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Historical Background of the Middle English Period

Historical Background of the Middle English Period

“Historical Background of the Middle English Period”


1. The problem of periodization. The role of the Middle English

Period in the history of English language.

2. The influence of the Scandinavian invasions.

3. The Norman Conquest.

4. Early Middle English dialects. Neighborhood of three languages

in England.

5. Written records of the M. E. P.

6. Late M. E. P.

7. Development of English dialects and the rise of London dialect.

The historical development of a language is a continuous,

uninterrupted process without sudden breaks or rapid transformations.

Therefore any periodisation imposed on language history by linguists, with

precise dates, might appear artificial. There are some periodizations of

the history of English language. The author of the first scientific

historical phonetic and grammar of En. Language. H. Sweet suggested the

periodization that corresponds to the morphological structure of different

centures. He called the Old English Period – ‘The period of full endings ‘,

the M. E. P. – ‘The period of reduced endings’ , the New En. P. – ‘The

period of lost endings.’ But this periodization is not full because it is

not quite right to devide the logical features, but phonological or

syntactical ones (they were not mentioned in the periodization.) So, thus I

consider that any periodization is based on some principles, but can’t

touch all the sides of the language.

One of the prominent and well-known English scientists Henry Sweet

worked out several periodisations of the history of English language. He

suggested to single out the period of transition and to subdivide the

transitional stage between the Old and the Middle English Periods cover

1100-1200. H. Sweet reckoned 1200 to be the limning of the Middle English

based on morphological phenomena the Middle English Period is considered to

le the Period of Levelled English.

Another periodization is extralinguistical. It’s based on the

historical events, which influenced on the English language. I must notice

that this one is the most traditional. The commonly accepted traditional

periodization divides English language history into three periods: Old

English, Middle English and New English with boundaries attached to

definite dates and historical effects affecting the language. Old English

is connected with the German settle in Britain (5th century) and with the

beginning of writing (7th century) and ends with the Norman Conquest

(1066). Middle English begins with Norman Conquest end ends on the

introduction of printing (1475). The Middle English period itself may be

also divided into two smaller ones – Early Middle English and Late Middle


Early Middle English covers the main events of the 14th century. It

is the stage of greatest dialectal divergence caused by the feudal system

and by foreign influences-Scandinavian and French. The dialectal division

of present-day English owes its origin to this period of history. Great

changes of the language took place at all the levels, especially in lexis

and grammar.

Later 14th till the end of the 15th century is a time known as Late

or Classical Middle English. This period umbra’s the age of Chaucer, the

greatest English medieval writer and forerunner of the English Renaissanu,

and is characterized by restoration of English to the position of the state

and literary language and by literary flourishing, which has a stabilizing

effect on language, so that the rate of linguistic changes was slowed down.

At the same time the written forms of the language developed and improved.

The Old English period in the history of the language corresponds to

the position of the state and literary language corresponds to the

transitional stage from the slave-owning and tribal system to the feudal

system in the history of Britain. In the 11th century feudalism was already

well established. According to a survey made in the late 11th c. slaves and

freemen were declining classes. The majority of the agricultural population

(and also of the total population, which amounted to about 2.000.000

people) was bound to their lord and land. Under natural economy,

characteristre of feudalism, most of the things needed for the life of the

lord and the villain were produced on the estate. Feudal manors were

separated from their neighbors by tells, local feuds, and various

restrictions concerning settlement, traveling and employment. These

historical conditions produced a certain influence on the development of

the language.

In Early M.E. the differences between the regional dialects grew.

Never in history, before or after, was the historical background more

favorable for dialectal differentiation. The main is the dialectal division

in England, which survived in later ages with some slight modification of

the feudal stage of British history.

In the age poor communication dialect boundaries often coincided with

geographical barriers such as rivers, mashes, forests, and mountains, as

these barriers would hinder the diffusion of linguistic features.

In addition to economic, geographical and social conditions,

dialectal differences in Early M.E. were accentuated by some historical

events, namely the Scandinavian invasions and the Norman Conquest.

