Of ye Olde Englisch Langage and Textes: New Perspectives on Old and Middle English Language and Literature

by Rodrigo Pérez Lorido (Volume editor) Carlos Prado Alonso (Volume editor) Paula Rodríguez-Puente (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 344 Pages


This book provides new insights on different aspects of Old and Middle Eng-lish language and literature, presenting state-of-the-art analyses of linguistic phenomena and literary developments in those periods and opening up new directions for future work in the field. The volume tackles aspects of English diachronic linguistics such as the development of binominals and collective nouns in Old and Middle English, the early history of the intensifiers ‘deadly’ and ‘mortally’, the articulatory-acoustic characteristics of approximants in English, Old English metrics, some aspects of the methodology of corpus research with paleography in focus, studies of the interplay language-register, and a chapter discussing the periodology of Older Scots. The last section of the book ad-dresses literary and translatorial issues such as the impact of Latin ‘quis’ on the Middle English interrogative ‘who of’, the problems that may arise when trans-lating Beowulf into Galician, a reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, and a discussion of the structure of medieval manuscripts containing miscellanea.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Contributors
  • 1. Introduction
  • PART I. Language analysis and variation
  • I.A Lexis and semantics
  • 2. The Expression of non-individual in some Old English nouns (Oxana Kharlamenko)
  • 3. The lexicalisation of a Middle English binominal (Olga Timofeeva)
  • 4. Tracking down deadly and mortal(ly): The early history (Zeltia Blanco-Suárez)
  • I.B. Spelling and phonology
  • 5. Coda approximants in British English: A diachronic and synchronic account (Gjertrud F. Stenbrenden)
  • 6. Eduard Sievers’ Altgermanisch Metrik 125 years on (Nelson Goering)
  • 7. Classifying scripts, with particular reference to Anglicana and Secretary (Jacob Thaisen)
  • I.C Register
  • 8. Coordination and subordination in Middle English scientific prose: Textual variation in focus (Jesús Romero-Barranco/Paula Rodríguez-Abruñeiras)
  • 9. Germanic culinary recipes in the Middle Ages - a comparative typological study (Magdalena Bator/Elżbieta Pawlikowska-Asendrych)
  • 10. The periodisation of Older Scots (Sergio López-Martínez)
  • PART II. Textual analysis and translation
  • II.A Translation
  • 11. Revisiting the Latin influence on Middle English interrogative who of (Ayumi Miura)
  • 12. “Are the in-laws swearing?”: Editing Old English manuscripts for translation through Beowulf’s Galician aliterative rendering (Jorge Luis Bueno-Alonso)
  • II.B Text transmission
  • 13. “In hethenesse”: Chaucer’s Knight and Sultan Muḥammad V of Granada (Richard North)
  • 14. “For to understand that much work the leech shall have”: The context of the Agnus Castus herbal in MS Sloane 7 (María José Esteve Ramos)
  • Series index

List of Contributors

Magdalena Bator

University of Social Sciences, Łódź

Jorge Luis Bueno-Alonso

University of Vigo

Zeltia Blanco-Suárez

University of Cantabria

Nelson Goering

University of Oxford

Oxana Kharlamenko

Univeristy Paris 8

Sergio López-Martínez

University of Oviedo

Ayumi Miura

University of Osaka

Richard North

University College London

Elżbieta Pawlikowska-Asendrych

Jan Długosz University, Częstochowa

María José Esteve Ramos

Universitat Jaume I Castelló

Paula Rodríguez-Abruñeiras

University of València

Jesús Romero-Barranco

University of València

Gjertrud F. Stenbrenden

University of Oslo

Jacob Thaisen

University of Oslo

Olga Timofeeva

University of Zurich

1. Introduction

This volume is a collection of papers on Old and Middle English language and literature, offering a multidisciplinary approach to current issues on language change, variation and transmission in the English language in those periods, and providing cutting-edge approaches to relevant topics in the history of English. The compilation of the text was kick-started by the celebration of the 30th Conference of the Spanish Society for Medieval English Language and Literature (SELIM), held at the University of Oviedo in September 2018, which gathered more than 70 scholars from 15 countries, and whose distinguished plenary speakers were Kathryn Lowe (University of Glasgow), Javier Pérez-Guerra (University of Vigo) and Jacob Thaisen (University of Oslo). The volume collects some of the papers and plenary lectures delivered at the conference, but also includes the works of other prestigious scholars who –in the wake of SELIM30– kindly accepted to join in.

