Episode 101: The Birth of English Song

Advances in musical notation allowed the first English folk songs to be preserved in writing in the early 1200s. These songs include “Mirie It Is While Sumer Ilast”  and “Sumer Is Icumen In.” In this episode, we explore the Greek contribution to music, and trace those developments to Medieval England and the earliest songs composed in the English language.

Episode 100: Decoding English

In this special 100th episode, we review the major consonant sound changes that have impacted English since the Proto-Indo-European language.  These sound changes provide us with a set of general rules that we can use to distinguish loanwords from native Old English words.

Episode 99: The Second French Invasion

The early 13th century saw the arrival of a new wave of Frenchmen on the English shores. Some came as conquerors, and some came as nobles and courtiers looking for land and titles. During this period, Norman French started to lose much of its prestige in England, and it was gradually replaced with the French of Paris and central France. In this episode, we look at this second French invasion and the impact it had on the English language.

Episode 98: The Great Debates

Magna Carta is often presented as the culmination of a dispute between King John and his barons, but it didn’t settle the debate. In fact, the charter actually sparked a new debate over the power of the king.  That debate was one of many being held during the early 1200s when the art of debate permeated education, the legal profession, and even poetry.  This period also witnessed the composition of the first major debate poem in Middle English called “The Owl and the Nightingale.”

Episode 97: Let’s Put It In Writing

The early 13th Century saw a massive increase in the production of government documents, including charters and official letters.  In this episode, we explore the changing role of the written word in the Middle Ages. We also examine how King John’s financial exploitation of his barons led to revolt and Magna Carta.

Episode 96: From Alpha to Omega

During the early Middle English period, the long vowel sound represented by letter A started to shift to a new sound represented by letter O.  In this episode, we explore this early vowel shift, and we also explore the dispute between King John and Pope Innocent III over the selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury.

Episode 95: Old School and New School

The 12th and 13th Centuries saw the rise of new institutions of higher learning called “universities.” In this episode, we look at the changing educational system in Western Europe and the rise of Oxford and Cambridge.  We also explore the etymology of words associated with Medieval education and universities.

Episode 94: From British Legend to English King

The first version of the King Arthur legend to be composed in English is found in Layamon’s 13th century poem called Brut.  In this episode, we explore Layamon’s version of the story, and we examine how the text reveals certain changes in the English language during that period.  Specifically, we look at new English words documented for the first time in the text, as well as grammatical and phonological changes reflected in the manuscript.

Episode 93: The Two Arthurs

The introduction to Layamon’s Brut

In this episode, we look at the rivalry between John “Lackland” and Arthur of Brittany for control of the Angevin Empire.  John eventually emerged victorious, but in the process, he set in motion the events that led to the loss of Normandy and most of northern France. The loss of these territories produced a renewed sense of “Englishness” and a revival of English literature. This English renaissance was spearheaded by an English translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain.”  For the first time, the legend of King Arthur was presented in English verse.