Though the Scandinavian invasions of England are dated in the Old

English period, there effect on the language is particularly apparent in

M.E. Eventually the Scandinavians were absorbed into the local population

both ethnically and linguistically, because new settlers and the English

intermarried and intermixed; they lived close together and didn’t differ

either in social rank or in the level of culture and customs; they

intermingled the more easily as there was no linguistic barrier between


The increased regional differences of English in the Scandinavian

influence in the areas of the heaviest settlement the Scandinavians

outnumbered the Anglo-Saxon population, which is attested by geographical

names. In Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland, Cumberland-up to 75 per

cent of the place-names is Danish or Norwegian. Altogether more than 1.400

English villages and towns bear names of Scandinavian origin (with the

element “thorp” meaning “village”, e.g. Woodthorp, Linthorp; “toft”, “a

piece of land”, e. g. “Brimtoft”, “Lowestoft”). Probably, in many districts

people became bilingual, with either Old Norse or English prevailing.

Besides due to the contacts and mixture with O Seand, the Northern dialects

(chiefly North Umbrian and East Mercian) had acquired lasting and something

indelible Scandinavian features. We find a large admixture of Scandinavian

words in Early M.E. records coming from the North East whereas contemporary

text from other regions are practically devoid of Scandinavian borrowings.

In later ages the Scandinavian element passed into other regions. The

incorporation of the Scandinavian element in the London dialect and

Standard English was brought about by the changing linguistic situation in

England: the mixture if the dialects and the grooving linguistic


Soon after Canute’s death (1042) and the collapse of his empire the

old Anglo-Saxon line was restored but their reign was short-lived. The new

English king, Edward the Confessor (1942-1066), who had been reared in

France, brought over many Norman advisors and favorites; he distributed

among them English lands and wealth to the considerable resentment of the

Anglo-Saxon nobility and church hierarchy. He not only spoke French himself

but insisted on it being spoken by the nobles at his court. William, Duke

of Normandy, visited his court and it was rumored that Edward appointed him

his successor. In many respites Edward paved the for Norman infiltration

long before the Norman Conquest. However, the government of the country was

still in the hands of Anglo-Saxon feudal lords, headed by the powerful Earl

Godwin of Wessex.

In 1066, upon Edward’s death, the Elders of England proclaimed Harold

Godwin king of the English. As soon as the news reached William of

Normandy, he mustered a big army by promise of land and plunder (one third

of his soldiers were Normans, other, mercenaries from all over Europe) and,

with the support of the Pope, landed in Britain.

In the battle of Hastings, fought in October 1066, Harold was killed

and the English were defeated. This date is commonly known as the date of

the Norman Conquest, though the military occupation of the country was not

completed until a few years later. After the victory of Hastings, William

by passed London cutting it off from the North and made the William of

London and the bishops at Westminster Abbey crown him king. William his

barons laid waster many lands in England, burning down villages and

estates. They conducted a relentless campaign of subjugation, devastated

and almost depopulated Northumbria and Mercia, which tried to rise against

the conquerors. Huge stone Norman castles if earthen forts and wooden

stockades, built during the campaign, soon replaced scores. Most of the

lands of the Anglo-Saxon lords passed into the hands of the Norman barons,

William’s own possession comprising about one third of the country. The

Normans occupied all the important ports in the church, in thee government

and in the army.

Following the conquest hundreds of people from France crossed the

Channel to make their home in Britain were also dukes of Normandy and,

about a hundred years later, took possession of the whole western half of

France, thus bringing England into still closer contact with the continent.

French monks, tradesmen and craftsmen flooded the southwestern towns, so

that not only the higher nobility but also much of the middle class was


The Norman Conquest was not only a great event in British political

history but also the greatest single event in the history of the English

language. Its earliest effect was a drastre change in the linguistic


The Norman Conquerors of England had originally come from

Scandinavia. About one hundred and fifty years before they scized the

valley of the Scine and settled in what was henceworth known as Normandy.

They were swiftly assimilated by the French and in the 11th century came to

Britain as French speakers and bearers of French culture. They spoke the

Northern dialect if French, which differed in some points from Central,

Parisian French. Their tongue in Britain is often reffered to as ‘Anglo-

French’ or ‘Anglo-Norman’, but may just as well be called French, since we

are less concerned here with the distinction of French dialects than with

the continuous French influence upon English, both in the Norman period of

history and a long while after the Anglo-Norman language had ceased to


In the early 13th c., as a result of lengthy and inefficient wars

with France John Lackland lost the French provinces, including the dukedom

of Normandy. Among other consequences the loss of the lands in France cut

off the Normans in Britain from France, which speeded up the Anglo-France,

which speeded up the decline of the Anglo-French language.

The most immediate consequence of the Norman domination in Britain

is to be seen in the wide use of the French language in many spheres of

life. For almost free hundred years French was the official language of

administration: it was the language of the king’s court, the law courts,

the church, the army and the castle. It was also every day language of many

nobles, of the higher clergy and of many townspeople in the South. The

intellectual life, literature and education were in the hands of French-

speaking people; French, alongside Latin, was the language of writing.

Teaching was largely conducted in French and boys at school were taught to

translate their Latin into French instead of English.

For all that, England never stopped being an English-speaking

country. The bulk of the population held fast to their own tongue: the

lower classes in the towns, and especially in the country-side, those who

lived in the Midlands and up north, continued to speak English and looked

upon French as foreign and hostile. Since most of the people were

illiterate, the English language was almost exclusively used for spoken


At first the two languages existed side by side without mingling.

Then, slowly and quickly, they began to permeate each other. The Norman

barons and the French town-dwellers had to pick up English words to make

themselves understood while the English began to use French words in

current speech. A good knowledge of French would mark a person of higher

standing giving him a certain social prestige probably many people become

bilingual and had a fair command of both languages.

These peculiar linguistic conditions could not remain static. The

struggle between French and English was bound to end ion the complete

victory of English, for English was the living language of the entire

people, while French was restricted to certain social spheres and to

writing. Yet the final victory as still a long way off. In the 13th c. only

a few steps were made in that direction. The earliest sign of the official

recognition of English by the Norman hinges was the famous Proclamation

issued by Henry 3 in 1258 to the councilors in Parliament. It was written

in three languages: French, Latin and English.

The three hundreds years of the domination of French affected English

more than any other foreign influence before or after. The early French

borrowings reflect accurately the spheres of Norman influence upon English

life; later borrowings can by attributed to the continued cultural,

economic and political contacts between the countries. The French influence

added new features to the regional and social differentiation of the

language. New words, coming from French, could not be adopted

simultaneously by all the speakers if English; they were first used in some

varieties of the language, namely in the regional dialects of Southern

England and in the speech if the upper classes, but were unknown in the

other varieties of the language.

The use of a foreign tongue as the state language, the diversity of

the dialects and the decline of the written form of English created a

situation extremely favorable for increased variation and for more

intensive linguistic change.

The regional M.E. dialects had developed from respective OE dialects.

A precise map of all the dialects will probably never be made, for

available sources are scare and unreliable: localized and their approximate

boundaries have been determined largely by inference; for later ME the

difficulty lies in the growing dialect mixture.

With these reservation the following dialect groups can be

distinguished in Early M.E.

The Southern group included the Kentish and the South-Western

dialects. Kentish was a direct descendant of the O.E. Saxon dialects, - not

only West Saxon, but also East Saxon. The East Saxon dialect was not

prominent in OE but became more important in Early M.E., since it made the

basis of the dialect of London in the 12th and 13th c. Among the dialects

of this group the Gloucestes dialect and the London dialect may be


The group of Midland (‘Central’) dialect – corresponding to the OE

Mercian dialect – is divided into West Midland and East Midland as two main

areas, with further subdivisions within: South-East midland and North-East

Midland, South-west Midland and North-West Midland. In M.E. the Midland

area became more diversified linguistically than the OE Mercian kingdom

occupying approximately the same territory: from the Thames in the South to

the Welsh-speaking area in the West and up north to the river Humber.

The Northern dialect had developed from OE Northumbrian. In Early

M.E. the Northern dialects included several provincial dialects, e.g. the

Yorkshire and the Lancashire dialects, and also what later became known as


In the course Early M.E. the area if the English language in the

British Isles grew. Fallowing the Norman Conquest the former Celtic

kingdoms fell under Norman recluse. Wales was subjugated in the late 12th

c. the English made their first attempts to conquest Ireland. The invaders

settled among the Irish and were soon assimilated, a large proportion of

the invaders being Welshmen. Though part of Ireland was ruled from England,

the country remained divided and had little contact with England. The

English language was used there alongside Celtic languages-Irish and Welsh

– and was influenced by Celtic.

The E.M.E. dialectal division was preserved in the succeeding

centuries, though even in Late M.E. the linguistic situation changed. In

Early M.E. while the state language and the main language of literature was

French, the local dialects were relatively equal. In Late M.E., when

English had been reestablished as the main language of administration and

writing, one of the regional dialects, the London dialect, prevailed over

the others.

For a long time after the Norman Conquest there were two written

languages in England, both of them foreign: Latin and French. English was

held in disdain as a tongue used only by common illiterate people and not

fit for writing. In some dialects the gap in the written tradition spanned

almost two hundred years.

The earliest samples of Early M.E. prose are the new entries

made in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles from the year 1122 to the year 1154,

known as the Peterborough Chronicle.

The works in the vernacular, which began to appear towards the

end of the 12th c., were mostly of a religions nature. The great mass of

these works are homilies, sermons in prose and verse, paraphrases from the

Bible, psalms and prayers. The earliest of these religious works, the Poema

Morala (‘Moral Ode’) represent the Kentish dialect of the late 12th or the

early 13th.

Of particular interest for the history of the language is

‘Ormulum’, a poem composed by the monk Orm in about 1200 in the North-East

Midland dialect (Lineolnshire). It consist of unrhymed metrical

paraphrases of the Gospels. The text abounds in Scandinavianists and lacs

French borrowings. Its most outstanding feature is the spelling system

devised by the author. He doubled the consonants after short vowels in

closed syllables and used special semicircular marks over short vowels in

open syllables. Here are some lines from the poem where the author

recommends that these rules should be followed I copying the poem.

Among other works of religious nature we can mention ‘Ancrene Riwle’

(‘The Rule of Anchorites’), a prose treatise in the Northern dialect:

‘Cursor Mundi’, an amplified version of the Gospels, and ‘the Pricke of

Conscience’, a translation attributed to Richard Rolle of Hampole.

Alongside these religious works there sprang up a new kind of secular

literature inspired by the French romances of chivalry. Romances were long

composition in verse or prose, describing the life and adventures of

knights. The great majority of romances fell into groups or cycles

concerned with a limited number of matters. Those relating to the ‘matter

of Britain’ were probably the most popular and original works of English

poets, though many of them were paraphrased from French.

One of the earliest poems of this type was ‘Brut’ composed by Layamon

in the early 13th c. It is a free rendering of the 12th c., which tells

the story of the legendary foundation of Britain by Brutus, the alleged

great grandson of Aeneas of Troy; the last third of the poem is devoted to

Brut’s most famous descendant, the mythical British King Arthur and his

‘Knights of the Round Table’, Who became the favourite subject of English

knightly romances. The poem is written in alliterative verse with a

considerable number of rhymes. It is noteworthy that the West Midland

dialect of Brut, thought nearly a century and a half after the Norman

Conquest, contains very few French words; evidently the West Midlands were

as yet little affected by French influence.

Some romances deal with more resemnt events and distinctly English

themes: episodes of the Crusades of Scandinavian invasions. ‘Havelock the

Dane (East Midland dialect of the later 13th c.) narrates the adventures of

a Danish prince who was saved by a fisherman, Grim (the founder of

Grimsby). Another poem in the same dialect and century, ‘King Horn’, is

more of a love story. Doth poems make use of characters and plots found in

French sources but are nevertheless original English productions.