The volume is arranged in two broad sections, having the first one a clearly linguistic stance, encompassing topics such as the lexical characteristics of binomials (Timofeeva), the development of collective nouns in English (Kharlamenko), the history of English intensifiers (Blanco-Suárez), the textual typology of culinary recipes (Bator & Pawlikowska-Asendrych), synchronic-diachronic approaches to segmental phonology (Stenbrenden) and Old English metrics (Goering), variationist studies on the interplay syntax-text type (Romero-Barranco & Rodríguez-Abruñeiras) and an analysis of the periodology of other varieties of early English (López-Martínez), without leaving aside methodological issues (Thaisen). The second section, in turn, leans on aspects of literary production and diffusion in the Old and Middle English periods, including reinterpretations of Chaucer’s works (North), the analysis of the structure of miscellaneous volumes (Esteve Ramos), the impact of Latin on Middle English interrogatives (Miura) and issues related to the translation of Beowulf into Galician (Bueno-Alonso).

In the opening contribution to the volume, Oxana Kharlamenko tackles the early history of some mass and count nouns by focusing on gender as a link between neuter markers of historically non-neuter nouns as well as the expression of the negative value of [individuation]. In OE grammatical gender may allow for a distinction between the individuated and the non-individuated, for which specific neuter plural markers provide a paradigmatic stratum that results in erasure of individual features and in reference to a certain quantity of similar objects. OE measures and some aggregating nouns appear as forms of ←13 | 14→collectiveness, although the two linguistic phenomena do not take place synchronically. Kharlamenko’s results show that some aggregates are morphologically marked towards the end of the period, presumably because the collective suffix ge- became insufficient or less productive. Thus, she demonstrates that both measures and aggregates display features which reveal the erasure of the referent’s identity marked by the genitive plural or the neuter plural forms.

In her chapter ‘The lexicalisation of a Middle English binomial’, Olga Timofeeva investigates the origin and diffusion of the binomial construction nith and onde ‘spite and hate’ using A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English as the main source of evidence with complementary searches in the Middle English Dictionary and the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse. Timofeeva argues that nith and onde is also used as a lexicalised unit to refer to ‘the deadly sin of envy’. Its development towards greater fixedness, or freezing, and the lexicalisation of the meaning ‘envy’ are seen as part of a broader historical process, initiated by the thirteenth-century ecclesiastical reforms. The author examines the semantic field envy, jealousy in general, which, apart from the binominal, also includes nith and onde as individual words, as well as æfest and envie, and establishes their collocates, frequencies, and distributions across regions and subperiods of Early Middle English. Her results reveal a heterogeneous dialectal distribution: nith is preferred in the East and North, onde remains common in the West, but the binominal had a strong association with the West Midlands. Around 1225 the binomial was beginning to lexicalise as the equivalent for Latin invidia and French envie. The availability of the latter from around 1300, however, challenged this situation, and the English set phrase was gradually ousted into the periphery of the lexical field, while envie became established as the core term, probably aided by the lack of supra-regional unity.

Blanco-Suárez’s chapter is an interesting contribution to the existing literature on English intensifiers. It presents a diachronic corpus-based study on two death-related forms: deadly and mortal(ly), tracing their history from their earliest records until the beginning of the Early Modern English period. The text starts with some preliminaries dealing with terminological notes on the processes involved in the evolution of intensifiers and then presents the different sources of data which were consulted for the analysis. Finally, the emergence and subsequent development of these death-related forms based on the data retrieved from the corpora is discussed. Data are drawn from the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts and the Early English Books Online Corpus 1.0, in addition to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the Middle English Dictionary (MED). The development of deadly and mortal(ly) is explored through a collocational analysis considering two semantic variables: the type of meaning illustrated by ←14 | 15→these elements (descriptive, affective or intensifying), in line with Adamson (2000) and their semantic prosody (Stubbs 1995). Blanco-Suárez’s collocational analysis reveals very similar semantic profiles at the initial stages, when deadly and mortal(ly) are found to occur with literal and affective uses alike and show a clear tendency to select negative collocates. At these early stages, therefore, there are no signs of specialisation or competition between these forms. In that regard, the collocational expansion characteristic of many intensifiers is not corroborated by the data (see Lorenz 2002), since there are hardly any attestations in combination with positive elements and, in the few existing cases, positive prosody does not correlate with an intensifying meaning.

