Medieval English Syntax

Studies in Honor of Michiko Ogura

by M. Jane Toswell (Volume editor) Ishiguro Taro (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 392 Pages


In a time when female scholars were rare in Japanese universities, Michiko Ogura completed an excellent doctorate in Old English syntax, then achieved a position at Chiba University, from which she obtained a year-long research fellowship in 1983-84 at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. During her career, Ogura has published major works on medieval English syntax, especially verbs. Professor Ogura retired at Chiba, then obtained a major research post at Keio University (2011-2015) and then a post at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, retiring in 2020. She obtained a D.Litt. from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland in 2008. The international contributors to this volume offer these studies of medieval syntax in her honor, in token of many years of friendship and scholarship.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction: Michiko Ogura’s Friends (M. J. Toswell and Taro Ishiguro)
  • Professor Michiko Ogura in “A Fair Field Full of Folk” (Liliana Sikorska)
  • Noun Phrase Modification in Medieval Cooking Instructions – Revisited (Magdalena Bator)
  • Periphrastic Verb Constructions in Old English Verse and Lawman’s Brut (Daniel Donoghue)
  • The Verbal Syntax of (ge)hȳran and its Relation to Meaning (Antonette diPaolo Healey)
  • The English of the Cloister (Joyce Hill)
  • Habban + Past Participle of an Intransitive Verb in Old English (Michio Hosaka and Tomofumi Akiha)
  • Guthlac wende þæt he hi æfre gebetan ne mihte: Text Emendation and Expletive Negation (Taro Ishiguro)
  • Revisiting EVERY and EACH from Old English to Early Modern English (Leena Kahlas-Tarkka)
  • Sentence-Initial Modals in Old English: Speaker’s Intention and Adhortative Power (Kousuke Kaita)
  • The Encroachment of the Inflection -est on the Past Subjunctive 2nd Person Singular Forms wolde and sceolde of Old English willan and sculan: Syntactic, Morphological and Semantic Variation (Matti Kilpiö)
  • Word Order in Old English Interlinear Glosses: A Case Study on the Position of Inserted Pronominal Subjects (Tadashi Kotake)
  • On the So-called Genitive Object in Old English (Yoshitaka Kozuka)
  • The Pluperfect Forms in the Different Manuscripts of Cursor Mundi (Rafał Molencki)
  • Syntax, Meter, Early Medieval: An Intersectional Approach to Old English Verse (Haruko Momma)
  • Hrothwulf’s Time with Hrothgar: siþþan in Widsith, Lines 45–49 (Richard North)
  • Syntax and Style in Old English Verse: Binomials and Beowulf (Andy Orchard)
  • Some Problems of Categorization in Early Middle English (Jane Roberts)
  • Syntax and Beyond: Binomials in the Apollonius Story as Told by Gower (Hans Sauer)
  • The Hebrews with Braided Locks: A Note on Wundenlocc (Judith 325) (Jun Terasawa)
  • Old English Syntax, Especially Verbs, in Early Nineteenth Century Primers, Especially Joseph Gwilt (M. J. Toswell)
  • Syntactic and Narrative Significance of the Three Instances of þæt wæs god cyning in Beowulf Reconsidered (Hideki Watanabe)
  • A Bibliography of Writings by Michiko Ogura
  • Contributors
  • Name Index
  • Series index


Dictionaries and Corpora


An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, by Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Toller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1898.


An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: Supplement, by T. Northcote Toller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921.


Dictionary of Old English: A to I Online, edited by Angus Cameron, Ashley Crandell Amos, Antonette diPaolo Healey et al. Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2018.



Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus, compiled by Antonette diPaolo Healey with John Price Wilkin and Xin Xiang. Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2009.



The Helsinki Corpus TEI XML edition. 2011. First edition. Designed by Alpo Honkapohja, Samuli Kaislaniemi, Henri Kauhanen, Matti Kilpiö, Ville Marttila, Terttu Nevalainen, Arja Nurmi, Matti Rissanen, and Jukka Tyrkkö. Implemented by Henri Kauhanen and Jukka Tyrkkö. Based on the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts (1991). Helsinki: The Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG), University of Helsinki.



Lexikon des Mittelalter. Munich and Zurich: Artemis, 1980.


Middle English Dictionary, edited by Hans Kurath et al. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1952–2001.



The Oxford English Dictionary.



The York–Toronto–Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose. 2003. Prepared by Ann Taylor, Anthony Warner, Susan Pintzuk, and Frank Beths. York: Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York.


←11 | 12→

Other Abbreviations


Krapp, George Philip, and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds. 1931–53. The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. 6 vols. New York: Columbia University Press.


British Library


Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library


Early English Text Society


extra series


International Medieval Congress




Middle English


Modern English


New Revised Standard Version = The New Oxford Annotated Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.


Old English


Old Norse


original series


past participle


The Society of Historical English Language and Linguistics


supplementary series


intransitive verb

←12 | 13→

M. J. Toswell and Taro Ishiguro

Introduction: Michiko Ogura’s Friends

In May 2018, only a few months before he died, E. G. Stanley told me that he had not needed to buy himself a tie in over twenty years. On her frequent visits to Oxford, Michiko Ogura had been bringing him silk ties that were, as he gleefully pointed out, nicer than anything he would have bought for himself. Eric, as Professor Emeritus of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College in the University of Oxford, was always impeccably dressed in a suit; he knew quality and was grateful for it. His ties were elegant, discreet, and quite beautiful – and all quite different from each other. He also enjoyed Michiko’s visits to Oxford because she always came with ideas to discuss, and interesting projects under way, and he enjoyed talking syntax with her. He also enjoyed organizing dinner parties for her to attend, and going out for meals with her – while wearing her ties. Michiko Ogura was a valued friend. At the Dictionary of Old English located in Robarts Research Library towering over the University of Toronto, Antonette diPaolo Healey also treasured Michiko’s visits because she could be persuaded to take on and help with some of the knotty syntactical problems that so frequently stymie lexicographical enterprises like historical dictionaries. In Toronto, where she is known as “Micky,” she has written the entries for three important verbs and associated lexemes. There are similar stories from Leeds, where Michiko Ogura organized a splendid series of sessions on medieval English syntax in 2017, following on from many previous successful visits to that conference; and from colleagues and friends at the International Association of University Professors of English, where she leads at least one section, and also from colleagues at the International Conference on English Historical Linguistics. She has also been a frequent visitor to various universities in Poland and Germany, and is often to be consulted at the International Society for Studies in Early Medieval England (formerly: the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists) as well.

In addition to her remarkable international engagement, involving the publication of two books with Boydell and Brewer, two more with Peter Lang, and one each with Mouton de Gruyter, and Rosenkilde and Bagger (and dozens of articles or book chapters in European and North American journals and collections), Michiko Ogura has been a stalwart figure in Japanese medieval studies, creating and advancing various societies in the field of linguistics, historical linguistics, and language study more generally. She has served on the boards of fully twenty ←13 | 14→societies, while teaching and researching in the field of medieval English syntax. For the first twenty years of her professional career, she moved about among five universities, but in 1991 she settled into a position at Chiba University, where she remained for twenty years. In 2011, she moved to Keio University for four years, and in 2015 to Tokyo Woman’s Christian University until 2020, where she still today remains a very active researcher. She is a professor emerita of Chiba University, and also holds a DLitt, earned in 2008 from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, specifically in Poznań where her friends Jacek Fisiak and Liliana Sikorska were to be found. As her list of publications at the end of this volume attests, she has produced five books on medieval English verbs, from verbs of speech to impersonal verbs to verbs of motion to variations of verbal usage in prose and in verse to the reflexivity of verbs. In her more recent books, she casts a wider net, investigating expressions of emotion, periphrases and periphrastic expressions, and (in Japanese) a full study of the diachronic changes in English. She also edits and co-edits collections of articles, often conference proceedings from the Society of Historical English Language and Linguistics, for the Medieval Symposium and main sessions of the biannual meetings of the International Association of University Professors of English, and for other, smaller, groups. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide details of all of these collections.

