transliterate
the Hebrew letter yodh, representing the palatal approximant sound /j/
(and transliterated in Greek by iota and in
Latin by ⟨i⟩); words
like Jerusalem, Joseph, etc. would have originally followed the Latin
pronunciation beginning with /j/, that is, the sound of ⟨y⟩ in
yes. In some words, however, notably from Old French, ⟨j⟩/⟨i⟩
was used for the affricate consonant /dʒ/, as in joie (modern "joy"),
used in Wycliffe's Bible. This was similar to the geminate
sound [ddʒ], which had been represented as ⟨cg⟩ in Old English.
By the time of Modern English, the sound came to be written as
⟨j⟩/⟨i⟩ at the start of words (like joy), and usually as
⟨dg⟩ elsewhere (as in bridge). It could also be written, mainly in
French loanwords, as ⟨g⟩, with the adoption of the soft G
convention (age, page, etc.)
Many scribal abbreviations were also used. It was common for the
Lollards to abbreviate the name of Jesus (as in
Latin manuscripts) to
ihc. The letters ⟨n⟩ and ⟨m⟩ were often omitted and indicated
by a macron above an adjacent letter, so for example in could be
written as ī. A thorn with a superscript ⟨t⟩ or ⟨e⟩ could be
used for that and the; the thorn here resembled a ⟨Y⟩, giving rise
to the ye of "Ye Olde". Various forms of the ampersand replaced the
Numbers were still always written using Roman numerals, except for
some rare occurrences of
Arabic numerals during the 15th century.
Middle English spelling was never fully standardised, the
following table shows the pronunciations most usually represented by
particular letters and 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
Description and notes
/a/, or in lengthened positions /aː/, becoming [æː] by about 1500.
Sometimes /au/ before ⟨l⟩ or nasals (see Late Middle English
/ai/ (alternatively denoted by /ɛi/; see vein–vain merger).
/b/, but in later
Middle English became silent in words ending -mb
(while some words that never had a /b/ sound came to be spelt -mb by
analogy; see reduction of /mb/).
/k/, but /s/ (earlier /ts/) before ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨y⟩ (see C
and hard and soft C for details).
/k/, replaced earlier ⟨kk⟩ as the doubled form of ⟨k⟩ (for the
phenomenon of doubling, see above).
/e/, or in lengthened positions /eː/ or sometimes /ɛː/ (see ee).
For silent ⟨e⟩, see above.
Rare, for /ɛː/ (see ee).
/eː/, becoming [iː] by about 1500; or /ɛː/, becoming [eː] by
about 1500. In
Early Modern English
Early Modern English the latter vowel came to be
commonly written ⟨ea⟩. The two vowels later merged.
Sometimes the same as ⟨ai⟩; sometimes /ɛː/ or /eː/ (see also
Either /ɛu/ or /iu/ (see Late
Middle English diphthongs; these later
/ɡ/, or /dʒ/ before ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨y⟩ (see ⟨g⟩ for
details). The ⟨g⟩ in initial gn- was still pronounced.
[ç] or [x], post-vowel allophones of /h/ (this was formerly one of
the uses of yogh). The ⟨gh⟩ is often retained in Chancery
spellings even though the sound was starting to be lost.
/h/ (except for the allophones for which ⟨gh⟩ was used). Also used
in several digraphs (⟨ch⟩, ⟨th⟩, etc.). In some French
loanwords, such as horrible, the ⟨h⟩ was silent.
As a vowel, /i/, or in lengthened positions /iː/, which had started
to be diphthongised by about 1500. As a consonant, /dʒ/ (
(corresponding to modern ⟨j⟩); see above).
Used sometimes for /ɛː/ (see ee).
/k/, used particularly in positions where ⟨c⟩ would be softened.
Also used in ⟨kn⟩ at the start of words; here both consonants were
/n/, including its allophone [ŋ] (before /k/, /g/).
/o/, or in lengthened positions /ɔː/ or sometimes /oː/ (see oo).
Sometimes /u/, as in sone (modern son); the ⟨o⟩ spelling was often
used rather than ⟨u⟩ when adjacent to i, m, n, v, w for
legibility, i.e. to avoid a succession of vertical strokes.
Rare, for /ɔː/ (became commonly used in Early Modern English).
/ɔi/ or /ui/ (see Late
Middle English diphthongs; these later
/oː/, becoming [uː] by about 1500; or /ɔː/.
Either /uː/, which had started to be diphthongised by about 1500, or
/s/, sometimes /z/ (formerly [z] was an allophone of /s/). Also
appeared as ſ (long s).
/θ/ or /ð/ (which had previously been allophones of a single
phoneme), replacing earlier eth and thorn, although thorn was still
Used interchangeably. As a consonant, /v/. As a vowel, /u/, or /iu/ in
"lengthened" positions (although it had generally not gone through the
same lengthening process as other vowels – see history of /iu/).
Old English wynn).
/hw/ (see English ⟨wh⟩).
As a consonant, /j/ (earlier this was one of the uses of yogh).
Sometimes also /g/. As a vowel, the same as ⟨i⟩, where ⟨y⟩ is
often preferred beside letters with downstrokes.
Scotland sometimes used as a substitute for yogh; see above).
Middle English literature
Most of the following modern English translations are poetic
sense-for-sense translations, not word-for-word translations.
Ormulum, 12th century
Further information: Ormulum
This passage explains the background to the Nativity:
Forrþrihht anan se time comm
þatt ure Drihhtin wollde
ben borenn i þiss middellærd
forr all mannkinne nede
he chæs himm sone kinnessmenn
all swillke summ he wollde
and whær he wollde borenn ben
he chæs all att hiss wille.
As soon as the time came
that our Lord wanted
be born in this middle-earth
for all mankind sake,
at once He chose kinsmen for Himself,
all just as he wanted,
and He decided that He would be born
exactly where He wished.
Epitaph of John the smyth, died 1371
Further information: Brightwell Baldwin
An epitaph from a monumental brass in an Oxfordshire parish
man com & se how schal alle ded li: wen yolk comes bad & bare
moth have ben ve awaẏ fare: All ẏs wermēs yt ve for care:—
bot yt ve do for god ẏs luf ve haue nothyng yare:
yis graue lẏs John ye smẏth god yif his soule hewn grit
Translation by Patricia Utechin
Man, come and see how all dead men shall lie: when that comes bad and
we have nothing when we away fare: all that we care for is worms:—
except for that which we do for God's sake, we have nothing ready:
under this grave lies John the smith, God give his soul heavenly peace
Wycliffe's Bible, 1384
From the Wycliffe's Bible, (1384):
1And it was don aftirward, and Jhesu made iorney by citees and
castelis, prechinge and euangelysinge þe rewme of God, 2and twelue
wiþ him; and summe wymmen þat weren heelid of wickide spiritis and
syknessis, Marie, þat is clepid Mawdeleyn, of whom seuene deuelis
wenten 3out, and Jone, þe wyf of Chuse, procuratour of Eroude, and
Susanne, and manye oþere, whiche mynystriden to him of her riches.
— Luke 8:1-3
1And it was don aftirward, and Jhesus made iourney bi citees and
castels, prechynge and euangelisynge þe rewme of 2God, and twelue
wiþ hym; and sum wymmen þat weren heelid of wickid spiritis and
sijknessis, Marie, þat is clepid Maudeleyn, of whom seuene deuelis
3wenten out, and Joone, þe wijf of Chuse, þe procuratoure of Eroude,
and Susanne, and many oþir, þat mynystriden to hym of her ritchesse.
— Luke 8:1-3
1And it came to pass afterward, that Jesus went throughout every city
and village (castle), preaching and showing the kingdom of 2God, and
the twelve were with him; and certain women, which had been healed of
wicked spirits and sicknesses, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom
3went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, the steward of
Herod, and Susanna, and many others, which provided for Him from their
— Luke 8:1-3, from the New Testament
The following is the very beginning of the
General Prologue from The
Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. The text was written in a
dialect associated with
London and spellings associated with the
then-emergent Chancery Standard.
First 18 lines of the General Prologue
Original in Middle English:
into Modern English
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
When [that] April with his showers sweet
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
The drought of March has pierced to the root
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
And bathed every vein in such liquor,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Of which virtue engendered is the flower;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Zephyrus eke with his sweet breath
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Inspired has in every holt and heath,
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
The tender crops; and the young sun
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
Has in the Ram his half-course run,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
And small fowls make melody,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
That sleep all the night with open eye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
(So pricks them Nature in their courages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
Then long folk to go on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
And palmers [for] to seek strange strands
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
To far-off hallows, couth in sundry lands;
And specially from every shires ende
And, especially, from every shire's end
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
Of England, to Canterbury they wend,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
The holy blissful martyr [for] to seek,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.