Stenbrenden’s contribution briefly outlines the historical developments of English approximants, assessing articulatory-acoustic findings from modern processes affecting approximants, evaluating how these may elucidate historical processes and determining which model(s) provide(s) the best account of these changes. The author proposes that a model combining both articulatory-gestural and acoustic features is best able to describe what happens to coda approximants, and that a model which additionally accommodates syllable structure and re-analysis goes a long way towards explaining the peculiar long-term behaviour of British English approximants. Specifically, the author suggests that approximants share articulatory and acoustic properties which make them amenable to certain phonetic processes, and that a model which seeks to explain these should include findings from research on modern changes affecting approximants. Historical material is mainly culled from A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English (LAEME) and A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (LALME, and the digital version eLALME), and also from the online Dictionary of Old English Corpus (DOEC). Since all too often the phonetic bases of phonology are ignored (especially in historical phonology), Stenbrenden’s research is very relevant as it bridges this gap and shows that that modern experimental research has much to offer, not only to phoneticians trying to describe and explain ongoing sound changes, but also to those who seek to explore commonalities in patterns of historical change.

The following chapter, by Nelson Goering, provides a critical review of Eduard Sievers’ Altgermanische Metrik (1893) within Germanic metrical research. The author shows Sievers’ impact in this field as regard i) the impulse for the typological categorization and labelling of verses ii) the four-position principle as the basis for alliterative metre iii) the focus on linguistic material in metre, especially his identification of the system of resolution. The paper argues that Sievers’ most important legacy, and potentially his most enduring one, may be his linguistic analysis of Germanic verse forms, including his identification of resolution. The ←15 | 16→chapter discusses how Sievers’ typological approach remains entrenched in our everyday vocabulary for describing verse patterns, making a special point of the fact that Sievers’ principle, stating that every verse contains four positions, still serves as the dominant paradigm for metrical theory today. Most significantly, Goering’s text roundly confirms Sievers’ leading role as provider of a robust model for the analysis of the Germanic poetic language, including the system of resolution, which can and should serve as the basis for any subsequent metrical analyses –whether it be the four-position approach, the word-foot theory, or something else entirely– and which is invaluable in the practical study of the old Germanic language and literature in general.

The chapter by Jacob Thaisen is a sound text on the methodological weaknesses of visual analyses of quantitative data in linguistic research, particularly in the domain of paleography. The author undertakes an analysis of the variation in two types of scripts, Anglicana and Secretary, as found in the Middle English Grammar Corpus (MEG-C), to prove that the traditional analysis in terms of a binary opposition between these two varieties of Gothic Cursiva renders poorer results than an analysis in terms of classes of co-occurring allographs. Thaisen establishes a total number of six classes on the basis of the patterns of co-occurrence of seventeen allographs found in the corpus, employing TwoStep Cluster Analysis, and using regression modelling with class membership as the dependent variable and the presence or absence of the seventeen allographs in texts as the independent variables to determine the relative contribution of each allograph to each class. The author’s wide-ranging conclusions provide evidence both on the superiority of tree-structured models for the analysis of quantitative data over visual analyses and on the specific distributional properties of Anglicana and Secretary scripts in the period 1350–1450.

Jesús Romero-Barranco and Paula Rodríguez-Abruñeiras explore coordination and subordination strategies across three different medical documents (theoretical treatises, surgical treatises and remedies) as represented in the Corpus of Middle English Medical Texts (1375–1500). By means of a thorough corpus analysis based on ca. 63,000 examples, the authors report on important distinctions between the three text types which, they argue, relates to differences in their degree of formality. Theoretical treatises stand out from the other two texts for their lower use of both clausal and phrasal coordination, as well as for their use of a wide array of subordinating conjunctions. Romero-Barranco and Rodríguez-Abruñeiras thus present a novel approach which not only verifies previous research by noting a more prominent use of coordination than subordination in Middle English, but also provides new insights into the history of ←16 | 17→clausal patterns in a genre which was the spearhead of the vernacularisation of science at the time.