One might well conclude that eight major books on medieval English syntax, the mentoring of countless junior scholars in the field of medieval English language and literature in Japan and internationally, and the remarkable service to the profession performed by Professor Ogura in the organization of conferences, collections of papers, and many international and national societies would be enough. However, it is not. Perhaps the greatest contribution to scholarship here is Professor Ogura’s remarkable output in articles and book chapters. By the time this collection publishes, Professor Ogura will have published nearly one hundred and thirty major scholarly contributions to the field of English historical linguistics in journals and book chapters. Like her books, her articles are meticulously researched, and exquisitely structured to demonstrate the point she wants to make carefully and elegantly. A few hallmarks distinguish Professor Ogura’s scholarship: first, she deeply comprehends the way syntax and lexicon interact with each other, so that she can write about words in their syntactic context with remarkable precision and care. Second, her generosity of soul comes through in her scholarship, in which she provides references with both deep scholarly knowledge and also careful acknowledgment of the contributions of others to her own thinking. Bruce Mitchell, after Michiko Ogura spent some time in the 1980s working with him at St Edmund Hall, used to say that she knew ←14 | 15→more about Old English verbs than he did, and mean it absolutely. She, however, carefully acknowledges his work, and the work of his many predecessors, scrupulously. Third, she tackles the difficult sources of evidence, the texts that require specialized knowledge to interpret correctly and to explain clearly. Thus, she frequently looks at glossed texts for her evidence, working from the earliest Old English glosses through to late Middle English ones. This requires complex balancing of evidence, notably biblical materials since so much glossing in early English involves the psalters and the gospels; Michiko Ogura is that rare syntactician who looks at gloss materials for their applicability to the questions she is investigating, and as a result often teases out very important details of usage and form that others would never find. Her many articles sometimes foreshadow her books, sometimes appearing long before her final thoughts on the particularly knotty problems of Old and Middle English verbs that she resolves. Recently she has added a focus on word order to the panoply of other issues she addresses.

The list of publications which, as previously noted, appears at the end of this volume is a truly remarkable record of accomplishments, reflecting many long hours spent in archives and research collections around the world (but particularly in Europe) and a profound knowledge of English syntax from reading and studying the relevant corpora and, it seems, every single article previously published on these questions. Professor Ogura’s scholarship is impeccable. This is hardly a surprise to anyone who has met her at a conference. If you lose a program or need a quick reference or are experiencing stage fright, Michiko is the person to approach. She has her program at her fingertips, always has references ready for the asking, and offers a gentle but pragmatic push in the door as needed. She does all this while always being neat as a pin, ready for any vagary of the weather, calm and unflappable. A good sense of Professor Ogura is provided here by the opening reminiscence of her prepared by her longtime friend Liliana Sikorska. Professor Sikorska works through a series of snapshots of Michiko Ogura over the years, from the first conference where they met to the most recent meeting of the International Association of University Professors in Poznań, Poland. Using Susan Sontag’s deliberations on the ephemerality of images, she describes photographs which delineate her interactions with Professor Ogura, demonstrating the deepening of their friendship and connection as the years went by.

We are particularly grateful to Professor Sikorska, not only for contributing this lovely reminiscence to start off the volume, but for being willing to contribute to a volume focused on medieval syntax. Her willingness to appear in our company is testimony to her great friendship with Professor Ogura. Our other contributors all work on aspects of medieval English syntax, with perhaps ←15 | 16→a slight lean in the direction of OE questions, although many tackle diachronic studies of particular features. We have a range of genres, beginning with a paper on culinary recipes but continuing through Lawman’s (Laȝamon’s) Brut to the OE verb gehyran across all genres, to Latin loanwords in Benedictine Reform texts, and onward. The contributors include a significant number of Professor Ogura’s colleagues in Japan, including one of the co-editors, and an equally significant number of her global colleagues, ranging from various points in England to Finland and Germany and Poland to the United States and Canada. They also range in age from contemporaries of Professor Ogura to much younger scholars that she has mentored and helped in recent years. We are delighted that every scholar we approached agreed enthusiastically to submit to the volume, and we are also delighted to have such a range of papers on medieval syntax to offer to Professor Ogura.

Magdalena Bator investigates the structure of noun phrases in culinary recipes from the end of the fourteenth century to the end of the fifteenth; she finds that the positions of both nouns and adjectives as modifiers shift over time as the recipes move farther away from their French and Anglo-Norman forebears. She has developed a large corpus, and is continuing to expand it to examine the vernacular developments of these texts. In the next paper Daniel Donoghue also investigates a syntactic shift through time, but in this case he considers OE verse and its use of periphrastic verbal constructions – specifically the bracketing pattern and the verbal-auxiliary half-line – as compared to the same two kinds of periphrastic verbal constructions in Lawman’s Brut. As in some of his earlier work, Donoghue is particularly interested in the role of verbal auxiliaries in these constructions, and the size of his corpus (like that of Bator) allows him to draw significant conclusions about the way the highly integrated OE structure of meter and syntax changed in some respects in early ME, but also maintained the middle role of the auxiliary verb, not normally stressed but available to be promoted to a stressed element at need.

