|Period||approx. 1100 AD – 1500 AD|
Formerly spoken in
|Parts of what is now England and southern Scotland|
|ISO 639 -1||
|ISO 639 -2||
Middle English is the historical language level of the English language , which was spoken and written between the 12th and the middle of the 15th century . This period was marked by radical changes at all linguistic levels, and since the evidence also comes from different dialect areas, the term Middle English stands for a large variety of varieties from which the London standard only gradually emerged.
- a strong simplification of the inflected forms
- the resulting preference for analytical instead of synthetic sentence constructions
- the inclusion of numerous words of French, Latin and partly Scandinavian origin in the vocabulary
Differentiation from other levels of English
The beginning of Middle English is usually set in the literature around the year 1100. The Norman conquest of England in 1066 and the associated effects on the English language (loss of inflection , earliest layer of French loanwords ) mark the beginning of Middle English. The end of Middle English is usually set around the year 1500, because around 1500 the early New English vowel shift began, which changed the English language permanently. In addition, two extra-linguistic events are mentioned that mark the end of the Middle English period and the beginning of the early New English period: the beginning of printing in England by Caxton in 1476 and the coronation of Henry VII in 1485 and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.
Status of English from 1066 to the 15th century
The history of Middle English begins in 1066 with the Norman conquest of England under the leadership of William the Conqueror . As a result of this conquest, a new class of nobility consisting of Romanized Normans emerged. Anglo- Norman, a variant of French used by the Romanized Normans, became the language of the court and administration. Latin was the language of the Church and of science. Only the common people continued to speak English. Knowledge of the English language was only necessary for those of the upper classes who had to communicate with members of the lower classes. English thus had little prestige and was considered uncultivated. In addition, the fact that French enjoyed great popularity in Europe as the language of the cultivated also played a role in the long dominance of French in England.
From around the 12th century onwards, the status of English slowly changed: members of the nobility and church leadership increasingly understood and spoke English. This tendency was reinforced by the loss of Normandy to King Johann Ohneland in 1204. Without French possessions, contact with France for many Anglo-Norman nobles was now less close and an important motivation for the use of French disappeared. After all, the Hundred Years War in the 14./15. In the 19th century between France and England, French was viewed with a certain animosity as the language of a hostile country.
Changes in English society also contributed to the rise of English: England lost 30 percent of its population to the plague in the mid-14th century. Since the common population was particularly hard hit by the plague, there was a lack of labor in agriculture and with it the opportunity for the peasant population to gain more rights. In addition, a middle class of craftsmen and merchants established themselves in the larger towns and cities, who usually spoke both English and French. Above all, these economic and social changes improved the situation of the English-speaking population and ultimately also contributed to the fact that English gained prestige.
From the 14th century, English regained its status as the language of parliament, justice, church, and literature. In 1362 the Parliament was first opened by the Chancellor with a speech in English. In 1362, the Statute of Pleading introduced English as the language of court proceedings, replacing French, which had been in use since the Norman conquest of England. There is also first evidence from 1349 that English was used as the language of instruction, and by the end of the 14th century English was already widely used as a school language. Middle English literature began to blossom from around 1350. Geoffrey Chaucer , the author of the poem Troilus and Criseyde and the Canterbury short stories, is one of the outstanding representatives of the literature of this time . In addition, important authors are William Langland , the author of Piers Plowman , and the (unknown) author of the Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight . Finally, the English reformer John Wyclif is to be mentioned as an important prose author and Bible translator.
The pronunciation of Middle English can now be reconstructed from various sources: comparison with other related languages, comparison with other language levels such as Old English, evidence from the analysis of poetry and clues from Middle English spelling.
The following reconstruction of the vowels refers to 14th century Chaucer English:
|/ ɛɪ /|
|/ ɪʊ /|
|/ ɔɪ /|
|/ ɛʊ /|
|/ aʊ /|
|/ ɔʊ /|
In the transition from Old English to Middle English, the vowels have changed little. The main changes are:
- The diphthongs in Old English are replaced by monophthongs in Middle English.
- New diphthongs: In the phase of transition from Old English to Middle English, some consonants are vocalized: / j / becomes / i /, / w / and the voiced variant of / x / becomes / u /. This creates new diphthongs in Middle English. In addition, some diphthongs are borrowed from French.
The vowel changes during the Middle English period, however, remain slight compared to the early New English vowel shift ( Great Vowel Shift ), which marks the beginning of the next language level, early New English .
The consonants of Middle English are essentially the same as the consonant inventory of British and American English with a few small differences:
|Plosives||p b||t d||k g|
|Fricatives||f v||θ ð||s z||ʃ||(ç)||(x)||H|
- [ ŋ ] is in English means of an allophone / n / that before / k / and / g / occurs. Thus, the means by English distinguishes modern English where [ ŋ ] is an independent phoneme as the minimal pair thing - thin displays.
- [c, x] are allophones of/ h /occurring in Silbenauslaut,[ ç ]accordingfront voweland[ x ]toback vowel. These allophones have disappeared from modern English.
In contrast to today's English, there is still a large consistency of spelling and pronunciation in Middle English. An exception to this rule are long vowels, which are used to denote long vowels, e.g. B. <aa> in caas (New English case ). As there is no national standard for English, there is a lot of regional variation in the spelling of Middle English words. Only with the emergence of a national standard in the 15th century was spelling standardized ( Chancery Standard ).
In Middle English, many consonants are represented as in today's English. In addition, there were some special features in writing and the alphabet that are characteristic of the Middle English period:
- The Old English letters Ash <æ>, Eth <ð>, Thorn <þ> and Wynn <ƿ> gradually disappeared from the Middle English spelling. Ash was no longer necessary in Middle English because the corresponding sound in Middle English became / a /. Eth e.g. B. disappeared in the 13th century and was replaced by Thorn, which was eventually replaced by <th>. Wynn was replaced by the Latin letter ⟨w⟩.
- The Middle English took over from Norman the letter <Ȝ> (also known as yogh called). This letter was used for the sounds [ɣ], [j], [dʒ], [x], [ç] .
- In the Middle English period, the letters ⟨k⟩, ⟨q⟩ and ⟨z⟩, which were not common in Old English, came into use.
Vocabulary and word formation
Through the use of French and Latin in many domains such as government and administration, religion, law, church, but also fashion and literature, many words of French and Latin origin found their way into the English language, as well as some words from Old Norse .
The adoption of French loanwords into English was rather sparse until 1250: only about 900 words were adopted into English, which are either due to the contact of the English-speaking people with the French-speaking nobility or to literary sources. Examples are baron , noble , dame , servant or story . Another source of French loanwords prior to 1250 is church vocabulary. After 1250, the English upper class began to increasingly use English instead of French. Examples of French loanwords from this period are z. B. government , administer , religion , sermon , justice , crime , fashion , dress or curtain . About 40% of the total proportion of French words in today's English were adopted into the English language between 1250 and 1400 alone. It is also estimated that a total of around 10,000 French words were adopted into the English language during the Middle English period, of which 75% are still in use today.
Some of the loanwords displace the original Old English vocabulary, such as B. Justice instead of Old English ranked or crime instead of Old English firen . In other cases, the original Old English words and the French or Latin loanwords exist side by side but take on different meanings. The entry of French and Latin words into the Middle English vocabulary resulted in a differentiation of the vocabulary that extends to the present day. A well-known example is the phrase cow / ox , sheep , pig / swine and calf from Old English (to denote the living animals) and beef , mutton , pork and veal from the French (to denote the meat). Words borrowed from French have been fully integrated into the English language, which can be seen, among other things, from the fact that the loanwords can now be combined with words of Anglo-Saxon origin (e.g. gentleman = gentle + man ).
If you look at the loanwords from French, it is noticeable that their spelling and pronunciation differ significantly from today's French. This is also due to the fact that many words are borrowed from Anglo-Norman French, which was spoken in England. Anglo-Norman French differed from French from the Paris region (Central French), which later became the standard variant of today's French. In Anglo- Norman French, for example, one finds salarie and victorie , which was adopted as salary and victory in English , while in today's French one finds salaire and victoire . In other cases, both the Anglo-Norman variant of a word and the variant of Central French were adopted into English: This is why we find the verb catch from the Anglo- Norman cachier and chase from the central French chacier (today's French: chasser ).
Verbal prefixes ( ge, be-, for- ) are no longer used as a means of deriving word formation and disappear.
The most important change in the transition from Old English to Middle English is a strong simplification of the inflected forms .
While the case , number and gender of nouns and adjectives are clearly marked in Old English , this is greatly reduced in Middle English. So z. B. the usual plural ending for almost all nouns -es and -en . (The plural -en in modern English is then only reduced to remnants as in children and oxen .)
|dative||englen / englem||name / namem|
In Old English, as in German, there is still a grammatical gender. B. wife and child , like German woman and child , neuter. In the Middle English period the grammatical gender disappeared, pronouns are now used to refer to the natural gender of a person or thing. Exceptions can only be found in literary language, e.g. B. the feminine pronoun hire for the morning star (Venus) in Chaucer.