Among the Early M. E. texts in the South-Western dialects we should

mention ‘ The London Proclamation’ of the year 1258 and the political poems

of the early 14th c. which voiced the complaint of the poor against their

oppressors. In the poem ‘Evil Times of Edward2’ the unknown author

described the vices of the clergy and the nobility as the causes of the

wretched condition of the people. Those were the earliest M.E. texts in the

London dialect.

Early M.E. written records represent different local dialects,

which were relatively equal as forms of the written language, beneath the

twofold oppression of Anglo-Norman and Latin writing. They retained a

certain literary authority until it was overshadowed in the 14th c. by the

prestige of the London written language.

The domination of the French language in England came to an end in the

source of the 14th c. The victory of English was predetermined and prepared

for by previous events and historical conditions. Little by little the

Normans and English drew together and intermingled. In the 14th c. Anglo-

Norman was a dead language; it appeared as corrupt French to those who had

access to the French of Paris through books, education or direct contacts.

The number of people who Knew French had fallen; Anglo-Norman and French

literary compositions had lost their audience and had to be translated into


Towards the end of the 14th c. the English language had taken the

place of French as the language of literature and administration. English

was once more the dominant speech of all social classes in all regions. It

had ousted French since it had always remained the mother tongue and the

only spoken language of the bulk of the population.

It may be interesting to mention some facts showing how the transition

came about. In 1362 Edward 3 gave his consent to an act of Parliament

ordaining that English be used in the law courts, sine ‘French has become

much unknown in the realm’. This reform, however, was not carried out for

years to come: French, as well as Latin, continued to be used by lawyers

alongside English until the 16th c. Yet many legal documents which have

survived from the late 14th and 15th c. are written in English: wills,

municipal acts, petitions. In 1363, for the first tome in history,

Parliament was opened by the King’s chancellor with an address in English.

In 1399 King Henry 4 used English in his official speech when accepting the

throne. In 1404 English diplomats refused to conduct negotiations with

France in French, claiming that the language was unknown to them. All these

events testify to the recognition of English as the state language.

Howly and inevitably English regained supremey in the field of

education. As early as 1349 it was ruled that English should be used at

school in teaching Latin, but it was not until 1385 that the practice

became general, and even the universities began to conduct their curricula

in English. By the 15th c. the ability to speak French had come to be

regarded as a special accomplishment, and French like Latin, was learnt as

a foreign language. At the end of the 15th c. William Caxton, the first

English printer, observed: ‘the most quantity of the people understand not

Latin nor French here in this noble realm of England’.

One might have expected that the triumph of English would lead to

weakening of the French influence upon English. In reality, however, the

impact of French became more apparent. As seen from the surviving written

texts, French loan-words multiplied at the very time when English became a

medium of general communication. The large-scale influx of French loads can

be attributed to several causes. It is probably that many French words had

been in current use for quite a long time before they were first recorded.

As it was aforementioned records in Early M.E. were scare and came mostly

from the Northern and Western regions, which were least affected by French

influence. Later M.N. texts were produced in London and in the neighboring

areas, with a mixed and largely bilingual population. In numerous

translation from French – which became necessary when the French language

was going out of use-many loan-words were employed for the sake of greater

precision, for want of a suitable native equivalent or due to the

translator’s inefficiency. It is also important that in the course of the

14th c. the local dialects were brought into closer contact; they

intermixed and influenced one another: therefore the infiltration of French

borrowings into all the local and social varieties of English progressed

more rapidly.

As with other foreign influences, the impact of French is to be found,

first and foremost, in the vocabulary. The layers and the semantic spheres

of the French borrowings reflect the relations between the Norman rulers

and the English population, the dominance of the French language in

literature and the contacts with French culture. The prevalence of French

as the language of writing led to numerous changes in English spelling.

