Getting a word in: Contact, etymology and English vocabulary in the twelfth century

by Richard Dance

14 Apr 2016
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Full text of article by Richard Dance posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 2, pp. 153-211.

Abstract: English vocabulary owes an enormous debt to the other languages of medieval Britain. Arguably, nowhere is this debt more significant than in the 12th century — a complex and fascinating period of ‘transition’, when (amongst many other things) influence from both Norse and French is increasingly apparent in writing. This lecture explores the etymologies, semantics and textual contexts of some key words from this crucial time, as a way to think about the evidence for contact and change at the boundary of Old and Middle English, and to illustrate how rich, diverse, challenging and surprising its voices can be. It concludes with a case study of words meaning ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ in Old and early Middle English, concentrating on the vocabulary of the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343.

Keywords: Old English, Middle English, language contact, etymology, semantics, 12th century

Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture, read on 26 November 2013 (video recording).

Text printed 2015 in British Academy Lectures 2013-14

Version of article available in British Academy Scholarship Online (HTML)

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