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History of English


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Department of Culture and Communication Institutionen för kultur och kommunikation (IKK) English for Teachers 61-90 hp (93EN51)

English 3 (711G30, 711G31)

English Magister (711A03, 711A14)

History of English

Lecture Notes



Nigel Musk


History of English

Lecture Notes

Nigel Musk


History of English:

Language Change and Development

Nigel Musk

Department of Culture & Communication

Course Structure

1. Language Change & Development 2. Old English

3. Middle English

4. Early Modern English

Language Variation & Change

Language variation is a prerequisite for change

There is always language variation within a community or society for many different (social) reasons:

differing needs(occupation, leisure, interests, etc.)

differing social standing (sociolects)

differing contactswith other communities, e.g. with differing regional varieties (dialects) & languages

But even one and the same person shows a tendency to speak (and write) differently in different social contexts/constellations Variation is facilitated by the relative ease of geographical and

social mobility(mobility isn’t a new phenomenon!)

Change as a Social Phenomenon

Language change is most often described in linguistic terms, yet language and language change is essentially a SOCIAL

phenomenon. Both language and language change arise through communication.

People tend to adjust their language to become more like each other (accommodation)

Accommodating to others can operate across phonology (accent), lexis (vocabulary), grammar (morphology & syntax) and discourse (discursive features)

Also at a societal level, the more social upheaval, the more linguistic change


Categories of Change

Distinction often made between:

Internal change – including the normal “drift of language”

External change – due to language contact

Aspects of Language Subject to Change




Lexis (vocabulary)

Orthography (alphabet & spelling) Grammar

Internal Change: Phonology

A speaker tends not to make more effort than is necessary

This can lead for example to co-articulation effects becoming permanent.

Therefore a distinction can be made between:

conditioned (or combinatory) change, e.g. through co- articulation effects

unconditioned (or spontaneous) change

Conditioned Phonological Change 1

Assimilation – adjacent sounds become more alike

e.g. OE wæter /ˈwæter/ : ME water : ModE water /ˈwɔːtə/

OE wearm /wæərm/ : ME warm : ModE warm /wɔːm/

Palatalisation of velar consonants before front vowels:

e.g. cheese OE. cēse = OS. kāsi, Du. kaas G. Käse ), yellow OE. geolu = OS. gelo, Du. gel, G. gelb

Modern distinction in past tense /d/ : /t/ : /ɪd/

Tendency for intervocalic consonants to become voiced (vowels are always voiced), e.g. OE þēof : þēofas; ModE thief : thieves


Conditioned Phonological Change 2

Simplification of consonant clusters (elision) OE : ModE

hlāf : loaf hlūd : loud hnecca : neck hnitu : nit hring : ring hrōf : roof hlǣfdige : lady niht : night

But note that question words retained breathiness longer: what, when, where

cnēo(w) : knee cnotta : knot gnætt : gnat camb,comb : comb, wamb,womb : womb

Modern example: yod-dropping, e.g. suit, lute

Conditioned Phonological Change 3

Other phoneme losses

Reduction & loss of final unstressed vowels

OE sunu : son OE sunne : sun OE mōna : moon OE steorra : star

includes vowels in plurals e.g. OE dagas : days

with vowel reduction (weakening) first to –e and then -ə and then lost

Unconditioned Phonological Change 1

Metathesis – reversal of two (mostly) adjoining phonemes

e.g. OE ācsian : ask OE brid(d) : bird,

OE wæps (variation in OE too: wæsp) : wasp hros (cf. OE hors, ON hross, Sw russ) : horse Modern example: pretty (good) – ‘purty’ (good)

Unconditioned Phonological Change 2

Epenthesis – addition of a phoneme in the middle of a word

e.g. OE æmtig : empty

Sēo eorþe wæs æmtig (from Genesis) OE spin(e)l : spindle,

OE þunor : thunder

Modern examples:

glottal stop [ʔ]: something [sʌmʔθɪŋ], epenthetic vowel [ə]: in ScE/IrE film [fɪləm]


Unconditioned Phonological Change 3

Sound shifts

Sound “laws” whereby the same phoneme changes in all words (under the same conditions – stress, position, etc.)

Tendency to preserve symmetry of phonological system – to optimise the phonological space

Unconditioned Phonological Change 4

Chain shifts

Push (to avoid merging) or pull effects(to mergers)

head desk

bosses busses

block socks bat



[ʌ] [ɔ]


Northern Cities Chain Shift


Unconditioned Phonological Change 5

Mergers of phonemes

Front close vowels /i/ : /y/ (unrounding) OE lȳtel : little

OE yfel : evil OE synn : sin

Great vowel shift included one merger

Compare: speak [spɛːk] and feed [feːd] in ME

Disadvantages of mergers: more homonyms arise = potential detriment to communication

e.g. to : two : too; their : there; son (OE sunu) : sun (sunne)

Aspects of Language Subject to Change




Lexis (vocabulary)

Orthography (alphabet & spelling)



Internal Change: Grammar 1

Two main categories of grammatical change:

Morphological change e.g. s/he goeth goes

thou hast youhave

Syntactic changee.g. word order

Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o'the Tiger.

But in a sieve I'll thither sail […]

(Macbeth I.iii.7-8)

Weary sev'n-nights nine times nine Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine […]

(Macbeth I.iii.22-23)

Internal Change: Grammar 2

Morphological change 1

Word formation

Loss of unstressed OE derivational prefixes in ModE:

ge- with resultative meaning

e.g. winnan ‘fight’ vs. gewinnan ‘win’;

fēran ‘go, travel’ vs. gefēran ‘reach’

be- to change intransitive into transitive verbs e.g. sittan ‘sit’ vs. besittan ‘inhabit’

weep vs. beweep ‘weep over’ (ME) fall vs. befall (ModE)

Internal Change: Grammar 3

Morphological change 2

Levelling through analogy– new forms are based on other existing ones

Levelling of plurals

Compare OE (nominative) …

masculine feminine neuter

sing. stān cwēn scip

plural stānas cwēna scipu

… and ModE

plural stones queens ships

Internal Change: Grammar 4

Morphological & syntactic change

There can, however, be problems drawing a sharp distinction between morphological & syntactic change because they often go hand in hand, e.g. case endingsand word order.

Compare OE

Sēo cwēn geseah þone guman.Se guma geseah þā cwēn.

subj verb obj subj verb obj = SVO Þone guman geseah sēo cwēn. Þā cwēn geseah se guma.

obj verb subj obj verb subj = OVS

and ModE

The woman saw the man. The man saw the woman. = SVO


Internal Change: Grammar 5

By Middle English (late 12thcentury) one study (Palmatier 1969) showed dominance of SVO, but also other word orders:

In ModE the SVO word order is now the default one.

The question is which development came first: the loss of case endings or more fixed word order?

Internal Change: Grammar 6

Grammaticalisation – words (esp. nouns & verbs) are transformed into grammatical objects.

This process typically involves:

semantic bleaching – loss of lexical meaning

phonetic erosion (reduction) – loss of phonetic segments

morphological reduction – loss of morphological elements

obligatorification – becomes increasingly more obligatory

e.g. (be) + going to (be) + gonna

by the side of the preposition beside

Categories of Change

Distinction often made between:

Internal change – including the normal “drift of language”

External change – due to language contact

External Change

Waves of different settlers in Britain: Celts; Romans; Angles, Saxons and Jutes; Vikings; Normans; Immigration esp. from former colonies.

Sometimes very profound effect, e.g. creolisation, but also fairly superficial (assimilation of loan words)


Pidginsusually arise when people speaking mutually unintelligible languages come into contact

Pidgin is no-one’s 1stlanguage (L1)

Superstrate borrowing(mostly lexis from the superordinate lang.) but adapted to L1 (substrate = subordinate lang.)

imperfect learning of superstratelanguage (L2), which in turn has an impact on a potential developing creole

Creole arises when a pidgin becomes someone’s 1stlanguage


Aspects of Language Subject to Change




Lexis (vocabulary)

Orthography (alphabet & spelling) Grammar

External Change: Phonology 1

Influence of Welsh on Welsh English

Received Pronunciation Welsh English Pronunciation

[ʌ] rubber, love [ə]

it’s not just the young people it’s my mum my grandmother as well … everyone

Language Contact – Welsh lacks RP’s [ʌ]. Instead Welsh English has adopted a similar vowel from Welsh [ə].

e.g. ysgol ‘school’, ysbyty ‘hospital’

[ə] [ə] [ə] [ə]


[ə] [ə] [ə]

Front Central Back




Open iː

ə, ɜː ɔː ɒ uː


æ ʌ

ɪ ʊ


External Change: Phonology 2

In OE the unvoiced/voiced variants of these consonants were allophones:

[f] : [v] [θ] : [ð] [s] : [z]

with unvoicedforms initial and final, but voicedforms medial OE þēof : þēofas ModE thief : thieves

OE mūþ : mūþas ModE mouth : mouths OE hūs : hūsian ModE house : to house

But these allophones then became separate phonemes,

probably under the influence of large-scale borrowing of Norman French loanwords into ME, giving rise to minimal pairs:

feel : veal; seal : zeal

but also certain native English words:

thigh : thy


Aspects of Language Subject to Change




Lexis (vocabulary)

Orthography (alphabet & spelling)

External Change: Morphology 1

Contact between Old English & Old Norse could possibly have led to a pidgin-like variety and even a creole (as a lingua franca)

Typically pidgins lose complex inflectional endings and they become more reliant upon word order

Vowels of endings in unstressed syllables converged, e.g. -en, -on, -an > [ən]

During the Middle English period all endings with a vowel or vowel + nasal disappeared

External Change: Morphology 2

Nouns: ‘dog (hound)’ ‘ship’


Nom. hund hundr scip skip

Acc. hund hund scip skip

Dat. hunde hundi scipe skipi

Gen. hundes hunds scipes skips


Nom. hundas hundar scipu skip

Acc. hundas hunda scipu skip

Dat. hundum hundum scipum skipum

Gen. hunda hunda scipa skipa

External Change: Morphology 3

Verbs: ‘be’, ‘live’ ‘be’, ‘live’

sing. OE bēon libban ON vera lifa 1st ic eom libbe ek em lifi 2nd þū eart lifast þú ert lifir

3rd is lifaþ hann er lifir


1st vér erum lifum

2nd ʒē sindon libbaþ þér eruð lifið

3rd hīe þeir eru lifa


Aspects of Language Subject to Change




Lexis (vocabulary)

Orthography (alphabet & spelling) Grammar

Categories of Change

Distinction often made between:

Internal change – including the normal “drift of language”

External change – due to language contact

Internal Change: Lexis 1

Reasons for lexical change

New ideas and innovations give rise to new words

Through polysemy – words have different or multiple meanings, e.g. common words like get, go

Over time one or more meanings may fall out of use and new meanings develop

By association with other words, e.g. metaphors, metonymy

To avoid taboo, negative, offensive words or those that are too direct - euphemisms

Reasons for lexical change 1

Metaphors - association by similarity

toast [LME] There is a connection between the toast you eat and the toast you make with a raised glass. Toast is based on Latin torrere ‘to parch, scorch, dry up’, the source also of torrid [E17th], and torrent [LME] a rushing or ‘boiling’ flow of water. ‘To parch’ was the earliest meaning of the English word, and before long it was used to describe browning bread in front of a fire.

Drinking toasts goes back to the late 17th century, and

originated in the practice whereby a drinker would name a lady and request that all the people present drink her health. The idea was that the lady's name flavoured the drink like the pieces of spiced toast that people sometimes added to wine in those days. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins


Reasons for lexical change 2

Metonymy - association by contiguity, e.g. cause &

effect, concrete & abstract

eavesdrop [OE] In Old English eaves, then spelled efes, was a singular word, but the -s at the end made people think it was a plural, which is how we treat it today. If you eavesdrop you secretly listen to a conversation. The word was formed in the early 17th century from the old word eavesdropper [LME], ‘a person who listens from under the eaves’. Eavesdropper came from the noun eavesdrip or eavesdrop, ‘the ground on to which water drips from the eaves’. This was a concept in an ancient law which banned building closer than two feet from the boundary of your land, in case you damaged your neighbour's land by ‘eavesdrop’. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

Reasons for lexical change 3

Euphemism - (the use of) a mild, comforting, or evasive expression that takes the place of one that is taboo, negative, offensive, or too direct: Gosh God,

terminate kill, sleep with have sex with, pass water, relieve oneself urinate.


lavatory bog (slang), comfort station, convenience, little boys' room, little house, loo, restroom (AmE), washroom (AmE), water closet (WC) die depart this life, give up the ghost, kick the bucket (slang), pass

away, pass on

Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage

Internal Change: Lexis 2

Patterns of lexical change

Broadening (extension) of meaning – refers to a wider range of meanings (referents)

Narrowing of meaning



Patterns of lexical change 1

Broadening of meaning 1

food [OE] Recorded since the beginning of the 11th century, food is related to fodder [OE] and foster [OE], originally found in the sense ‘feed, nourish’. It can refer to mental as well as physical nourishment—the expression food for thought to indicate something that deserves serious consideration has been in use since the early 19th century. Cannon fodder for soldiers regarded as expendable dates from the First World War.

Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

food what is taken to support life. Late OE. fōda :- *fōðan-, a unique formation, the synon. words in other Gmc. langs. being f.

*fōðjan FEED. viz. ON. fœði, fœða

Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology


Patterns of lexical change 2

Broadening of meaning 2

small [OE] A word recorded since around AD 700. In Old English it could refer to something slender or narrow as well as something more generally of less than usual size. From the 16th century small beer was a term for weaker beer, the sort that people drank for breakfast when water supplies were unsafe. In Macbeth Iago dismisses women as fit only to ‘chronicle small beer’, and from this sort of use developed the sense of something insignificant. […] Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins small (dial.) slender, thin: †narrow; of limited size or extent; of fine

texture OE.; of low strength or power XII. OE. smæl = OS. (Du.), OHG. smal (G. schmal), ON. smalr.

Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

Patterns of lexical change 3

Narrowing of meaning 1

In Anglo-Saxon times starvesimply meant ‘to die’, especially a lingering death from hunger, cold, disease, or grief. People continued to use the word in this way for many centuries, and in northern English dialect starve can still mean ‘to die of cold’.

Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

starve †die OE.; die of hunger; cause to die of hunger, cold, etc.

XVI. OE. str. vb. steorfan = OS. sterban (Du. sterven), OHG.

sterban (G. sterben) :- WGmc. *sterban, perh orig. ‘be rigid’ and thus rel. to ON. stjarft tetanus, stirfinn obstinate, starf effort;

outside Gmc., cf. Olr. ussarb (:- *udsterbhā) death; extension of the base *ster- be rigid (cf. STARE). The orig. str. forms of the pt. became obs. XV. of the pp. XVI. Hence starvation XVIII.

Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

Patterns of lexical change 4

Narrowing of meaning 2

[ME] A poison does not necessarily need to be in liquid form, but in early use the word meant a drink or medicine, specifically a potion with a harmful or dangerous ingredient. The source was Old French poison ‘magic potion’, from Latin potio, also the source of potion [ME]. The saying one man's meat is another man's poison has been around for centuries and was being described as long ago as 1604 as ‘that old moth-eaten proverb’.

Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

poison †(deadly) potion XIII; substance introduced into an organism that destroys life or injures health XIV. ME. puison, poison — OF. puison, (also mod.) poison (in OF. magic potion) :- :- L. potiō, -ōn-. Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

Patterns of lexical change 5

Amelioration 1

nice [ME] In medieval English nice meant ‘foolish, silly, ignorant’, from its Latin source nescius ‘ignorant’. It developed a range of largely negative senses, from ‘dissolute’, ‘ostentatious, showy’,

‘unmanly, cowardly’, and ‘delicate, fragile’ to ‘strange, rare’, and

‘coy, reserved’. […] The word was first used in the more positive sense ‘fine or subtle’ (as in a nice distinction) in the 16th

century, and the current main meanings, ‘pleasant’ and ‘kind’, seem to have been in common use from the mid 18th century.

[…] Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

nice †foolish, stupid XIII; †wanton XIV; †coy, shy XV; fastidious, dainty; difficult to manage or decide; minute and subtle; precise, critical; minutely accurate XVI; dainty, appetizing; agreeable, delightful XVIII. — OF. nice silly, simple:- L. nescius ignorant.

Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology


Patterns of lexical change 6

Amelioration 2

pretty [OE] In his diary entry for 11 May 1660, Samuel Pepys mentions ‘Dr Clerke, who I found to be a very pretty man and very knowing’. Pepys meant that the doctor was admirable, ‘a fine fellow’. This is merely one of the many senses that pretty, a word that comes from a root meaning ‘trick’, has had over the centuries. The first was ‘cunning, crafty’, which was followed by

‘clever, skilful’, ‘brave’, and ‘admirable, pleasing’ before the main modern sense, ‘attractive’ appeared in the 15th century […]

Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

pretty † crafty, wily OE. (only); † clever; ingenious; fine, ‘brave’

XIV; beautiful in a slight or dainty manner; considerable in quantity XV. OE. prættig, corr. to MLG. prattich capricious, overbearing, […] Du. † prettig sportive, humorous; f.

Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

Patterns of lexical change 7

Deterioration 1

gossip[OE] In Old English godsibb or gossip was the word for a godparent. It literally meant ‘a person related to one in God’ and came from god ‘God’ and sibb ‘a relative’, the latter word found in sibling [OE]. Gossip came to be applied to a close friend, especially a female friend invited to be present at a birth. From this developed the idea of a person who enjoys indulging in idle talk, and by the 19th century idle talk or tittle-tattle itself.

Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

gossip †sponsor at baptism OE.; †familiar acquaintance XIV; idle talker, tattler XVI; (from the vb.) tittle-tattle, easy talk XIX. Late OE. godsibb, […] comp. of GOD and SIB denoting the spiritual affinity of the baptized and their sponsors. Hence gossip vb. be or act as gossip XVI; talk idly XVII.

Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

Patterns of lexical change 8

Deterioration 2

hussy [LME] ‘You brazen hussy!’ is now the sort of thing someone might call a female friend as a joke, but until the mid 20th century hussy was a serious term for an immoral woman. The original hussy was far more respectable, though—she was a housewife. Hussy developed in the mid 16th century from housewife [ME], which was the word's first meaning. Some hundred years later it became a rude or playful way of addressing a woman, and also a derogatory term implying a lack of morals. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

hussy, huzzy †housewife XVI; bold. shameless, or †light woman or girl XVII. Reduction of hūsīf, HOUSEWIFE.

Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

Categories of Change

Distinction often made between:

Internal change – including the normal “drift of language”

External change – due to language contact


External Change: Lexis 1

The history of English vocabulary is characterised by many waves of borrowings (loanwords).

A Germanic language (< Angles, Saxons & Jutes)

Latin (church & learning) e.g. mass, master, school

Norse (typically everyday language) e.g. take, get, sky, same

(Norman) French (government, law & administration, but also everyday language) e.g. parliament, judge, age Early Middle English (beginning of 12th century) about 90% words

of English origin

by end of Middle English period (mid 15th century) about 75%.

