Historical Background of the Middle English Period

: 6/7

The history of the London dialect reveals the sources of the literary language in Late M.E. and also the main source and basis of the Literary Standard, both in its written and spoken forms.

The Early M.E. records made in London-beginning with the Proclamation of 1258 show that the dialect of London was fundamentally East Saxon; in terms of the M.E. division, it belonged to the South-Western dialect group. Later records indicate that the speech of London was becoming more mixed, with East Midland features gradually prevailing over the Southern features. The most likely explanation for the change if the dialect type and for the mixed character of London English lies in the history of the London population.

In the 12th and 13th c. the inhabitants of London came from the south-western district. In the middle of the 14th c. London was practically depopulated during the Black Death (1348) and later outbreaks of bubonic plague. It has bun estimated that about one third of the population of Britain died in the epidemies, the highest proportion of deaths occurring in London. The depopulation was speedily made good and in 1377 London had over 35.000 inhabitants.

Most of the new arrivals came from the East Midlands: Norfolk, Suffolk, and other populous and wealthy counties of Malieval England, although not bordering immediately on the capital. As a result the speech of Londoners was brought much closer to the East Midland dialect. The official and literary papers produced in London in the late 14th c. display obvious East Midland in features. The London dialect became more Anglian than Saxon in character.

This mixed dialect of London, which had extended to the two universities (in Oxford and Cambridge) ousted French from official spheres and from the sphere of writing.

The flourishing of literature, which marks the seconds half of the 14th c., apart from its cultural significance, testifies, to the complete rustablishment of English as the language of writing. Some authors wrote in their local dialect from outside London, but most of them used the London dialect or forms of the language combining London and provincial traits. Towards the end of the century the London dialect had become the principal type of language used in literature a sort of literary pattern to be imitated by provincial authors.

The literary text of the late 14th c. preserved in numerous manuscripts, belong to a variety of genres. Translation continued, but original composition were produced in abundance; party was more prolific than prose. This period of literary florescence is known as the age of Chaucer; the greatest name in English literature before Shakespeare other writers are referred to as Chaucers contemporaries).

One of the prominent authors of the time was John de Trevisa of Cornwall. In 1387 he completed the translation of seven books on world history - Polychronicon by R. Higden from Latin into the South-Western dialect of English. Among other information it contains some curious remarks about languages used in English: Trevisa:gentle men have now left to teach (i.e. stopped teaching) their children French. Higden: It sums a great wonder how Englishmen and their own language and tongue is so diverse in sound in this one island and the language of Normandy coming from another land has one manner of sound among all men that speak it right in Englandmen of the East with men of the West, as it were under the same pared of heaven, award more in the sound of their speech than men if the North with men of the South.

Of Greatest linguistic consequence was the activity of John Wyclif (1324-1384), the forerunner of the English Reformation. His most important contribution to English prose was his (and his pupils) translation of the Bible completed in 1384. He also wrote pamphlet protesting against the corruption of the Church. Wyelifs Bible was copied in manuscript and read by many people all over the country. Written in the London dialect, it played an important role in spreading this form of English.

The chief poets of the time, besides Chaucer, were John Gower, William Langland and, probably, the unknown author of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight).

The remarkable poem of William Langland The Vision Coneerning Piers the Plowman was written in a dialect combining West Midland and London features; it has survived in three versions, from 1362 to 1390; it is an allegory and a satire attacking the vises and weaknesses of various social classes and sympathizing with the wretchedness of the poor. It is presented as a series of visions appearing to the poet in his dreams. He susdiverse people and personifications of vices and virtues and explains the way to salvation, which is to serve Truth by work and love. The poem is written in the old alliterative verse and shows no touch of Anglo-Norman influence.

John Gover, Chaucers friend and an outstanding poet of the time, was born in Kent, but there are not many Kentisins in his London dialect. His first poems were written in Anglo-Norman and in Latin. His longest poem Vox Clamantis (the Voice of the Crying in the Wilderness) is in Latin; it deals with Watiylers rebellion and condemns all roans of Society for the sins which brought about the terrible revolt. His last long poem I is in English: Confession Amantis (The Lovers Confession), a composition of 40000 acto-syllabis . It contains a vast collection of stories drawn from various sources and arranged to illustrate the seven deadly sins. John Gower told his tales easily and vividly and for long was almost as popular as Chaucer.

: 7/05/2009