Role of Middle English in the History of the English Language

Middle English played an important role in the history of the English language. Middle English began about 1150-1500. Dialect diversity was major in this period that people from one part of England could not understand people in another part. Although, slowly, the dialect spoken in London was becoming the standard. Middle English develops out of the late Old English in Norman England. Middle English can be divided into three periods: Early, Central, and Late. Early Middle English still contained the Old English system of writing. Central Middle English was marked by the gradual formation of literary dialects.

Late Middle English was the spread of the London dialect. Also, a series of events took place in Middle English that forever changed the English language. Early Middle English had a large Norman vocabulary, but it was greatly simplified. The grammatical relations that were expressed in Old English were replaced in the Early Middle English with constructions with prepositions. The replacement was incomplete. To this day the Old English genitive “es” in many words – we call it now “possevive” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Paragraph 1).

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But most of the other case word endings disappear in the Early Middle English period, including most of the one dozen forms of the word the. The grammatical number “dual” also disappeared from the English language during the Early Middle English, further simplifying the language. Deeper changes occurred in the grammar. Bit by bit, the wealthy and government anglicised again, although Norman remained the dominant language of literature and law for a few centuries. The new English language did not sound the same as the Old English, undergoing changes in vocabulary.

The complex system of endings which Old English had was gradually lost or simplified in the dialects of the spoken Middle English. At the end of the Early Middle English, English remained, after all, the language of most of the population. One of the most popular events that occurred during the Middle English was the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Not only was the Battle of Hastings one of the history’s most memorable conquest it made an enormous impact on the English language during the Middle English period. When King Edward died in 1066, the Duke of Normandy claimed to the English throne.

When the English council of elders chose Harold II as the king, the Duke attacked and defeated the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings, becoming England’s first Norman king, William I ( ). The Normans brought many new words to improve the English language. For two centuries French was the official language of England. French than became the language of the courts and the upper class and English was spoken in the native population ( ). About 10 000 new words were added to the English language by the Normans.

Since the Normans were the ruling class, many of the new words reflected power, such as castle, prison, and court. Another one of Norman influences is that a word of Anglo-Saxon origin and one of the French origins often meant the same thing. Late Middle English was the period of pronunciation change in a complex process commonly referred to as the Great Vowel Shift. When vowels occurred at the end of a word and were unstressed, they were completely lost in dialects, and since all word endings often had grammatical importance the grammar changed as well.

Late Middle English also marks the beginning of the standardization, the complete replacement of French by English as the official, legal, and parliamentary language, and the rise in literacy. Toward the end of the 15th century more modern English was starting to emerge. Printing began in England in the 1470s, which stabilised the language, and the era Modern English was under way. Chancery Standard was a written form of English use by the government and for other official purposes during the 15th century. It is the translation from Late Middle English to Early Modern English.

The Chancery Standard was developed during the reign of King Henry V, he wanted for his Chancery (government officials) to use English rather that Anglo-Norman or Latin. It became standardised about the 1430s, and served a clear form of English. As a result, it was greatly contributed to the form of Standard English as it developed during the Elizabethan Era (Kaiser, Rolf). The Chancery Standard was based on the London and East-Midland dialects. It used other dialect forms where they made meanings clearer: for example, the northern “they”, “their”, and “them” were used rather than the London “hi/they”, “hir”, and “hem”.

This is because they were often confused with words such as her, he, and him. By the mid-15th century, Chancery Standard was used for most official purposes and for some legal purposes. It was advertised by England, by the Bureaucrats on official business, and slowly gained authority. Middle Englishh has a great impact on the development of the English language. The Normans brought over 10 000 new words. Also relating Old English origins to the French origin. The Battle of Hastings also changed the English Language during this period, by bringing the Chancery Standard.

The Chancery Standard formed a clearer version of the English language. Early Middle English contained the Old English system, but improved grammatical relations. Central Middle English gradually formed literary dialects. Late Middle English was the period of pronunciation and developed the Great Vowel Shift. In conclusion, Middle English enclosed many new words, dialects, and rules into the English language, and helped developed the immense Modern English language we have today.

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Role of Middle English in the History of the English Language. (2017, Feb 22). Retrieved from