External Change: Lexis 2

Most of the borrowings into English belong to open word classes, e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives

Closed word class borrowings are usually rare, but note the following pronoun:

they, them, their from ON þeir, þeim, þeirra cf. OE hīe, him, hiera/heora

This could have been facilitated by internal sound changes leading more easily to confusion with the singular pronouns:

he, him OE hē, him

she/her, her OE hēo, hire (possessive pronoun)

List of References

Crystal, David (2005) 2nd edn. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Yule, G. (2006) The Study of Language. 3rd edn. Cambridge, UK:

Cambridge University Press


History of English:

Old English

Nigel Musk

Department of Culture & Communication

Course Structure

1. Language Change & Development

2. Old English (c.700-c.1150)

3. Middle English (c.1150-1500)

4. Early Modern English (1500-1700)

M e r c i a n We s t S a xo n Kentish

Germanic Invaders

& Dialects of Old English

Crystal 2003:6 & 28

Genealogy of English & Scots


Old English

West Germanic Frisian West Saxon NorthumbrianOld Mercian

Scots Standard

English Anglo-



M e r c i a n West Saxon


Crystal 2003:6 & 28


Old English Sources

Old English corpus= approx 3.5 million words (approx 30 medium-sized novels)

Runic inscriptions, e.g. the Ruthwell Cross (7thcentury)

Glossaries and translations (from Latin), e.g. Lindisfarne Gospels

Laws, e.g. Æðelbirht’s Law Code (c. AD 602)

Historical chronicles, e.g. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Religious works, e.g. Cædmon’s Hymn

Poetry, e.g. Beowulf (manuscript from 11thcentury)


Written Old English

Two writing systems:

Runic inscriptions

Roman alphabet adapted from Latin


Less than 30 clear runic inscriptions in Old English

The Ruthwell Cross

The Franks Casket

The Ruthwell Cross

Gramley 2012: 33 & 35


Adapting the Roman Alphabet

Generally written in the insular script

f, r,s& tlook different

f =


r =


s =

s ß Š

t =


Adapting the Roman Alphabet

Generally written in the insular script

e, f, r, & slook different Additional letters:




‘that/eth’ (voiced or unvoiced)

 g

‘yogh’ (=g) Digraphs:



sc =c


Letters borrowed from the runic alphabet:


‘thorn’ (voiced or unvoiced) also interchangeable with ð ‘eth’


‘wyn’ (=w)

Old English Pronunciation 1

Evidencefor how OE was pronounced

Alphabetical logic – comparing with Roman alphabet’s adaptation from Latin & variations in spellings due to regional variation

Comparative reconstruction – working backwards from later stages of English (deduction)

Sound changes– applying what we know about sound changes in general

Poetic evidence– through rhymes and alliterations, also to indicate stress patterns

BUT scribes could be inconsistent & make mistakes

e.g. variation in single and double consonants (s/ss, d/dd, etc.)

Old English Pronunciation 2

Crystal 2003: 18


Old English Pronunciation 3

Crystal 2003: 18

Old English Pronunciation 4

Crystal 2003: 18

Old English Vocabulary 1

Fundamental differences compared to Modern English:

 Approx. 24,000 lexical itemsin OE corpus

 About 85% no longer in use

 Only 3% words are loan words compared with over 70% today

 OE profoundly of Germanic roots

 Frequent use of prefixes, suffixesand compound words to extend OE lexis

Old English Vocabulary 2

Crystal 2003: 22


Lexical Borrowing 1

During Anglo-Saxon period, essentially two sources:

 Latin

 Norse


 Borrowings resulting from Christianity, e.g. altar, angel, font, mass, priest, psalm

 Literacy and learning, e.g. history, school, title

 General (e.g. domestic), e.g. plant, lentil, mat, sock

Language Contact 1


 Following Viking raids and Norse &

Danish settlement resulting in the establishment of the Danelaw

McDowall 1989: 15

Language Contact 2

It is likely that the Danes (& Norsemen) did not displace the English in the same way as the Celts.

They probably lived close together with intermarriage.

We don’t know whether OE and ON were entirely mutually intelligible, but there must have been a certain amount of bilingualism, which can account for the borrowing.

“The Norse influence on English was pervasive, in the sense that its results are found in all parts of the language; but it was not deep except in the lexicon.”(Thomason & Kaufman 1988:302)

Language Contact 3

One of the only examples of evidence of OE/ON code-mixing is found in an 11th century runic inscription at Aldbrough (Yorkshire):

Ulf let aræran cyrice for hanum and for Gunwara saula Ulf let build church for him and for Gunware’s soul Ulf had (this) church built for him(self) and for Gunware’s soul

Ulfis a Danish name (OE: Wulf) and the dative object of the preposition foris ON hanumrather than OE him.


Norse Lexical Borrowings 1

Three main types of borrowings:

 Place names

 Personal names

 General words

Norse Place Names






Crystal 2003: 25

Norse Personal Names

-son vs. OE -ing

Crystal 2003: 26

Results of Language Contact on

Lexis 1

Almost 1,000 general Norse words entered English

Yet only c. 150 appear in OE manuscripts, e.g. landing, score, fellow, take

Most loanwords don’t appear in writing until early 12thcentury, including many of our most common words,

e.g. both, same, get, give, take

Even the closed pronoun word class (3rdperson plural) was affected, spreading southwards in Middle English period from Northern dialects; theyfirst (C14th), followed by theirvs.

her(e)/hir(e) (C15th) and lastly themvs. hem(early C16th)


Results of Language Contact on Lexis 2

Through close contacts over a prolonged period, many duplicate words must have arisen with 3 possible developments:

Survival of ON word, e.g. eggvs. OE ey, sistervs. OE sweostor

Survival of OE word, e.g. pathvs. ON reike

Both ON & OE words retained with different meanings:

e.g. ON OE

dike ditch

raise rise

skill craft

skirt shirt

Results of Language Contact on Morphology

It is generally thought that language contact between ON & OE speakers led to a swifter decay of the complex morphology of OE, changing more quickly in the North, e.g.

Loss of grammatical gender (replaced by ‘natural’ gender)

Simplification of gender, number & case agreement e.g. in adjectives and demonstratives (including the definite article)

General loss of dative & genitive plurals

“The gap between the two is not great, but it may well have encouraged speakers to replace inflections with a different system. When all of these differing pronunciations are taken into account, communication may have at times been difficult.”

(Blake 1996: 80)

Results of Language Contact on Syntax

Likely influences of ON/OE language contact:

Relative pronouns

Instead of OE þe‘who, which’, a competing asarose (cf. ON som also meaning ‘as’), still found in northern dialects of English,

e.g. the man as came yesterday

Zero relative = object (relatively rare in languages of world), e.g. the man [zero] I saw yesterday

Preposition stranding (also relatively rare in languages of world), e.g. the room I saw him in

List of References

Blake, Norman Francis (1996) A History of the English Language. Houndsmill: Palgrave Crystal, David (2005) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. 2ndedn.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Gramley, Stephan (2012) The History of English: An Introduction. Abbingdon, Oxon:


McDowall, David (1989) An Illustrated History of Britain. Harlow, Essex: Longman Shamon, Simon (2000) A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3000BC-AD1603.

London: BBC

Thomason, Sarah Grey & Kaufman, Terrence (1988) Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press


History of English:

Middle English

Nigel Musk

Department of Culture & Communication

Course Structure

1. Language Change & Development

2. Old English (c.700-c.1150) 3. Middle English (c.1150-1500) 4. Early Modern English (1500-1700)

The Norman Conquest

McDowall 1989: 26

1066 – the beginning of a new social & linguistic era, but the linguistic effects on English were not immediate (Crystal 2003: 30)

ME: 12th– mid 15thcentury – a period of considerable linguistic variety & rapid transition

The Resurgence of English

Gramley 2012: 74


Phonology of ME: Vowels 1

Restructuring of OE vowel system(Crystal 2003:42, Gramley 2012: 75):

Vowel lengthening – in open syllables

e.g. OE faran /a/ ‘fare’, spere ‘spear’ /ɛ/, borian /ɔ/ ‘bore’, ME fare(n) /ɑː/, spere /ɛː/, boren /ɔː/

– before /l, r, n, m/ + voiced consonant e.g. OE cild /i/, findan /i/, ME child /iː/, finden /iː/

Vowel shortening – long /eː/ to /e/, before OE double consonants e.g. OE mētan vs. mētte /eː/, ME meten vs. met ‘meet’, ‘met’

French loan wordsbrought with them new diphthongs, e.g. ME /oɪ/ joie ‘joy’; /ʊɪ/ joinen ‘join’

Phonology of ME: Vowels 2

Monophthongisation– OE diphthongsbecame pure vowels e.g. OE ēare /æːə/ ‘ear’, dēop /eːə/ ‘deep’, eall ‘all’

ME ere /æː/, dep /eː/ all /a/

Vowel shift long /ɑː/to /oː/

e.g. OE bān ‘bone’, swā ‘so’, ME bon, so

Weakening of full vowelsto /ə/in unstressed position e.g. OE stanas, gelufod, sunu

ME stones, iloved/iluved, son(n)e ‘stones’, ‘loved’, ‘son’

In late ME even loss of final unstressed /ə/(but not always in the spelling <e>):

e.g. sone > son, lovede > loved, comen > come /sʊn/ /lʊfd/ /kʊm/

Phonology of ME: Consonants

Changes to OE consonants (Crystal 2003:42, Gramley 2012: 75):

Consonant loss h dropping

e.g. OE hring ‘ring’, hnecca ‘neck’; ME ring, nekke /sw/ > /s/

e.g. OE swēord ‘sword, swā ‘so’; ME sword(e)/sorde /s/, so /ŋg/ > /ŋ/

e.g. OE cyning ‘king’, þing ‘thing’; ME king, thing

French loan wordsbrought with them newphonemic distinctions,

e.g. /f/ : /v/ /s/ : /z/

ME fin ‘fine’ : vine sel(e) ‘seal’ zel(e) ‘zeal’

ME Script 1


ME Script 2 ME Script 3

Crystal 2003: 40

ME Spelling 1

Characterised by huge diversity for historical, linguistic, graphic & social reasons, but with increasingly greater regularity (Crystal 2003:40-41)

OE þ(thorn) was sometimes written as y(which it was similar to in Carolingian script), but increasingly as the digraph th, e.g. ye/the

OE ƿ(wynn) & ʓ(yogh) were increasingly replaced by w/u/uu& g, e.g. wille ‘will’, uuerse ‘worse’, forgyue ‘forgive’

OE æ(ash) was usually spelt as a, e.g. appel (OE æppel)

OE c/ʧ/, sc/ʃ/ cg/ʤ/ were increasingly spelt as ch, sh& gg/dg, e.g. child (OE cild), shal(le) ‘shall’ (OE sceal), rigge/ridge (OE hrycg)

OE long u/ūwas frequently spelt ou, e.g. oure ‘our’, nou ‘now’

ME Spelling 2

OE cwwas frequently spelt qu, e.g. queen (OE cwēn)

swas sometimes spelt cand cfrequently spelt kbefore front vowels (e, i), e.g. cercle ‘circle’, ciment ‘cement’, kepen ‘keep’, killen ‘kill’

u/v(whether consonant or vowel) were used in complementary positions –vat the beginningof a word and uin the middle, e.g. vnder ‘under’, haue ‘have’

OE h/x/ was increasingly spelt gh, night (OE niht), inough (OE genōh)

Because of minim confusionuwas frequently spelt obefore m, n, v, e.g. comen (OE cuman), son (OE sunu), love (OE lufu)

cumen =un luue


ME Spelling 3

/i/and /iː/could be spelt ior y, e.g. kyngdome ‘kingdom’, my(g)ht


zwas increasingly used for /z/, e.g. zineth ‘zenith’, zel(e) ‘zeal’

Increasingly long vowels came to be marked by double letters, e.g. roote /oː/ ‘root’, heeth ‘heath’ /ɛː/

Short vowels came to be marked by consonant doubling, e.g.

yronne ‘run’, thanne ‘than’

NB This development could occur because English no longer had lengthened consonants either after long or short vowels.

By the end of the period, English spelling was emerging as a mixture of Old English and French spelling

Lexical Borrowing 1

Crystal 2003: 47 & 49

Lexical Borrowing 2

Domains of Frenchborrowings (Gramley 2012: 88):

Fashion, e.g. gown, robe, cape, frock, petticoat

Art & literature, e.g. art, painting, music, beauty, poet, romance, story

Learning, e.g. medicine, physician, study, grammar, logic, geometry

Law & administration, e.g. jury, verdict, sentence, fine, prison; govern, administer, crown, state, realm, royal, court, council, parliament

Military, e.g. army, navy, battle, combat, siege, peace

Church, e.g. sermon, sacrament, baptism, chaplain, parson, pastor, vicar

Verb Inflection Loss/Levelling

Inflectional loss and levelling taking place at a different pace in different regions for the present tense (Gramley 2012: 80-81)

In the Midlands: 3rdsg. -es/-eth → 3rdsg. -es pl. -es/-en → pl. -en → -e → ø


indicative subjunctive indicative subjunctive

1stsg. -e -e ø (-is) ø

2ndsg. -(e)st -e -is ø

3rdsg. -eth -e -is ø

Pl. -eth/-e(n) -e(n) -is ø



In OE negationwas formed with the unstressed negative particle ne, typically Ne+ verb + subject, e.g. necōm se here‘the army did not come’

Newas sometimes followed by the double negative nān, næfre

e.g. Þā nemihton hīe him nānword and-swarian, ne nānmann nedorste hine nānþing māre āscian.‘Then they could not answer him a word, nor did anyone dare ask him anything else.’

In early ME, the double negation ne… nāhtwas becoming increasingly frequent, especially for emphatic negation

e.g. … and þe engel quað to hem nebe ge nahtofdredde ‘and the angel said to them be ye not (do not be) afraid’

In late ME, na(h)t, notalone became the most frequent form of negation, probably because newas unstressed and nāhtstressed.

e.g. … therfore he is nataccounted in the nombre of kynges of Englande.

The Genitive vs. of Construction

In OE possessionwas regularly formed by the genitive case, e.g. on Æþelredescyningesdæge‘in the days of king Æthelred’.

God ælmihtig is ealracyningacyning, and ealrahlāfordahlāford.‘God almighty is the king of all kings and the lord of all lords.’

Hē forlēt þæt hūs þæsgebēorscipes‘he left the house of the feast’

But by late ME, over 80% of genitive constructions used an of construction (Crystal 2003: 45)

e.g. And he þat was King ofheuen and oferthe, ofþe aer and ofþe see, and ofall thingz þat er contened in þam.

The parallel de construction of French may have hastened this development, but in ModE the old genitive case ending has remained with personal nouns.

e.g. And al it was thurgh goddesgras‘through God’s grace’

N.B. the apostrophe did not become regularised as a genitive marker until 18th century (singular) and 19thcentury (plural).

