Linguistic Variation in the Ancrene Wisse, Katherine Group and Wooing Group

Essays Celebrating the Completion of the Parallel Text Edition

by Koichi Kano (Volume editor) Scahill John (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 202 Pages


Among thirteenth-century English devotional writings, the «Ancrene Wisse», the Katherine Group and the Wooing Group are central to debate about a putative standardised English, the AB Language. This book consists of articles investigating the manuscripts, textual transmission, punctuation, spelling, grammar and vocabulary of the «Ancrene Wisse» Group. All the contributors use data taken from the parallel manuscript editions published by the Tokyo Manuscript Reading Group. The articles exemplify ways of using such parallel-text editions for linguistic and literary analysis. They present new findings on lexical and morphological divergences, which taken together cast light on scribal variation in texts transmitted in manuscript.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Parallel Editions and Concordances
  • Select Symbols and Conventions Used in Parallel Editions
  • Introduction (Tadao Kubouchi / Harumi Tanabe / Koichi Kano / John Scahill)
  • Manuscripts and Textual Transmission
  • Reconsideration of the Textual Transmission of Seinte Iuliene in London, British Library, MS Royal 17A. xxvii (Koichi Kano)
  • Scribe versus Scribe: The Variant Texts of the Wooing Group (John Scahill)
  • Orthography
  • Spacing in Three Manuscript Texts of Sawles Warde: Its Synchronic, Historical and Theoretical Implications (Ryuichi Hotta)
  • Is the Language of the Katherine Group, MS Royal 17A. xxvii, “(A)B Language” or Not? (Keiko Ikegami)
  • Vocabulary
  • “Destinctiun”, “Chapitres”, “Boc”, “Dale”, and “Stuche” in Ancrene Wisse (Roger Dahood)
  • Old Norse and French Loanwords in AB Language: Revisited (Shoko Ono / Koichi Kano)
  • Lexical Variation in the Four Major Manuscripts of Ancrene Wisse: With Special Reference to the Nero Manuscript (Akinobu Tani)
  • Morphology and Grammar
  • ‘Modernity and Archaism in the Ancrene Wisse’ Revisited (Tadao Kubouchi)
  • Prefix Variation and Phrasal Verbs in Ancrene Wisse Manuscripts (Harumi Tanabe)
  • Index of Ancrene Wisse Group Manuscripts
  • Series index

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a left column (of Vernon and Titus manuscripts)

b right column (of Vernon and Titus manuscripts)

f. folio

ff. folios

r recto

v verso

AW Ancrene Wisse

KG the Katherine Group

SK Seinte Katerine

SM Seinte Marherete

SJ Seinte Iuliene

HM Hali Meiðhad

SW Sawles Warde

WG the Wooing Group

AN Anglo-Norman

AND Anglo-Norman Dictionary

BL British Library

EEMF Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile

EETS Early English Text Society

EME Early Middle English

es Extra Series

LAEME A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English

LALME A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English

ME Middle English

MED The Middle English Dictionary

ModE Modern English

OE Old English

OED The Oxford English Dictionary

OF Old French

ON Old Norse

os Original Series

PDE Present-Day English

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Parallel Editions and Concordances

(For the bibliographical information, see Introduction 4.)

Kubouchi & Ikegami (2003, 2005)

The Ancrene Wisse: A Four-Manuscript Parallel Text, Preface and Parts 1–4 and The Ancrene Wisse: A Four-Manuscript Parallel Text, Parts 5–8 with Wordlists.

Ono & Scahill (2011)

The Katherine Group: A Three-Manuscript Parallel Text.

Tanabe & Scahill (2015)

Sawles Warde and the Wooing Group: Parallel Texts with Notes and Wordlists.

Potts et al. (1993)

Concordance to Ancrene Wisse, MS Corpus Christi College Cambridge 402.

Stevenson & Wogan-Browne (2000)

Concordances to the Katherine Group and the Wooing Group, MSS Nero A XIV and Titus D XVIII.

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Select Symbols and Conventions Used in Parallel Editions

[…] Square brackets indicate a part of the line expuncted by the original scribe.

{…} Braces indicate a part of the line emended by the original scribe.

`…´ Diagonal bars indicate the insertion of letters or words by the original scribe.

/ A slash indicates the end of each line of the manuscript.

// A double slash indicates double diagonal lines (often after a punct) in Vernon.

ˇ A caron (inverted circumflex) separates distinct lexical items that are written continuously without separating space in the manuscript.

_ An underscore is used to join the parts of a single lexical item that are separated in the manuscript.

* An asterisk precedes every Latin and Greek word.

Punctus elevatus.

Barred thorn, which is the abbreviation of “þet” or “þat” in the manuscript.

Italics In Vernon, the expansion of abbreviation is marked by italics.

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†Tadao Kubouchi, Harumi Tanabe, Koichi Kano and John Scahill


The Tokyo Manuscript Reading Group published The Ancrene Wisse: A Four- Manuscript Parallel Text, 2 Vols., in 2003 and 2005 as a tool for medieval philologists interested in linguistic and literary analysis of the Ancrene Wisse texts. This edition displayed four major English manuscript texts in parallel, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 402, British Library, MS Cotton Cleopatra C. vi, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A. xiv and Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet. a. 1 (Vernon manuscript), so that the user could easily compare linguistic variants among the manuscripts at a glance. Subsequently, the group embarked upon the next component of the project, in part as a tool for investigation of the so-called ‘AB language’ and published The Katherine Group: A Three-Manuscript Parallel Text in 2011, based on Oxford, MS Bodley 34, British Library, MS Royal 17A. xxvii and British Library, MS Cotton Titus D. xviii, which presented Seinte Katerine, Seinte Iuliene, Seinte Marherete and Hali Meiðhad. As the third component of the group’s parallel manuscript text project, Sawles Warde and the Wooing Group: Parallel Texts was published in 2015.

To conclude the project, the idea of publishing a fifth volume was proposed, as a collection of articles concerning the manuscripts, textual transmission, punctuation, spelling, grammar and vocabulary of the Ancrene Wisse, the Katherine Group and the Wooing Group. For this purpose, articles have been contributed not only by members of the group but also other scholars who share an interest in the language of the Ancrene Wisse Group, whether directly studying the manuscripts or making use of the parallel texts in this series. The data used in the articles of this volume are all taken from the manuscript parallel text of Ancrene Wisse (Kubouchi & Ikegami 2003, 2005), the Katherine Group (Ono & Scahill 2011) and the Wooing Group (Tanabe & Scahill 2015). The reference to the manuscript lines in citations is based on these editions.

1 Ancrene Wisse

The Ancrene Wisse: A Four-Manuscript Parallel Text, 2 vols. (Kubouchi & Ikegami 2003, 2005) is the fruit of more than twenty years’ activities of the Tokyo Medieval Manuscript Reading Group. The Reading Group launched in 1996 a project for a corpus of diplomatic parallel manuscript texts as a tool for historical studies ← 17 | 18 → of English, and the Ancrene Wisse Group was chosen as the first step. Ancrene Wisse has been preserved in more than one manuscript, in fact nine in English (listed in 5. Manuscripts and Sigla). The manuscripts are ideally distributed in terms of production date: five in the thirteenth century, three in the fourteenth century, and one in the fifteenth century. This distribution provides us with a self-contained corpus for exploring the continuity of English prose, although, needless to say, the material can shed direct light mainly on the Middle English part of the ‘continuity’ issue. Their language, when it is fully described, provides us with reliable gauges to measure, diachronically and synchronically, characteristics such as archaised or modernised, conservative or innovative, formal or less formal, dialectal or standard, and other linguistic features, with reference to other contemporary manuscripts.

The project also had the aim of revising and continuing Kikuo Miyabe’s diplomatic transcript of the Vernon manuscript, which was published, although only up to V 374va40 (Part 2), in Poetica 11 (1979) and 13 (1982) (Zettersten and Diensberg 2000: x). After Professor Miyabe’s death in 1981, its revision and continuation remained a lasting inherited dream and task for the Reading Group members. The publication of a facsimile (Doyle 1987) greatly encouraged us, but Zettersten and Diensberg (2000) was at that time yet to come. It was the idea of parallel text format and the development of humanities-student-friendly computer technology which prompted the Reading Group to propose launching the above-mentioned project. The project has given us opportunities to check almost all EETS readings against a microfilm or in the case of V a facsimile of the manuscript, and, in case of doubt, to check the manuscript itself.1

In this volume, the late Tadao Kubouchi reconsiders the concepts of modernity and archaism which have often been applied to the language of AW. He observes that though some manuscripts regularly alter older structures and usages found in others or use punctuation to clarify them, there is no significant difference in date. Rather, the differences reflect the nature of the manuscripts: a fair copy made by a professional scribe is more literary in its language, while plainer copies display more informal language. Roger Dahood examines the terms used within AW for the larger and smaller divisions of the work, considering all nine English ← 18 | 19 → manuscripts and the French and Latin translations. He argues that the author drew subtle distinctions not always preserved in later versions, and that a second audience more learned than the anchoresses themselves is implied.