The dialect division which evolved in Early M.E. was on the whole

preserved in later periods. In the 14th and 15th c. the same grouping of

dialects was present: the Southern group. Including Kentish and the South-

Western dialects, the Midland group with its minute subdivision and the

Northern group. And yet the relations among them were changing. The

extension of trade beyond the conjines of local boundaries, the growth of

towns with a mixed population favored the intermixture and amalgamation of

the regional dialects. More intensive inter-influence of the dialects,

among other facts is attested by the penetration of Scandinavian loan-words

into the West-Midland and Southern dialects from the North and by the

spread of French borrowings in the reverse direction. The most important

went in changing linguistic situation was the rise of the London dialect as

the prevalent written form of language.

The history of the London dialect reveals the sources of the literary

language in Late M.E. and also the main source and basis of the Literary

Standard, both in its written and spoken forms.

The Early M.E. records made in London-beginning with the Proclamation

of 1258 – show that the dialect of London was fundamentally East Saxon; in

terms of the M.E. division, it belonged to the South-Western dialect group.

Later records indicate that the speech of London was becoming more mixed,

with East Midland features gradually prevailing over the Southern features.

The most likely explanation for the change if the dialect type and for the

mixed character of London English lies in the history of the London


In the 12th and 13th c. the inhabitants of London came from the south-

western district. In the middle of the 14th c. London was practically

depopulated during the ‘Black Death’ (1348) and later outbreaks of bubonic

plague. It has bun estimated that about one third of the population of

Britain died in the epidemies, the highest proportion of deaths occurring

in London. The depopulation was speedily made good and in 1377 London had

over 35.000 inhabitants.

Most of the new arrivals came from the East Midlands: Norfolk,

Suffolk, and other populous and wealthy counties of Malieval England,

although not bordering immediately on the capital. As a result the speech

of Londoners was brought much closer to the East Midland dialect. The

official and literary papers produced in London in the late 14th c. display

obvious East Midland in features. The London dialect became more Anglian

than Saxon in character.

This mixed dialect of London, which had extended to the two

universities (in Oxford and Cambridge) ousted French from official spheres

and from the sphere of writing.

The flourishing of literature, which marks the seconds half of the

14th c., apart from its cultural significance, testifies, to the complete

rustablishment of English as the language of writing. Some authors wrote in

their local dialect from outside London, but most of them used the London

dialect or forms of the language combining London and provincial traits.

Towards the end of the century the London dialect had become the principal

type of language used in literature a sort of literary ‘pattern’ to be

imitated by provincial authors.

The literary text of the late 14th c. preserved in numerous

manuscripts, belong to a variety of genres. Translation continued, but

original composition were produced in abundance; party was more prolific

than prose. This period of literary florescence is known as the ‘age of

Chaucer’; the greatest name in English literature before Shakespeare other

writers are referred to as ‘Chaucer’s contemporaries’).

One of the prominent authors of the time was John de Trevisa of

Cornwall. In 1387 he completed the translation of seven books on world

history - ‘Polychronicon’ by R. Higden – from Latin into the South-Western

dialect of English. Among other information it contains some curious

remarks about languages used in English: ‘ Trevisa:…gentle men have now

left to teach (i.e. ‘stopped teaching’) their children French. …Higden: It

sums a great wonder how Englishmen and their own language and tongue is so

diverse in sound in this one island and the language of Normandy coming

from another land has one manner of sound among all men that speak it right

in England…men of the East with men of the West, as it were under the same

pared of heaven, award more in the sound of their speech than men if the

North with men of the South.

Of Greatest linguistic consequence was the activity of John Wyclif

(1324-1384), the forerunner of the English Reformation. His most important

contribution to English prose was his (and his pupils’) translation of the

Bible completed in 1384. He also wrote pamphlet protesting against the

corruption of the Church. Wyelif’s Bible was copied in manuscript and read

by many people all over the country. Written in the London dialect, it

played an important role in spreading this form of English.

The chief poets of the time, besides Chaucer, were John Gower, William

Langland and, probably, the unknown author of ‘Sir Gawaine and the Green


The remarkable poem of William Langland ‘The Vision Coneerning Piers

the Plowman’ was written in a dialect combining West Midland and London

features; it has survived in three versions, from 1362 to 1390; it is an

allegory and a satire attacking the vises and weaknesses of various social

classes and sympathizing with the wretchedness of the poor. It is presented

as a series of visions appearing to the poet in his dreams. He susdiverse

people and personifications of vices and virtues and explains the way to

salvation, which is to serve Truth by work and love. The poem is written in

the old alliterative verse and shows no touch of Anglo-Norman influence.

