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Old English and Middle English

PHR Bates
Assignment No. 582418

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The survival of the English language is in many respects, surprising. Surviving waves of conquering
forces, and hundreds of years, the language we speak today as English is far removed from the Old
English of last millennium. This essay will examine an extract from the Peterborough Chronicle, and
examine the differences and similarities between Old English and Modern English that are evident in
this extract, and will focus on orthography, grammar and vocabulary.
a e castles uuaren maked a namen hi a men e hi wenden at ani god hefden,
bathe be nihtes & be dies, carlmen & wimmen, & diden heom in prisun & pined heom
efter gold & syluer untellendlice pining; for ne uuren nure nan martyrs swa pined alse hi
ron. Me henged up bi the fet & smoked heom mid ful smoke. Me henged bi the umbes
other bi the hefed & hengen bryniges on her fet. Me dide cnotted strenges abuton here
hued & uurythen it at it gde to e hrnes. Hi diden heom in quarterne ar nadres &
snakes & pades ron inne War s me tilede, e erthe ne bar nan corn, for e land was
al fordon mid suilce ddes. & hi sden openlice at Crist slep, & his halechen. Suilc, &
mare anne we cunnen sin, we oleden xix wintre for ure sinnes.1
Peterborough Chronicle for 1137
The Peterborough Chronicle is a part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a historical document containing
accounts of events in England produced and distributed by various monasteries in England. AngloSaxon Chronicle serves as a valuable historical document because it allows us to trace the
development of the English language across the centuries as it developed and changed under both
external and internal influence. The line between Old and Middle English was not a hard and fast
border, as David Crystal says in The End of Old English: there was never a break there could not
have been. Crystal states that though the change in the language was rapid, it was not
revolutionary but rather gradual and he further states that we find texts halfway between
Middle and Old English.2 This extract from the Chronicle provides an example of this straddling.
Originating in the year 1137, post-Norman conquest, this extract provides some history as to how
Norman French affected and altered English, as well as how the move towards a standard form of
English, affected the way the language was written.
Orthography and spelling
Of interest is the mixed use of letters in the extract, particularly the interchange between <uu> and
<> to represent [w], contrasted with Old English where only the wynn is used and not the lateroccuring <uu>: s mid m fyrstum mannum on m lande from the History Against the
Pagans. ron and uuaren are two examples where the symbols are different in the passage.
Also notable are the use of <f> instead of <u> for [v], which is again inconsistent, as is the use of <>
and <> alongside <th>. The French <qu> is used in the word quarterne rather than the Old English
<cw> as in cw (quoth). Also of note is the use of <k> rather than <c>, in snakes and smoke
versus the OE snacan and smocan.3 These mixed usages clearly show the influence of Norman
French on English, which was to change the language to use Latin symbols rather than Norse-derived
ones such as eth, thorn and wynn, and replace them with symbols used in French, like <th> and
D Crystal, The Stories of English, (Overlook Books, 2005) pp490-8
Study Guide for ENG3701 p 30

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Grammar and syntax

Plurals are handled with the -s suffix on snakes, castles, martyrs, umbes, bryniges, strenges even
where there are perfectly good OE equivalents, and word order became more consistent as well.
The standard S-V-O word order we know in Modern English is evident in the extract in Me henged bi
the umbes and Me dide cnotted strenges abuton here hued and hi sden openlice at
which compares to the S-O-V form in the OE Dream of the Rood Ic at eall beheold4 or the OE
History Against the Pagans Finas him gylda.5 Though an example of V-S-O is present in
seized they the people to indicate the order of events.6 This formalisation of word order was
due to the loss of inflections on the words: grammatical function became known by syntax and not
by inflection, and number by suffixing the noun not by declining the article, for example the use of
the word the, for singular and plural nouns indicated by the suffix -s like snakes versus snacan,
or bi the fet versus OE bi m fotum.7
The adoption of new words, loaned from Norman French, is evident in the passage and speaks to the
influence that foreign languages had on English. In this passage, there are castel and prisun, which
are Norman French words, and of course a mix of older words as well such as carlmen, wimmen
and bryniges from Scandinavia, along with Old English words.8 That there are words originating
from both Norman French and Scandinavian again shows the smooth evolution of Old English into
Middle English, and demonstrates the way that the English language was shaped by those who used
In conclusion, in many ways English became simpler: the loss of a complex system of inflection and
declension, the loss of grammatical gender and the formalisation of word order made English into a
language more able to be standardised, and therefore easier to adopt. The influence of Norman
French, with the huge new vocabulary, equipped English to be more capable of expression and
description. These changes helped English become adaptable and dynamic, ensuring its use far into
the future.

Study Guide p 8
Study Guide p 10
Study Guide p 30
Study Guide p 31
Study Guide p 31

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D Crystal, The Stories of English, (Overlook Books, 2005) pp490-8
D Levey et. al. The History and Spread of English, the only study guide for ENG3701 (Pretoria, UNISA,
2014 )
Englesaxe, [accessed 11/3/2015]

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I, Peter Harley Robertson Bates, student number 53795660, hereby declare that this assignment
number 582418 for ENG3701 is my own original work. Where secondary material has been used
(either from a printed source or from the Internet), this has been carefully acknowledged and
referenced according to departmental requirements to the best of my ability. I understand what
plagiarism is and am aware of the departments policy in this regard. I have not allowed anyone
else to copy my work.
Date: 11-03-2015

~~ END ~~

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