Change in Word Order

Gradual move from (accusative) objectbefore the verb (in OE) to after the verb(in late ME) (Gramley 2012: 108)

But even in ME verb second continues to appear (in contrast to ModE), e.g. Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages (Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales)

(accusative) object

1000 1200 1300 1400 1500

Before verb 52.5% 53% 40+% 14% 2%

After verb 47.5% 46% 60-% 86% 98%

sum wif hine underfeng in to hire huse

Pronouns – 2



Emergence of you singularfor polite address, perhaps due to French influence, cf. French vous (Gramley 2012: 106)

Second person pronouns in the Canterbury Tales (Mazzon 2000)

thouforms youforms sing. you forms pl. impersonal you

thou 743 ye 567 ye 290 sing. 55

thee 308 you 377 you 251 plural 19

thy 683 your 492



Crystal, David (2005) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. 2ndedn.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Gramley, Stephan (2012) The History of English: An Introduction. Abbingdon, Oxon:


McDowall, David (1989) An Illustrated History of Britain. Harlow, Essex: Longman Mazzon, G (2000) ‘Special relations and forms of address in the Canterbury Tales’. In

The History of English in a Social Context: A Contribution to Historical Linguistics.

ed. by Kastovsky, D. & Mettinger, A. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 135-167


History of English:

Early Modern English

Nigel Musk

Department of Culture & Communication

Course Structure

1. Language Change & Development

2. Old English (c.700-c.1150)

3. Middle English (c.1150-1500)

4. Early Modern English (1500-1700)

Important Developments 1

Translations of the Bible into English – by William Tyndale 1380-1384

King James Bible 1611 Language more conservative than Shakespeare

Important Developments 2

William Caxton’s English translation from French was the first printed book in English: The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye in 1473 (1474)

Caxton set up the first English printing pressin London in 1476


Important Developments 3

Dictionaries started to be written in English

Richard Mulcaster’s Elementariepublished in 1582 Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall, published in 1604 – the first single-language English dictionary

Important Developments 4

Golden Age of English Literature

William Shakespeare 1564-1616



Oxford English Dictionary 2012 French



The Great Vowel Shift 1

Chain shiftstarting in the early 15thcentury and affecting the seven long vowels of ME.

ME E Mod E Mod E

[iː] ‘time’ [ɪi] 15th [eɪ] ~ [əɪ] 16th [aɪ]18th

[eː] ‘teem’ [iː]by 16th [iː]

[ɛː] ‘team’ [eː] 16th [iː]17th

[ɑː] ‘tame’ [aː] [ɛː] 16th [eː] 17th [eɪ]18th

[ɔː] ‘foal’ [oː] 16th [oʊ] 18th [əʊ]20th

[oː] ‘fool’ [uː]by 16th [uː]

[uː] ‘foul’ [ʊu] 15th [oʊ] ~ [əʊ] 16th [ɑʊ] 17th-18th [aʊ]


The Great Vowel Shift 2

Crystal 2003: 55

Grammar: 2


person pronoun

Gramley 2012: 141

Grammar: Do periphrasis

Gramley 2012: 138


Crystal, David (2003) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. 2ndedn.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Gramley, Stephan (2012) The History of English: An Introduction. Abbingdon, Oxon:


Oxford English Dictionary (2012) Oxford: Oxford University Press [online] available from

<http://www.oed.com.lt.ltag.bibl.liu.se> [19 July 2012]


History of English


Nigel Musk


Writing Old English and Using IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet) in Word with Lucida Sans Unicode

æ (ash) [æ]

ð (eth) [ð] [ø]

þ (thorn) ē (e macron) ī (i macron)

ō (o macron) [ŋ]

ū (u macron)

ƿ (wynn) ǣ (ash macron)

[ɑ] [ɒ]

[ɔ] [ə] [ɛ] [ɜ] [ɣ]

[ɪ] NB Find [θ] below [ɹ] [ɾ] [ʃ]

ʓ (yogh)[ʊ] [ʌ] [ʍ] [ʒ] [ʔ]

[ʤ] [ʧ]

stress markers [ˈ ˌ] & length markers [ː ˑ]

combining macron for

combining syllabic marker [ ]

combining inverted breve [ ]



Old English Exercises


The following explanations and exercises also introduce some of the basic vocabulary in the Old English texts that you will be reading. The aim is to help you to guess what some of the main words mean. At first glance, Old English looks very different from Modern English, but not everything is different. The following words are easily recognisable today:

and on for of wind swift word

strong bed his mē lamb corn finger

self swift is winter west hē wē

in land hell tō gold under God

Some words have changed their spelling slightly, but with a little guesswork, they are still recognisable:

mann twelf pund Englaland nīw earm biscop

sweord lang dēad healf līf

In Old English, the spelling has often been normalised to West Saxon. One feature of this

normalisation is that long vowels are usually marked with a macron: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū, ȳ, ǣ. In Modern English spelling long vowels (and diphthongs) can be marked as

• a double vowel, e.g. ‘deed’ (OE dǣd), ‘east’ (OE ēast),

• a silent ‘e’ at the end, e.g. ‘five’ (OE fīf)

• both a double vowel and a silent ‘e’, e.g. ‘house’ (OE hūs)

Pair up the following words according to their meaning:

fīf • • hand

ēast • • biscop

ūt • • wē

sǣ • • mann

prēost • • in

wīf • • twelf

ūs • • land

fōt • • eald

nīw • • west


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