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Wiktionary:About Middle English

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Middle English was the form of English spoken in England between 1150 and 1500. The aim of this page is to standardise the layout of Middle English entries and explain the rationale behind that standardisation.

Diacritical marksEdit

Although they usually appeared in many Middle English dictionaries to indicate the length and stress of vowel sounds, diacritical marks were not widely used in Middle English writing to distinguish between short and long vowels. Such marks are modern additions used in dictionaries and textbooks – that is why some editors use macrons (¯), while others use acute accents (´), circumflexes (ˆ), overdots (˙), and/or breves (˘). Consequently, Middle English entries here should be without diacritical marks in the page title. Within the entry itself, optional marks can be used with the word as given under the part-of-speech heading. The custom here is to forgo using diacritics for Middle English altogether. Otherwise, in links, these marks can be piped in, e.g. [[gliden|glīden]].

Th, Þ, Ð and YEdit

In Middle English (as in Old English), the letters thorn (þ) and eth (ð) were largely interchangeable: the use of one over the other being more a matter of dialectal preference than of orthography. Oftentimes it was customary to use þ at the beginning and medial positions of a word, and ð at the end. In time, þ began to replace ð in all positions, and it is the form most often seen in Middle English dictionaries. The combination th was also in use, especially for foreign words (i.e. words borrowed from Latin or Greek). In later Middle English, thorn came to be written as y, and this wont can still be seen in archaic spellings such as Ye Olde Schoppe (= The Olde Schoppe). For consistency, entries here are usually given with th. There is no reason why entries using þ, ð and y should not exist as well; there is a lot of work waiting for someone if they want to start creating triplicate entries with thorns, eths and y's.

ȜEdit

As in the case with þ and ð, Middle English yogh (ȝ) has counterparts in consonantal y (/j/), gh (velar fricatives /ɣ/ and /x/), and w. By the late Middle English period, yogh was no longer being used. Again, for the sake of ease, entries here are usually given with y, gh and w, but there is no reason why entries using ȝ should not exist.

ÆEdit

As with yogh, ash (æ) was used very early in the Middle English period. Words using æ usually have later counterparts with a or e.

Grammatical genderEdit

The normal progression of Middle English was toward simplification. This was especially true for the grammatical gender of nouns. Although grammatical gender continued for some time into the Middle English period, surviving longest in Southern dialects, entries here should be given without reference to grammatical gender. This helps in cases where there are conflicting genders for the same word, and for words where the gender is not precisely known.

Verbal infinitivesEdit

The standard verbal infinitive marker used for the Middle English verb is -en (e.g. singen), or -n for verbs with infinitives of one syllable (e.g. don).

Present participlesEdit

Several endings were utilised to mark the present participles of verbs, and varied according to location and date. The most common were -ende (Midlands), -and (Northern), and -inde (Southern). These later developed into -inge/-ynge in the Midlands and South, giving rise to our Modern English present participle in -ing (Northern -and survives in altered form in a few words like blatant, flippant, and wanion). Consequently, -inge is the default used by the {{enm-verb|stem=}} template.

Verb conjugationEdit

MorphologyEdit

Middle English saw little change from Old English with respect to verb conjugations. For the most part, Middle English verbs followed the same pattern inherited from Old English, the only major difference being the use of schwa /ə/, usually written as e, replacing all other vowels in unstressed syllables, and the gradual weakening of final -(e)n to -(e) in the infinitive, plural past and subjunctive, and past participle forms. Below is a comparison between Old English singan and Middle English singe(n), both strong verbs.


Old English verb morphologyEdit

infinitive sing-an tō sing-enne
indicative present past
1st-person singular sing-e sang
2nd-person singular sing-est sung-e
3rd-person singular sing-eþ sang
plural sing-aþ sung-on
subjunctive present past
singular sing-e sung-e
plural sing-en sung-en
imperative
singular sing
plural sing-aþ
participle present past
sing-ende ġe-sung-en


Middle English verb morphologyEdit

infinitive sing-e(n) to sing-en(ne)
indicative present past
1st-person singular sing-e sang
2nd-person singular sing-(e)st sung-e
3rd-person singular sing-(e)þ sang
plural sing-eþ sung-e(n)
subjunctive present past
singular sing-e sung-e
plural sing-e(n) sung-e(n)
imperative
singular sing
plural sing-eþ
participle present past
sing-ende (y)-sung-e(n)


Morphological variations between dialectsEdit

Verbal morphology varies to a degree between the various dialects of Middle English, generally grouped as Northern, Midland, and Southern Middle English.