In the Old English period there were still a number of verbs with strong conjugation . With the arrival of new verbs from the French language, many of these verbs disappear or their strong conjugation is replaced by a weak conjugation. Verbs that were strong in Old English and became weak verbs over the course of the Middle English period include ache , bow , brew , burn , row , step and weep . Many verbs have long had a strong and a weak form side by side. For example, help used the weak form helpide in Middle English , but until Shakespeare's time also the strong form holp for the 3rd person singular in the simple past.
By reducing the case inflection in nouns, adjectives and articles, the order of subject-verb-object (SVO) and the use of prepositions become more important for understanding sentences. While the order of the clauses was relatively free in Old English as in German, the order SVO became more and more the rule in the Middle English period, especially in late Middle English prose, and in both main and subordinate clauses: If that a prynce useth hasardye .. . (Modern English: If a prince practices gambling ... ).
Since Middle English is an intermediate level between Old English and Modern English, you can also find the older forms of sentence structure, as they are common in Old English and also in German:
- Final position of the participle at the end of the sentence: This tresor hath Fortune unto us yiven (New English Fortune has given this treasure to us )
- Verbzweitstellung when the sentence is introduced by an adverb: Unnethe ariseth he out of his synne (Modern English He has scarcely risen out of his sin )
- No dummy do in questions, in contrast to modern English: Why lyvestow so longe in so greet age? (New English Why do you live so long into such great age? )
The personal pronouns have - depending on the author and dialect - three people , two to three numbers ( singular , plural , sometimes also dual ) and two to four cases ( nominative , dative and accusative or objective , sometimes also genitive ).
|In the ormulum (around 1200):
|In the Ancren Riwle :
|From Geoffrey Chaucer :
In samples from 1250–1400:
south: I (uch)
north: ic, ik, I
|2nd Sg.||þu, þou||þin, þi||þe|
|1st pl.||we||ure, ur||ous, us|
|2nd pl.||ȝe, ȝhe, ye||eower,
|eow, ow, ou,
|3rd Sg. M.||he
south too: a, ha
|his||him||him to the
south also: into
|3rd Sg. F.||
south: heo (hue), hi, hy, ho
north: sco, sho
south also: hi, his (is)
|3rd Sg.||hit it||his||him||hit it|
|hi, hii, heo (hue)||hire, here, heore (huere), hor||hem, heom (huem), hom||hi
south also: his (hise, is)
|1. You.||wit||unker||unc, unk, hunke|
|2. You.||git, get||gunker||gunk|
The dual is rare and appears to have disappeared before 1300.
The most important change in personal pronouns during the Middle English period is the replacement of the Old English form here for the third person plural ( she ) by the Nordic they .
Middle English dialects
Since French and Latin were the languages of government, administration, church and school for most of the Middle English period, there was no need for a supraregional standard for Middle English. The tendencies towards standardization that existed towards the end of the Old English period disappeared with the conquest of England by the Normans and the predominance of Anglo-Norman as the cross-national language of the elite. Middle English was therefore characterized by a wide range of regional variations. The main dialects of Middle English were Northern and Southern English and the English of the West and East Midlands.
Towards the end of the 14th century, the dialect of the East Midlands, especially the dialect of the metropolis of London, gained most of the prestige and became the national standard. The London standard spread over the whole of England, at least as the standard for written English, to which the beginnings of English printing with its center in London also contributed.
Text and audio sample
The Lord's Prayer in a Middle English version based on John Wyclif's first translation of the Bible from the 1380s, for comparison of the text in relatively modern English ( Book of Common Prayer 1928) and German (ecumenical text 1971):
|Middle English||New English||German|
|Oure fadir that art in heuenes,
halewid be thi name;
thi kyngdoom come to;
be thi will don
`in erthe as in heuene;
yyue to vs this dai oure `breed ouer othir substaunce;
and foryyue to vs oure dettis,
as we foryyuen to oure dettouris;
and lede vs not in to temptacioun,
but delyuere vs fro yuel.
|Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
|Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Our daily bread Give us today.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
The following audio sample covers the opening lines of the Merchant's Prologue from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales :
Middle English literature
The best-known works in Middle English are the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (around 1340 to 1400), a collection of stories that are embedded in a framework story and the content of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, to the tomb of St. Thomas Becket Has. Through his works, Chaucer made a significant contribution to establishing (Middle) English as a literary language.