In their chapter ‘Germanic culinary recipes in the Middle Ages – a comparative typological study’, Magdalena Bator and Elżbieta Pawlikowska-Asendrych address medieval culinary recipes, a genre which has received much scholarly attention. The novelty of their approach is that, unlike previous research mostly focussed on discussing their structure, authorship, readership, vocabulary or individual text type features, Bator and Pawlikowska-Asendrych’s analysis adopts a cross-linguistic perspective by comparing English and German recipes. Their meticulous analysis includes aspects of the form of the heading, the style of the sentences used, the temporal sequence and use of adverbs, and sentence structure, revealing important differences between the two languages. Among other distinctions, the authors note that German recipes contain more varied headings and occasionally include nominal clauses located at the beginning of some recipes with the aim of addressing the reader.

Building on the work of Kopaczyk (2013), Sergio López-Martínez provides a much welcome reassessment of the periodisation of Older Scots, challenging the model which is considered standard to date: A.J. Aitken’s (1985). The author puts forward linguistic evidence from the linguistic domains of spelling, phonology, morphology and lexis to lend support to Kopaczyk’s proposal and provides multiple evidence to assess its validity. According to López-Martínez, Aitken’s periodisation of Scots is confuse in that it gives the impression that Scots was falling behind English, which ultimately renders an anachronistic picture of its historical development. The set of linguistic criteria provided by the author, however, lend support to Kopaczyk’s alternative periodisation for the different sub-periods of Older Scots, suggesting that –in some cases– Scots might be even ahead of English in its development. Some of Kopaczyk’s points endorsed by López-Martínez in his analysis are i) treating the period 1100–1375 as ‘Early Middle Scots’ creates an accurate image of the development of Scots as part of a shared continuum with northern varieties of Middle English ii) labelling the period 1375–1450 as ‘Middle Scots’ reflects the remarkable similarity of Scots with other varieties of (mostly northern) English in the period iii) the linguistic developments between 1450 and 1550 clearly detach Scots from the northern dialectal continuum and pave the way to standardisation, which renders Kopaczyk’s ‘Early Modern Scots’ also a suitable label for this period.

Miura’s contribution to the volume is concerned with the interrogative who of (‘which of’) in Middle English, whose use in the Wycliffite Bible is often attributed (Mustanoja 2016: 181) to a calque of Latin quis (‘who’) followed by a genitive or prepositional phrase. The degree of Latin influence on who of and its ←17 | 18→variants is examined in the chapter, specifically as to how often it represents a literal translation of Latin, with a comprehensive survey of the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse (CME), which contains a full electronic text of the standard edition of the Wycliffite Bible along with manuscript variants. When discussing Latin influence in the Wycliffite Bible, however, Miura takes into account differences in translation strategies between two versions: The Early Version (EV), ascribed to Nicholas of Hereford, and the Later Version (LV), a revision of the EV undertaken by Wyclif’s follower John Purvey. The chapter first discusses the data retrieved from the analysis of the CME and then focus is shifted to the Wycliffite Bible, involving comparisons of the Early and Later versions with the Latin Vulgate. The study demonstrates that, while direct Latin influence is certainly observable in the majority of cases, several factors argue against regarding who of as a Latinism, as its earliest instance is found in a text independent of Latin influence.

Jorge Luis Bueno-Alonso’s chapter focuses on the cruxes and problems some passages of Beowulf present for the modern translator into the Galician language, especially when the translation attempted is into alliterative verse. After briefly surveying the history of the translations of Beowulf into Spanish -with special emphasis on the poetic ones- Bueno-Alonso provides the reader with a detailed account of the editorial decisions taken in his Galician translation, making a special point of the problematical passages þara ymbsittendra (line 9 of the poem), þæt […] elan cwen (line 62) and aþum swerian (line 83). The description of the steps taken when attempting the translation of these passages bears witness to the author’s general concern about keeping philological rigour while producing a poetic alliterative text in Galician that faithfully reproduces the rhythmical structure of the Old English original. This leads Bueno-Alonso to opt for a type of line which contains from two to three alliterative positions. The ensuing analysis of the strategies employed to adapt this feature to the Galician language and of his overall editing and translatorial work is presented by the author against the backdrop of the most relevant editions of Beowulf to date.