Antonette diPaolo Healey in one way narrows the focus further to a single word, hyran (and gehyran), but in other ways broadens the analysis significantly, reminding us what it is “to hear” and to acknowledge our sonic environment, both in today’s world with “to hear” being one of the sixty-five universal primes or basic concepts in the world of languages, a “mental predicate,” and in the OE world. Healey reconceptualizes the cognates and the entry structure for the verb in the DOE, comparing it to the OED and elucidating the entry structure and its use of particular cases. The study is a fascinating exposition of a lexicographer at work, sorting and philosophizing, but also being pragmatic and straightforward. In the next paper, Joyce Hill takes a similarly pragmatic approach to the use of ←16 | 17→Latin loanwords in the various texts of the Benedictine Reform, discussing first the general social and historical context in order to establish the background for the linguistic sensitivity in the cloister (as she terms it) that led monks and nuns to use Latin loanwords in different ways for various of the central texts of the Reform.

Michio Hosaka and Tomofumi Akiha work together on an article that reflects one of Professor Ogura’s principal concerns in her published work, the use of an auxiliary with past participles in OE syntax. Specifically they consider the verb habban, one of the most complicated entries in Professor Healey’s beloved DOE. Here the focus is habban in combination with past participles of intransitive verbs, using the York-Toronto-Helsinki Corpus (HC) to investigate the early symptoms of the expansion of the have-perfect. Hosaka and Akiha might be the first in the volume to use this corpus, but it is a frequent contributor to the papers here, offering an important diachronic perspective that nicely meshes with the many arguments here that focus (as Hill and Healey do) on the Corpus available through the DOE. The paper ranges widely, using a cross-linguistic perspective to start, but then comparing have to be constructions in order to highlight the growing agency of have. Their joint article signals many more to come from both scholars. Taro Ishiguro offers what on the face of it is a more specific study of a crux in the two copies of the vernacular translation of Felix’s Life of St Guthlac but really is a consideration of the little-discussed phenomenon of expletive negation in OE and ME more generally.

Leena Kahlas-Tarkka tackles the complex diachronic issue of the comparative changes in use of “each” and “every,” described by some as indefinite pronouns or adjectives, by others as determiners, or as indefinite universal pronouns, or as expressions of universal quantification. Kahlas-Tarkka also uses the Helsinki Corpus to provide detailed examples over time, after a comprehensive discussion of past scholarship, etymology, and a full list and discussion of the forms in which these terms are to be found in texts moving gradually forward from OE to early ModE, and analysis of dialectal trends as well. Kousuke Kaita turns the analysis back to verbs, addressing sentence-initial models, the inverted order in which the verb comes before the subject in OE. These constructions open the possibility of an adhortative construction such as “let us,” and the paper uses the Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus to investigate these modal verbs in sentence-initial position in declarative sentences and adhortative statements. Matti Kilpiö uses both the DOEC and the HC to address another aspect of verbs in OE, the variation between -e and -est as the endings for the past subjunctive second person singular. He engages in the first detailed study of this question, analyzing the relevant model verbs (reflecting Kaita’s paper) with a special focus ←17 | 18→on wolde/woldest and sceolde/sceoldest, and then considering a group of verbs referring to mental activity which refer to the future in the past.

Tadashi Kotake returns to questions of word order, focusing on a set of texts particularly beloved by Professor Ogura, and considers the inserted pronominal subjects that scribes and compilers put in OE interlinear glosses. The paper investigates these pronominal subjects, absent in the Latin, for their placement in the vernacular, often to make syntactic sense in OE, in such texts as the glossed psalters, the Rushworth Gospels, the Liber scintillarum, and the OE gloss to the Benedictine Rule. Many of these are earlier OE texts, contrasting to the approach by Yoshitaka Kozuka, who addresses an issue of case in late OE, in which the genitive functions as an object. The paper considers the genitive as an elliptical or absolute genitive, investigating a variety of examples from a range of verbs and texts in order to discover the degrees of transitivity that encode the use of the genitive in particular situations. Rafał Molencki shifts the focus even later, into five manuscripts of the fourteenth-century Cursor Mundi, and the varying use of the pluperfect in these texts. Like many other contributions to this volume, the paper deals with an insufficiently-studied but important text, one that merits attention not just for its syntactic variation but for how the different manuscripts demonstrate a changing language and changing thought patterns. The notion of sequence of tenses was developing here, and this paper demonstrates how thoroughly grammaticalized this periphrastic tense form was in the fourteenth century.