- Dieter Bähr: Introduction to Middle English . 4th edition. UTB, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 978-3825203610 - standard work, which, however, requires profound knowledge of the specialist vocabulary from phonetics and phonology and morphology. More formalistic than educational and therefore difficult to digest for beginners
- Heiner Gillmeister, Second Service. Brief history of the English language , St. Augustin 2002 ISBN 3-537-83062-9 .
- Simon Horobin, Jeremy Smith: An Introduction to Middle English . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2002, ISBN 978-0-7486-1481-3 .
- Lilo Moessner: Diachronic English Linguistics - An Introduction . Tübingen 2003, ISBN 3-8233-4989-9 - University textbook , clearly designed, also for beginners
- Fernand Mossé: Middle English short grammar. Phonology, form theory, syntax . Munich 1988, ISBN 3-19-002164-3 - a classic, translated from French
- Wolfgang Obst, Florian Schleburg: The language of Chaucer: A textbook of Middle English on the basis of "Troilus and Criseyde" . 2nd Edition. Winter, Heidelberg 2010. ISBN 978-3-8253-5699-6 - comprehensive and precise modern textbook
- Walter Sauer: The pronunciation of Chaucer English . Winter, Heidelberg 1998, ISBN 3-8253-0783-2 - suitable for beginners; contains a transcription of the Canterbury Tales Prologue.
References and footnotes
- Manfred Görlach: Introduction to the history of the English language . 2nd Edition. Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg 1982, ISBN 3-494-02043-4 , p. 27-28 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 128 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 110-120 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 110-120 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 110-120, 136 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 122-151 .
- Simon Horobin, Jeremy Smith: An Introduction to Middle English . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2002, ISBN 978-0-7486-1481-3 , pp. 42-44 .
- Wolfgang Obst, Florian Schleburg: The language of Chaucer . 2nd Edition. Winter, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8253-5699-6 , pp. 27 .
- Simon Horobin, Jeremy Smith: An Introduction to Middle English . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2002, ISBN 978-0-7486-1481-3 , pp. 49 .
- The exact nature of Middle English r is unknown. It could be a alveolar approximant [ ɹ ] have been, as in most modern English dialects, an alveolar tap [ ɾ ] , or alveolar Vibrant [ r ] . In this article, we use the symbol / r / for this sound, without wishing to make a statement about its nature.
- Wolfgang Obst, Florian Schleburg: The language of Chaucer . 2nd Edition. Winter, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8253-5699-6 , pp. 22 .
- Simon Horobin, Jeremy Smith: An Introduction to Middle English . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2002, ISBN 978-0-7486-1481-3 , pp. 60-64 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 174 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 163-176 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 170-172 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 176-177 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 155, 161 .
- Wolfgang Obst, Florian Schleburg: The language of Chaucer . 2nd Edition. Winter, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8253-5699-6 , pp. 192 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 158-159 .
- Simon Horobin, Jeremy Smith: An Introduction to Middle English . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2002, ISBN 978-0-7486-1481-3 , pp. 99-100 .
- Henry Sweet: First Middle English primer [:] Extracts from the Ancren Riwle and Ormulum with grammar and glossary. Oxford, 1884, p. 45
- Henry Sweet: First Middle English primer [:] Extracts from the Ancren Riwle and Ormulum with grammar and glossary. Oxford, 1884, p. 10
- Stephen Howe: The Personal Pronouns in the Germanic Languages: A study of personal pronoun morphology and change in the Germanic languages from the frist records to the present day. 1996, p. 143
- Henry Sweet: Second Middle English primer [:] Extracts from Chaucer with grammar and glossary. 2nd ed., Oxford, 1899, p. 13
- Chaucer The Clerkes Tale with Life, Grammar, Notes and an Etymological Glossary. London & Edinburgh, 1883, p. 16 f.
- R. Morris: Specimens of Early English selected from the Chief English Authors AD 1250 – AD 1400 with Grammatical Introduction, Notes, and Glossary. Oxford, 1867, pp. Xiv f. and xxix f.
- Wolfgang Obst, Florian Schleburg: The language of Chaucer . 2nd Edition. Winter, Heidelberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8253-5699-6 , pp. 132 .
- Albert C. Baugh, Thomas Cable: A History of the English Language . 6th edition. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon 2013, ISBN 978-0-415-65596-5 , pp. 184-190 .