Richard North’s contribution to the volume is an ever engrossing and engaging account of the vicissitudes of the Knight in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which reveals new and interesting insights about the story and the character himself, including reducing his age by 15 years, and the possibility of him having been at the service of a Muslim lord. North’s study concludes that the Knight –despite being said in the General Prologue to have fought in Granada at the siege of Algezir (Algeciras) led by King Alfonso XI against Sultan Abū’l-Ḥajjāj Yūsuf of Granada in 1342–1344– most likely sided Yūsuf’s successor, Sultan Muḥammad V of Granada, against the Christian garrison of King Enrique II (Alfonsos’s son) ←18 | 19→in the siege of Algeciras nearly 25 year later (July 1369). North’s vivid reconstruction of the story of the Knight is drawn from authoritative sources such as Machaut’s La Prise d’Alexandrie, the Chronicles of Makhairas, Froissart’s Chroniques, López de Ayala’s Crónica, and The Monks Tale’s “Modern Instances”.

The final chapter to the volume, ‘For to understand that much work the leech shall have: the context of the Agnus Castus herbal in MS Sloane 7’ by María José Esteve Ramos provides the reader with an analysis of the manuscript context of a treatise containing material medica preserved in MS Sloane 7: the Agnus Castus herbal. The study is a very interesting contribution to the understanding of textual compilation and transmission in the Middle Ages, providing likewise hints at the prospective audience these linguistics objects were aimed at in medieval England. The analysis of the contents of MS Sloane 7 is carried out by the author by tracing sometimes a comparison with another analogous text, MS Sloane 3106, with which it shares a similar composition, and the conclusions arrived at indicate that the Agnus Castus herbal was not just an authoritative text in the history of botany but a central one for the understanding of the history of miscellanea and their reception.

All in all, the thirteen chapters in this volume give clear attestation of the vitality and puissance of research into Old and Middle English language and literature in the 21st century, and demonstrate that multidisciplinary attempts to analyse early English can render fruitful and illuminating results.


Adamson, Sylvia. 2000. A lovely little example: Word order options and category shift in the premodifying string. In Olga Fischer, Anette Rosenbach & Dieter Stein, eds. Pathways of change: Grammaticalization in English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 39–66.

Aitken, Adam Jack. 1985. Introduction. In Robinson, M. (ed.) The Concise Scots Dictionary. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.

Kopaczyk, Joanna. 2013. Rethinking the traditional periodisation of the Scots language. In Cruickshank, J. and Robert McColl Millar (eds.) After the Storm: Papers from the Forum for Research on the Languages of Scotland and Ulster triennial meeting. Aberdeen: Forum for Research on the Languages of Scotland and Ireland. 233–260.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (June)
Old English Middle English Spelling and phonology Lexis and semantics Syntax and register Textual analysis
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 344 pp., 25 fig. b/w, 56 tables.

Biographical notes

Rodrigo Pérez Lorido (Volume editor) Carlos Prado Alonso (Volume editor) Paula Rodríguez-Puente (Volume editor)

Rodrigo Pérez Lorido is Associate Professor at the University of Oviedo (Spain), where he teaches English historical linguistics and sociolinguistics. His main fields of research are English diachronic syntax, psycholinguistics and different theories of language change. Carlos Prado-Alonso works as Associate professor at the University of Oviedo (Spain), where he teaches English syntax and pragmatic analysis. His research interests include the analysis of present-day English syntactic constructions and corpus research. Paula Rodríguez-Puente is Associate professor at the University of Oviedo (Spain), where she teaches history of the English language and English syntax. Her main research interests include English Historical Linguistics and corpus research.


Title: Of ye Olde Englisch Langage and Textes: New Perspectives on Old and Middle English Language and Literature