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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.