General characteristics of English
The “limit” between Old English and Middle English could be placed about 1120-1150, although this is a controversial issue. It is ridiculous to say that Middle English started in a particular year, due to the fact that languages change very slowly. However, we need to establish some limit, and we can consider the features of the texts preserved as Middle English from that time onwards. The Lindisfarne Gloss (10th century) belongs to the Old English period, but it present “modern”features.
Establishing the end of ME period is not so difficult, it can be placed when the printing press was introduced in
. In 1476 by William Caxton. Thanks to this invention, books were cheaper and were accessible for more people. England
The most significant differences between OE and ME are:
- Final inflectional endings; vowels were uniformly levelled to final –e. This explains that:
OE ‘nosu> ME ‘nose /ə/
OE stānas /O:/ > ME ‘stones
This levelling process lead to a very important alteration in the morphosintax of English. This was provoked by the situation of the stress in the root vowel, which made that the ending was weakened. The consequence was a great simplification in inflection.
- As case endings started to disappear as consequence there were more analytic constructions and more use of prepositions. There was also a more strict order, in order to indicate the functions of the words
- The vocabulary is full of French words, as a result of the Norman invasion and the permanent links with
. However, there kept on being many Scandinavian words from OE to ME. France
- ME is said to come to end when the printing press was introduced into
in 1476 by Caxton in England . This helped to find a standard written form to English. There was a more uniformed spelling of English, and all people from different places from Westminster could understand each other. This standard was based on local dialects. England
Middle English handwriting, alphabet and spelling
In OE there were 2 types of writing, the runes and the Roman alphabet, the insular hand. The insular hand was replaced by a new type of writing around 1150, the Carolingian minuscule, the letters were more angular and differentiated. Around 1430 was established another handwriting, the Chancery hand, which started in
and became the official system. The manuscripts written in this new type were the Early Chancery Proceedings. London
Immediately after the N Conquest there was this alphabet:
a æ b c d e f Z(yogh) h i k l m n o p r s t þ (thorn) ð (eht) u Þ (wynn) x y
Along the time the texts had change because ME Period covers very long period of time. In the 14th c was the Late Middle English and the alphabet was modified. Some letters disappeared and we have a new alphabet:
a b c d e f (Z) h i k l m n o p q (included) r s t (þ) u v w (brought from the continent) x y z
French tradition in ME manuscripts: innovations
The spelling of ME manuscripts is based on AS tradition and also shows the influences of French and Latin (mainly). It is the most important reason for the lack or regularity of English spelling. Many AS words that we have today came to us modified by French, for instance: if we find an æ in English texts it means that the composition is early, because æ was replaced by one of these three: e, a, ea.
ð Replaced 1st for the thorn þ
þ (Thorn) replaced for th in 14th c
Þ (wynn) replaced for u, uu, w
Some of the graphemes like Z had different sounds depending on its position in the word:
- initially Z (j): the pronunciation is Zer in the north, and Zong in the rest of the areas (=young)
- medially or final:
o ri Zt: preceded by front vowel the value is palatal fricative [ç]
o bro Zt: preceded by back vowel the value is velar fricative [x].
Through the 14th c some spelling was modificated and Z started to disappear and_
- Z in initial position was replaced by y : Zong – young
- Z in medial position was replaced by g. broZ t - right
k started to be used after the N Conquest. Was preferred when was followed by
K + [e,i,n,l]. It was introduced by French scribes to read it easier.
OE cepan /tS/ > kepen (to keep): change in pronunciation caused by a change of spelling: this is called spelling pronunciation.
OE cū (c is not affected) > cou (in final position w is preferred: cow)
The great vowel shift affected to a long vowels. From an u: we obtain a diphthong ou . cū > cow. From about the half of 13th c the letter [o] started to indicate [U], specially before letter like m, n, u, v…
OE cuman (come) > ME comen [U]
OE tunge > ME tonge [U] >Modern English tongue
OE lufu /v/ > ME love [U] > Modern English [U] > [V]
French influence in spelling also remained in the introduction of the sequence [ou] and [ow] for [u:]
OE hūs > ME hous (e). The “e” started to be griten as indication of lenght of the previous vowel, and that “e” was not pronounced.
OE mūs > ME mouse.
Also due to Anglo-Norman influence is the group [ie] to indicate [e:]. It was 1st found in words of French origin: fieble, brief
OE feond > ME fiend (e:) (=find= enemy)
Continental practices imposed that:
[ch] /tS/ came from French. Cirice > chirche > church
OE cild > ME child
[S] fricative voiceless [sc in OE] > sch > sh
[cw] AS sequence affected by French. [cw] > qu
OE cweðan (to say) > ME queðen >quethen
Other innovations of the period:
[gh] antecedent : Z
Palatal with front vowel: right
Velar with back vowel: brought
ð, Þ will be the “th”
OE [hw], hwæt / hwā > ME (metathesis) what / whō
U instead of v: vunder>under
V instead of u: haue>have
I for j: iustice/justice: it lasted up to 18th c.