In Northern varieties of Middle English, one can generally see the influence of Norse language on the morphology of English verbs. For instance, the infinitive alternatively employs the use of the particle at (e.g. "at sing") similar to Old Norse (cf. að syngva). Additionaly, the tendency to maintain a strong final -(e)n of the past participle (cf. Old Norse -inn), use of the present participle -and (cf. Old Norse -andi), and the third person present indicative ending -(e)s can all be traced to Scandinavian origin.

In the Midlands, the most notable change is the shift from the plural ending -eþ to -e(n) (likely due to levelling between past indicative, subjunctive, and preterite-present verbs like cunnen, schulen, etc.) and to the use of -inde (later -inge) for the present participle.

Southern dialects of Middle English appear to be most conservative in regards to the verb. The Middle English conjugation shown in the table above is typical of Southern Middle English.

Verbal constructionsEdit

Middle English continued to distinguish between the use of be and have in perfect tense formations, with be (Middle English been) being used when movement or change in state is concerned, and have (Middle English haven) for all other cases. For instance, "Summer has arrived" is rendered Somer is ycomen, while "I have eaten" is Ich have eten.

Noun declensionEdit

During the Middle English period, we see the coalescence of the majority of Old English noun classes into just two: a strong class with plurals in -(e)s and weak class with plurals in -(e)n. Additionally, Middle English retains a small number of irregular plurals: i-mutation plurals (mous, mice), plurals in -ere (child, childere), static plurals (swine, swine) and mixed plurals (lamb, lambren).

Strong declensionEdit

Case Singular Plural
nominative ston stones
accusative ston stones
genitive stones stone
dative stone stonen

Weak declensionEdit

Case Singular Plural
nominative name namen
accusative name namen
genitive namen namene
dative name(n) namen


In the latter part of the Middle English period, the paradigm above degrades further, resulting in a mere dialectal preference of one plural form over the other, with -s plurals predominating in the North and Midlands, and -n plurals in the South. We also see the complete abandonment of the case system leading to a situation quite similar to what we have in Modern English today.

TypesettingEdit

Many browsers’ default fonts render Middle English diacritics and other special characters poorly. On Wiktionary, text marked as Middle English therefore uses the special "Latinx" script code, which helps browsers choose the best font. {{lang}} tags text as Middle English and applies this script formatting. It can be as a wrapper around Middle English text:

#* 1340, Dan Michel, ''Ayenbyte of Inwit'':
#*: {{lang|enm|Nou ich wille þet ye ywite hou hit is ywent}}
#*: {{lang|enm|þet þis boc is ywrite mid Engliss of Kent.}}
#*: {{lang|enm|Þis boc is ymad vor lewede men}}
#*: {{lang|enm|Vor vader and vor moder and vor oþer ken}}
#*: {{lang|enm|ham vor to berȝe vram alle manyere zen}}
#*: {{lang|enm|þet ine hare inwytte ne bleve no voul wen.}}
#*: {{lang|enm|'Huo ase god' in his name yzed,}}
#*: {{lang|enm|Þet þis boc made god him yeve þet bread,}}
#*: {{lang|enm|Of angles of hevene, and þerto his red,}}
#*: {{lang|enm|And ondervonge his zaule huanne þet he is dyad. Amen.}}
#*:: Now I will have you know how it has come about,
#*:: That this book is written in the English of Kent,
#*:: This book is made for laymen,
#*:: For father and for mother and for other kin,
#*:: To save them from all manner of sin,
#*:: So that in their consciences would remain no foul blemish,
#*:: 'Who like God' in His name said,
#*:: That this book made God give him that bread,
#*:: By angels of heaven, and also his council,
#*:: And to receive his soul up once he has died. Amen 
    • 1340, Dan Michel, Ayenbyte of Inwit:
      Nou ich wille þet ye ywite hou hit is ywent
      þet þis boc is ywrite mid Engliss of Kent.
      Þis boc is ymad vor lewede men
      Vor vader and vor moder and vor oþer ken
      ham vor to berȝe vram alle manyere zen
      þet ine hare inwytte ne bleve no voul wen.
      'Huo ase god' in his name yzed,
      Þet þis boc made god him yeve þet bread,
      Of angles of hevene, and þerto his red,
      And ondervonge his zaule huanne þet he is dyad. Amen.
      Now I will have you know how it has come about,
      That this book is written in the English of Kent,
      This book is made for laymen,
      For father and for mother and for other kin,
      To save them from all manner of sin,
      So that in their consciences would remain no foul blemish,
      'Who like God' in His name said,
      That this book made God give him that bread,
      By angels of heaven, and also his council,
      And to receive his soul up once he has died. Amen

Any template that requires a language code will apply the appropriate formatting to the text given to it automatically. This includes basic and widely-used templates like {{l}}, {{m}}, {{t}}, {{head}} and so on.

{{m|enm|theode}}

theode

* Middle English: {{t|enm|forbus}}

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit