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Aspects of Medieval English Language and Literature

Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of the Society of Historical English Language and Linguistics


Edited By Michiko Ogura and Hans Sauer

This volume is a collection of papers read at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in 2017, in two sessions organized by the Institute of English Studies at the University of London and four sessions organized by the Society of Historical English Language and Linguistics. Contributions consist of poetry, prose, interlinear glosses, syntax, semantics, lexicology, and medievalism. The contributors employ a wealth of different approaches. The general theme of the IMC 2017 was ‘otherness’, and some papers fit this theme very well. Even when two researchers deal with a similar topic and arrive at different conclusions, the editors do not try to harmonize them but present them as they are for further discussion.

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15 Why did people oust folk and lede?

1 Introduction


Abstract: The paper is concerned with a lexical replacement in Middle English caused by language contact. The expansion of the new Romance word people is discussed versus the demise of native lede, thede and folk(s). Special attention is paid to manuscript variation. In Early Modern English lede and thede became obsolescent and/or dialectal while folk(s) was relegated to the colloquial register.

The majority of Anglo-French borrowings preserve most of their original Romance senses in Middle English, often becoming more formal and/or abstract counterparts of their Germanic synonyms, but the story of the word people in English is a clear counterexample. Sometime around the year 1300 a new word borrowed from Anglo-Norman appeared in English and in the latter half of the 14th century people became a high frequency item competing with earlier Germanic words folk(s) and obsolescent lede and thede, also in the colloquial register of the language.

The paper is concerned with a lexical replacement in Middle English caused by language contact, accompanied by semantic extension. The mechanism of such language change is discussed, among many others, by Fischer (2001), Haspelmath (2009), Miller (2012), Lutz (2013), Durkin (2014), Allan and Kay (2016). The replacement, however, was gradual, as evidenced by several centuries of semantic layering. Layering is understood here as the long coexistence and interaction of older and newer synonyms (cf. Hopper 1991, Brems 2012, Arista 2014). After presenting some etymological information and the Old and Middle English and Anglo-Norman...

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