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Perhaps this may have been a difference in the orthography rather than in the pronunciation. Which is made probable by the substitution of the ss for ch where we must suppose a French pronunciation of the ch, which is about the same as our sh sound. Thus, in the long piece presently to be quoted, we have Michaelmas written Misselmasse.
The Commencement of Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle,
as printed by Hearne. Date about 1300.
Engelond ys a wel god lond, ich wene of eche lond best,
Of whyte and of wolle god, betere ne may be non. England is a very good land, I ween of every land (lbe) best ; set in the end of the world, as in the utter west. The sea goeth it all about ; it standeth as an isle. Their foes they need the less fear, except it be through guile of folk of the same land, as men have seen sometimes. From south to north it is eight bundred mile long; and four hundred mile broad to wend from east to west, that is, amid the land, and not as by the one end. Plenty of all goods men may in England see, unless the people are in fault or the years are bad. For England is full enough of fruit and of trees : of woods and of parks, that joy it is to see ; of fowls and of beasts, of wild and tame also; of salt fish and eke fresh, and fair rivers thereto; of wells sweet and cold enow, of pastures and of meads; of silver ore and of gold, of tin and of lead ; of steel, of iron, and of brass; of good corn great store ; of wheat and of good wool, better may be none.
But the most famous and oftest quoted piece of Robert of Gloucester is that wherein he sums up the consequences
of the Battle of Hastings. It contains the clearest and best statement of the bilingual state of the population in his own time, that is, about A.D. 1300.
Þus lo! Þe Englisse folc vor nozt to grounde com
To granti hire hire sones bodi anerpe vor to bringe.
vnderueng him vaire inou, as king of þis lond. Þus com lo Engelond, in to Normandies hond.
I be Normans ne coupe speke bo, bote hor owe speche. I speke French as hii dude at om ; hor children dude also teche. So þat heiemen of his lond, þat of hor blod come, Holdep alle þulke speche þat hij of hom nome. Vor bote a man conne Frenss, me telp of him lute. Ac lowe men holdep to Engliss j to hor owe speche zute. Ich wene per ne bep in al þe world contreyes none, þat ne holdeb to hor owe speche bote Engelond one. Ac wel me wot uor to conne boje wel it is, Vor be more þat a mon can, the more wurbe he is. It will hardly be necessary to translate the whole of this passage for the reader. We will modernise a specimen to serve as a guide to the rest. The last ten lines shall be selected as recording the linguistic condition of the country.
And the Normans could not then speak any speech but their own. And they spoke French as they did at bome, and bad their children taught the
So that the bigb men of this land, that came of their blood, all retain the same speech which they brought from their home. For unless a man know French, people regard him little. But the low men bold to English, and to their own speech notwithstanding. I ween there be no countries in all the world that do not hold to their own speech, except England only. But undoubtedly it is well to know both; for the more a man knows, the more worth be is.
These examples will perhaps suffice to give an idea of the dissevered and dialectic condition of the native language from the twelfth to the fourteenth century. During this long interval the reigning language was French, and this fashion, like all fashions, went on spreading and embracing a wider area, and ever growing thinner as it spread, till in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was become an acknowledged subject of derision. Already, before 1200, the famous Abbot Sampson, of Bury St. Edmunds, was thought to have said a good and memorable thing when he gave as his reason for preferring one man to a farm rather than another, that his man could not speak French. The French which was spoken in this country had acquired an insular character; it was full of Anglicisms and English words, and in fact must often have been little more than
deformed English. Even well-educated persons, such as Chaucer's gentle and lady-like Prioress, spoke a French which, as the poet informs us, was utterly unlike 'French of Paris.' What then must have been the French of the homely upland fellows Trevisa tells of: Jack wold be a gentleman yf he coude speke Frensche.'
In Piers Plowman we have the dykers and delvers with their bits of French, doing a very bad day's work, but eminently polite to the ladies of the family :• Dykers and Delvers that don here werk ille, And driveth forth the longe day, with “ Deu vous saue, dam Emme.”.
Piers Plowman's Prologue, 103. Perhaps it is a song they sing, as the latest editor, Mr. Skeat, takes it. This will serve equally well or even better to illustrate the complete diffusion of the French language among all ranks; and we might imagine, that now for the second time in history it was on a turn of the balance whether Britain should produce nationality of the Romanesque or of the Gothic type. But in the meantime the native tongue was growing more and more in use and respect, and at length, in the middle of the fourteenth century, we reach the end of its suppression and obscurity. Trevisa fixes on the great plague of 1349 as an epoch after which a change was observable in regard to the popular rage for speaking French. He says: “This was moche used tofore the grete deth, but sith it is somdele chaunged. But the most important date is 1362, when the English language was re-installed in its natural rights, and was established as the language of the Courts of Law.
In the review of specimens of English which have passed before us, we are struck with their diversity and the absence of any signs of convergency to a common type. The only feature which they agree in with a sort of growing consent,
is in the dropping of the old inflections and the severance of connection with the old Anglo-Saxon accidence. Among the most tenacious of these inflections was the genitive plural of substantives in -ena (Anglo-Saxon), and of adjectives in
This -ena drooped into the more languid -ene; and the -ra appeared as er or -1. Of the latter we shall have occasion to speak when we come to Chaucer.
Mr. Morris has produced from this period the plural genitives apostlene veet = feet of the apostles; deovlene fere = companion of devils; englene songs = songs of angels; ezene wepynge = weeping of the eyes; Jewene lawe = law of the Jews; prophetene gestes = records of the prophets; and many others. According to him it lived on in the south till near the close of the fourteenth century, after it had long been discontinued in the north. But whatever traces may be found of local tenacity, the general movement was one and identical, namely, to divest the language of the old inflections. Any other tangible evidence of drawing towards a standard conformity it is difficult to find. If inter-communication at certain points tended towards the smoothing out and generalising of local peculiarities, this was more than compensated for by isolation at other parts, and the continued production of new idioms.
In fact we have a phenomenon to account for. the fourteenth century there suddenly appeared a standard English language. It appeared at once in full vigour, and was acknowledged on all hands without dispute. The study of the previous age does not make us acquainted with a general process of convergency towards this result, but rather indicates that each locality was getting confirmed in its own peculiar habits of speech, and that the divergence was growing wider. Now 'there appeared a mature form of English which was generally received.