Haruko Momma broadens our perspective with a thoughtful investigation of how syntax and meter intersect in OE verse, beginning with an example from Beowulf of the poetic syntax of OE and its rules, then bringing in the implications of the available metrical diversity and using Wulf and Eadwacer as a final example. The paper offers a philosophical encapsulation of the issues scholars and poets find most perplexing and most important in OE poetry, and hints at some ways forward. Richard North continues the focus on OE verse; like Ishiguro and other contributors to this volume, he focuses on a crux worth syntactic investigation. Widsith at lines 45–49 offers an opportunity to consider the role of siþþan-clauses, and also to cast a look at two characters, Hrothwulf and Hrothgar, who also appear in Beowulf. The issue is one of temporality, and the interpretation of siþþan as conjunction or adverb gives North room to comment on various similar situations in Beowulf. Andy Orchard is also interested in OE poetry, and particularly in Beowulf, and even more particularly in binomials. His paper draws from his much larger project of editing all OE and Anglo-Latin poetry, and considers the 171 whole-verse binomials in Beowulf in the context of other OE poems, investigating the syntactic structure of these binomials, their ←18 | 19→distribution in the poem, some particularly interesting poetic effects and striking contexts for binomials in the poem, and especially the repetition patterns of binomials – all to create particular echoing and patterning for the audience of the poem.

Jane Roberts, like Donoghue, focuses on early ME with particular interest in the Brut, notably the Caligula text. Her concern is the shift from synthetic towards analytic structuring of syntax, and she considers several kinds of syntactic situations to demonstrate this shift. These include the loss of the possessive dative of the mannum to helpe “as a help to humans” variety in favor of the inflected infinitive after to, the growth of the to + infinitive pattern, and many other situations with to and verbs or verbals. The result is significant difficulty in grammatical categorization with respect to the poem, as it navigates a complex intersection of syntax and meter in the post-OE period. Like Orchard, Hans Sauer takes us also to binomials, in this case specifically in John Gower’s version of the Apollonius legend in his Confessio Amantis. His analysis is capacious, identifying all the relevant factors affecting the use of binomials in this text, their structure and metrical patterning, their semantic fields and kinds of usage. Unusually, he is able to conclude that most binomials were involved metrically, but in rhyme – not the alliteration considered in many other papers here.

Jun Terasawa returns us to the world of alliteration, with a study of a crux in the OE poem Judith, specifically the occurrence of wundenlocc at line 325. He studies words for women’s hairstyles in OE, including also bundenheord, and their occurrences in various poems, notably riddles. He then ranges into a broader analysis which results in a new interpretation of this word because of syntactic structure of this section of the poem. Jane Toswell takes on one of the earliest grammars of OE, that of Joseph Gwilt in 1829, and considers his various attempts at presenting OE verbs in that volume. Hideki Watanabe concludes the volume with a detailed consideration of one of the most well-known syntactic constructions in Beowulf, the oft-repeated praise formula þæt wæs god cyning. Watanabe shakes out three instances of this eulogy in the poem, considering their current presentation in various editions and analyses (as did Terasawa for his analysis) as both formula and exclamation, and then turning to the use of this formula on some sixty occasions in OE poems. The formula is often an end-point, a concluding remark, but ambiguity continues to swirl about the phrase, although Watanabe notes in conclusion that the phrase often seems to have the valence of reported speech, or possibly reported speech as merged into the poet’s own assessment.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (April)
Syntax, Middle English Syntax, Old English Historical Linguistics - English History of the English Language Old English verbs
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 392 pp., 8 fig. b/w, 15 tables.

Biographical notes

M. Jane Toswell (Volume editor) Ishiguro Taro (Volume editor)

M. Jane Toswell is professor of English at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. Taro Ishiguro is professor of English at the School of Commerce, Meiji University, in Tokyo. Michiko Ogura, the honorand of this Festschrift, was professor of English at Chiba University, Keio University, and Tokyo Woman‘s Christian University in Japan, a world-renowned scholar in medieval English syntax.


Title: Medieval English Syntax