That them has helped, when [that] they were sick.
Modern English prose: When April with its sweet
showers has pierced March's drought to the root, bathing every vein in
such liquid by whose virtue the flower is engendered, and when
Zephyrus with his sweet breath has also enlivened the tender plants in
every wood and field, and the early-year sun is halfway through Aries,
and small birds that sleep all night with an open eye make melodies
(their hearts so pricked by Nature), then people long to go on
pilgrimages, and palmers seek foreign shores and distant shrines known
in sundry lands, and especially they wend their way to Canterbury from
every shire of
England in order to seek the holy blessed martyr, who
has helped them when they were ill.
The following is the beginning of the Prologue from Confessio Amantis
by John Gower.
Original in Middle English:
Of hem that written ous tofore
The bokes duelle, and we therfore
Ben tawht of that was write tho:
Forthi good is that we also
In oure tyme among ous hiere
Do wryte of newe som matiere,
Essampled of these olde wyse
So that it myhte in such a wyse,
Whan we ben dede and elleswhere,
Beleve to the worldes eere
In tyme comende after this.
Bot for men sein, and soth it is,
That who that al of wisdom writ
It dulleth ofte a mannes wit
To him that schal it aldai rede,
For thilke cause, if that ye rede,
I wolde go the middel weie
And wryte a bok betwen the tweie,
Somwhat of lust, somewhat of lore,
That of the lasse or of the more
Som man mai lyke of that I wryte:
Near word-for-word translation into Modern English:
Of them that wrote before us
The books remain, and we therefore
Are taught of what was written then:
For it is good that we also
In our time among us here
Do write some matter anew,
Given an example by these old ways
So that it might in such a way,
When we are dead and elsewhere,
Be left to the world's ear
In time coming after this.
But for men say, and true it is,
That who that entirely of wisdom writes
It dulls often a man's wit
For him that shall it every day read,
For that same cause, if you sanction it,
I would like to go the middle way
And write a book between the two,
Somewhat of lust, somewhat of lore,
That of the less or of the more
Some man may like of that I write:
Translation into Modern English: (by Richard Brodie)
Of those who wrote before our lives
Their precious legacy survives;
From what was written then, we learn,
And so it's well that we in turn,
In our allotted time on earth
Do write anew some things of worth,
Like those we from these sages cite,
So that such in like manner might,
When we have left this mortal sphere,
Remain for all the world to hear
In ages following our own.
But it is so that men are prone
To say that when one only reads
Of wisdom all day long, one breeds
A paucity of wit, and so
If you agree I'll choose to go
Along a kind of middle ground
Sometimes I'll write of things profound,
And sometimes for amusement's sake
A lighter path of pleasure take
So all can something pleasing find.
Modern English prose:
The books of those that wrote before us survive, and therefore we are
taught about what was written then. For this reason it is good that we
also in our time, here among us, write some material from scratch,
inspired by the example of these old customs; so that it might, when
we are dead and elsewhere, be left to the world's ear in the time
coming after this. But because men say, and it's true, that when
someone writes entirely about wisdom, it often dulls a man's wit who
reads it every day. For that reason, if you permit it, I would like to
take the middle way, and write a book between the two, somewhat of
passion, somewhat of instruction, that whether of high or low status,
people may like what I write about.
Medulla Grammatice (collection of glossaries)
Middle English creole hypothesis
Middle English Dictionary
Middle English literature
A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
(2017). "Middle English".
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck
Institute for the Science of Human History.
^ a b "Middle English–an overview - Oxford English Dictionary".
Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-04.
^ Carlson, David. (2004). "The Chronology of Lydgate's Chaucer
Chaucer Review. 38 (3): 246–254.
doi:10.1353/cr.2004.0003. Retrieved 2017-08-01.
^ The name "tales of Canterbury" appears within the surviving texts of
^ a b c d e Baugh, Albert (1951). A History of the English Language.
Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 110–130 (Danelaw);
^ a b c Jespersen, Otto (1919). Growth and Structure of the English
Language. Leipzig, Germany: B. G. Teubner. pp. 58–82.
^ Crystal, David (1995). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English
Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 32.
^ a b McCrum, Robert (1987). The Story of English. London: Faber and
Faber. pp. 70–71.
^ BBC (27 December 2014). "[BBC World News] BBC Documentary English
Birth of a Language - 35:00 to 37:20". [BBC World News] BBC
Documentary English Birth of a Language. BBC. Retrieved 12 January
^ Potter, Simeon (1950). Our Language. Harmondsworth, Middlesex,
England: Penguin. p. 33.
