LIN204H1S English Grammar
Middle English (ME)
1. Outer history
1066 The Norman Conquest – Normandy (Northern France) invades England. The Normans
spoke Norman French, and French becomes the language of the upper-class culture, government
and administration. English is no longer the standard literary dialect.
1204 King John loses most of his Normandy territories to the French crown. English gradually
comes back to the nobility.
14th century – Re-establishment of English as the language of administration and culture,
re-establishment of an English literary language
- 1362 English becomes the official language for legal proceedings in England
- Late 14th century: Chaucer appears as a major figure in English writing
- Grammar school changes its medium language in education from French to English
Two standards in ME – English in Scotland and English in England; we will look at only English
in England here.
The standard English in England was not from the West Saxon literary language, which was the
standard in OE, but was based on the East Midland dialect of English. This was probably because
the East Midlands were important in cultural, economic and administrative life. After all, London
was the place for the government and culture, and London speech was based on an East Midland
dialect, which mainly descended from the Mercian dialect of OE.
(15th century: Introduction of printing. The prestige of London English grew. Standardization of
In the ME period, there was a flux of French loanwords, in the areas of, for example, rank (
), law (
accuse, court, crime)
, ecclesiastical life (
abbey, parish, religion
), the military (
), arts and fashion (
apparel, dress, beauty
), and abstract nouns (
Spelling system: after the Norman Conquest, the English spelling system followed the Norman
French system, e.g., new consonant letters (e.g.,
for OE þ, ð) (
, like in
) is late medieval way of writing þe).
Lecture notes are based on descriptions in:
Barber, Charles (1993).
The English Language A Historical Introduction
Millward, C. M. (1996).
A Biography of the English Language
ed.). Harcourt Brace