John Gover, Chaucer’s friend and an outstanding poet of the time, was

born in Kent, but there are not many Kentisins in his London dialect. His

first poems were written in Anglo-Norman and in Latin. His longest poem

‘Vox Clamantis’ (’the Voice of the Crying in the Wilderness’) is in Latin;

it deals with Watiyler’s rebellion and condemns all roans of Society for

the sins which brought about the terrible revolt. His last long poem I is

in English: Confession Amantis (‘The Lover’s Confession), a composition of

40000 acto-syllabis . It contains a vast collection of stories drawn from

various sources and arranged to illustrate the seven deadly sins. John

Gower told his tales easily and vividly and for long was almost as popular

as Chaucer.

There was one more poet whose name is unknown. Four poems found in a

single manuscript of the 14th c. – ‘Peasl’, ‘Patience’, ‘Cleanness’, and

‘Sir Gawaineand the Green Knight’ – have been attributed to the same

author. Incidentally, the latter poet belongs to the popular Arthurian

cycle of Knightly romances, though the episodes narrated as well as the

form are entirely original. The poems are a blending of collaborate

alliteration, in line with the OE tradition, and new rhymed verse, with a

variety of difficult rhyme schemes.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) was by far the most outstanding figure of

the time. A hundred years later William Caxon, the first English printer,

called him ‘the worshipful father and fist founder and embellisher of

ornate eloquence in our language. ‘In many books on the history of English

literature and the history of English Chaucer is described as the founder

of the literary language.

His carried works more of less imitative if other authors – Latin,

French or Italian – though they bear abundant evidence of his skill. He

never wrote in any other language than English. The culmination of Chaucer

‘s work as a poet ; his great unfinished collection of stories ‘The

Canterbury Tales’.

Chaucer wrote in a dialect which in the main coincided with that used

in documents produced in London shortly before his time and for a long time

after. Although he did not really create the literary language, as a poet

of outstanding talent he made better use if it than contemporaries and set

up 2 pattern to be followed in the 15th c. His poems were copied so many

times that over sixty manuscripts of ‘The Cantervary Tales’ have survived

to this day. No books were among the first to be printed, a hundred years

after their Compositon.

Chauser’s literary language, based in the mixed (lavgely East Midland)

London dialect is known as classical M.E. In the 15th and 16th c. it

became the basis of the national literary English language.

The 15th c. could produce nothing worthy to rank with Chaucer. The two

prominent poets, Thomas Hoccleve and John Lydgate, were chicfly

translators and imitators. The style of Caucer’s successors is believed to

have drawn farther away from everyday speech; it was highly effected in

character, abounding in abstact words and strongly influenced by Latin

rhetoric (it is termed ‘aureate language’).

Whereas in English literature the decline after Chaucer is apparent,

the literature of Scotland forms a Northern dialect of English flourished

from the 13th until the 16th c. ‘The Bruce’ , written by John Barbour

between 1373 and 1378 is a national epic, which describes the real history

of Rolert Bruce a hero and military chief who defeated the army of Edward 2

at Bannockburn in 1314 and secured the independence of Scotland. This poem

was followed by others, composed by prominent 15th c. poets: e.g. ‘Wallace’

attributed to Henry the Minstel; ‘ Kind’s Quhair’ (King’s Book’) by King

James of Scotland.


1. Iliyish B. ‘History of the English Language’, Leningrad, 1983, 351p.

2. Rastorgueva T.A. ‘A History of English’, Moscow, 1983, 347p.

3. Ярцева В. Н. ‘Развитие национального литературного английского языка’,

М., 1969.

4. Костюченко Ю. П. ‘История английского языка’, К. 1953б 360с.

5. Ярцева В. Н. ‘История английского языка 9-15 в. в.’, М

6. Иванова, Чахоян, Беляева. «История английского языка», К.: 1996


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