^ Lohmeier, Charlene (28 October 2012). "121028 Charlene Lohmeier
"Evolution of the English Language" - 23:40 - 25:00; 30:20 - 30:45;
45:00 - 46:00". 121028 Charlene Lohmeier "Evolution of the English
Language". Dutch Lichliter. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
^ Fuster-Márquez, Miguel; Calvo García de Leonardo, Juan José
(2011). A Practical Introduction to the History of English.
[València]: Universitat de València. p. 21.
ISBN 9788437083216. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
^ McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, 2008, pp. 89–136.
^ Burchfield, Robert W. (1987). "Ormulum". In Strayer, Joseph R.
Dictionary of the Middle Ages. 9. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
p. 280. ISBN 0-684-18275-0. , p. 280
^ "Making Early Middle English: About the Conference".
^ Wright, L. (2012). "About the evolution of Standard English".
Studies in English Language and Literature. Routledge. p. 99ff.
^ Fischer, O., van Kemenade, A., Koopman, W., van der Wurff, W., The
Syntax of Early English, CUP 2000, p. 72.
^ Fulk, R.D., An Introduction to Middle English, Broadview Press,
2012, p. 65.
^ See Francis Henry Stratmann (1891), A Middle-English dictionary (A
Middle English dictionary ed.), [London]: Oxford University
Press , and A Concise Dictionary of
Middle English from A.D. 1150
TO 1580, A. L. Mayhew, Walter W. Skeat, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1888.
^ Booth, David. The Principles of English Composition.
^ Ward, AW; Waller, AR (1907–21). "The Cambridge History of English
and American Literature". Bartleby. Retrieved Oct 4, 2011.
^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, ye retrieved February 1, 2009
^ Salmon, V., (in) Lass, R. (ed.), The Cambridge History of the
English Language, Vol. III, CUP 2000, p. 39.
^ "J", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989)
^ "J" and "jay", Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary
of the English Language, Unabridged (1993)
^ For certain details, see "Chancery Standard spelling" in Upward, C.,
Davidson, G., The
History of English
History of English Spelling, Wiley 2011.
^ Algeo, J., Butcher, C., The Origins and Development of the English
Language, Cengage Learning 2013, p. 128.
^ Holt, Robert, ed. (1878). The Ormulum: with the notes and glossary
of Dr R. M. White. Two vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Internet
Archive: Volume 1; Volume 2.
^ a b Utechin, Patricia (1990) . Epitaphs from Oxfordshire (2nd
ed.). Oxford: Robert Dugdale. p. 39.
^ This translation closely mirrors the translation found
Canterbury Tales (selected). Translated by Vincent Foster Hopper
(revised ed.). Barron's Educational Series. 1970. p. 2.
^ Sweet, Henry (d. 1912) (2005). First
Middle English Primer.
Evolution Publishing: Bristol, Pennsylvania.
^ Brodie, Richard (2005). "John Gower's 'Confessio Amantis' Modern
English Version". "Prologue". Retrieved March 15, 2012.
Brunner, Karl (1962) Abriss der mittelenglischen Grammatik; 5.
Auflage. Tübingen: M. Niemeyer (1st ed. Halle (Saale): M. Niemeyer,
Brunner, Karl (1963) An Outline of
Middle English Grammar; translated
by Grahame Johnston. Oxford: Blackwell
Mustanoja, Tauno (1960) "A
Middle English Syntax. 1. Parts of Speech".
Helsinki : Société néophilologique.
Wikisource has several original texts related to:
Middle English works
Middle English test of at Wikimedia Incubator
A. L. Mayhew and Walter William Skeat. A Concise Dictionary of Middle
English from A.D. 1150 to 1580
Middle English Glossary
Oliver Farrar Emerson (ed.). A
Middle English Reader. With
grammatical introduction, notes, and glossary.
History of English
Early Modern English
Great Vowel Shift
low unrounded vowels
low back vowels
high back vowels
high front vowels
changes before historic /l/
changes before historic /r/
Philology of Germanic languages
Germanic parent language
Middle Low German
Old High German
Middle High German
Mennonite Low German
Germanic substrate hypothesis
West Germanic gemination
High German consonant shift
Germanic spirant law
Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law
Great Vowel Shift
Germanic strong verb
Germanic weak verb