From Old English to Middle English 2020
The transition from Old to Middle English in the course of the long twelfth century (c. 1050-1225) has been described as ‘the most dramatic change in the English language’, yet also as ‘the textual “black hole”’ in its history. Historians of both English literature and the English language often treat it as inscrutable on the grounds that few texts are known to have been written in this period. Grammars, dictionaries and scholarly articles show considerable uncertainty about whether the texts that were written in this period should be characterised as ‘Old English’ or ‘Middle English’, and indeed to what extent these classifications matter. The sometimes difficult language of these texts, with their blend of traditional Old English orthographies, hypercorrect spellings that strive but fail to reproduce Old English norms, and forms likely to reflect contemporary pronunciation has more than once led scholars astray about their meaning. In short, the transition remains little understood.
Recent work has considerably enhanced our knowledge of the recopying of Old English in the twelfth century, increased the store of English texts known to have been written in this period, and developed our understanding of their literary and cultural significance. This has opened the way for new studies focusing on the linguistic challenges and complexities of the transitional period. This session or sessions aim to take stock of what we know about language on the border between Old and Middle English, and to identify new lines of inquiry.
Possible topics include but are not limited to:
– The dating of previously undated texts to the long twelfth century
– Linguistic analyses of texts composed in English in the long twelfth century
– Linguistic perspectives on the twelfth- and thirteenth-century afterlives of texts composed before the Norman Conquest
– Qualitative or quantitative studies of the major linguistic changes that divide Old English and Middle English
– Linguistic periodisations of Old English and Middle English, or challenges to conventional periodisations
– Studies of particular linguistic features in the English of the long twelfth century
– The effects of language contact in the transition from Old to Middle English.