Two of the contributions focus on specific manuscripts of AW. Akinobu Tani considers the lexical variation that is a striking characteristic of the Nero manuscript, and among its regular substitutions identifies a consistent tendency to expand, whether by affixation, a preference for more complex formations or the addition of synonyms. Harumi Tanabe also discusses the additional prefixes that frequently distinguish Nero from the other texts, but she returns to the questions raised by Kubouchi about the identification of modernity and archaism. She places Nero’s prefixing in the context of other contemporary phenomena, such as the persistent omission of prefixes in the Cleopatra manuscript, and in Nero itself a tendency to add adverbial particles or transpose them to post-verbal position, producing phrasal verbs whose modern appearance is at odds with the archaism often attributed to Nero.

2 The Katherine Group

Oxford, MS Bodley 34 is notable in that it contains all five Katherine Group texts, Seinte Katerine, Seinte Iuliene, Seinte Marherete, Hali Meiðhad and Sawles Warde. Two other manuscripts, Royal 17A. xxvii and Cotton Titus D. xviii, each contain several of them.

These texts have been treated as homogeneous in nature and language, and referred to collectively as the Katherine Group. This is due to the codicological record of circulation in the same manuscripts and to their thematic connections: virginity and martyrdom in the three female saints’ lives, virginity in Hali Meiðhad and the custody of the soul in Sawles Warde. Recently, however, heterogeneous features have been pointed out, and the assumption of a West Midland standard language, ‘AB’, shared with Ancrene Wisse in A, is now being questioned.

In this volume, Shoko Ono and Koichi Kano consider the Katherine Group as a whole, in a joint paper that surveys loanwords from Old Norse and Old French; they argue that their appearance in both alliterating phrases and hybrid compounds indicates their assimilation into the vocabulary of English, but they also find variations in the degree of assimilation according to text and scribe (rather than genre). Keiko Ikegami, examining two manuscripts of the three saints’ legends, shows that while their linguistic similarities are striking, the Royal manuscript persistently differs in details from the regular language of Bodley. The two copies of Seinte Iuliene diverge widely: Koichi Kano argues that there are systematic differences in their treatment of word pairs certain syntactic structures and ← 19 | 20 → the use of punctuation to mark complexities of syntax, in a way that casts doubt on oral transmission as an explanation of the divergences. Ryuichi Hotta considers the joining and separation of elements in the three copies of Sawles Warde, and finds that though each manuscript has its own peculiarities there are shared differences from Modern English, particularly in their tendency to represent procliticisation, and phonology rather than morphosyntax.

3 The Wooing Group

The term ‘Wooing Group’, first used by Thompson (xvii), is used to cover four rhythmical, alliterative prayers or meditations. On Ureisun of God Almihiti appears in MS Cotton Nero A. xiv and Lambeth Palace, 487, Þe Oreisun of Seinte Marie in Nero and Royal 17A. xxvii, and On Lofsong of Ure Louerde in Nero only, while Þe Wohunge of Ure Lauerd is preserved only in MS Cotton Titus D. xviii.

In this volume, John Scahill examines the two Wooing texts that appear in two versions, relating the variants in their lexis to that of other AB texts and to changing scribal practices.

4 Edition, Facsimiles and Concordances


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (May)
Middle English Devotional prose Thirteenth-century literature Lexical variants Manuscript studies AB language
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 202 pp., 19 tables.

Biographical notes

Koichi Kano (Volume editor) Scahill John (Volume editor)

Harumi Tanabe is Professor in the Department of English and American Literature at Seikei University in Tokyo (Japan). Koichi Kano is Associate Professor in the Department of Cross-Cultural Studies at Koeki University in Sakata (Japan). John Scahill teaches at Insearch, University of Technology Sydney (Australia). All three researchers have edited diplomatic parallel manuscript texts of the Ancrene Wisse Group and published studies of this group of texts and other areas of Old, Middle and Modern English.


Title: Linguistic Variation in the Ancrene Wisse, Katherine Group and Wooing Group