During the Middle English period, scribes developed a variety of spelling innovations to distinguish the sound of the various vowels. Some of those innovations were borrowed from French, and some were native to English. In this episode, we explore those spelling techniques, many of which still survive in Modern English.
The Middle English document called the Ormulum is a goldmine for historical linguists because the text explicitly indicated how the vowel sounds in the text were to be pronounced. The text was written at a time when the vowels in many words were changing. Some long vowels were being pronounced as short vowels, and vice versa. The Ormulum captured many of these changes for posterity. In this episode, we explore the concept of long vowels and short vowels, and we see how Modern English uses many of the same spelling innovations first documented in the Ormulum.
Following the Norman Conquest of England, the French-educated scribes encountered the English language used by the Anglo-Saxons. The new scribes discovered unfamiliar letters and strange spellings. Early Middle English documents like the Ormulum show several spelling innovations introduced during this period. In this episode, we examine how the French-trained scribes introduced new spellings for certain consonant sounds.
The final years of Henry II’s reign were consumed with putting down rebellions. Those rebels included Henry’s sons and wife. In this episode, we explore Henry’s family of rebels. We also examine the book of homilies known as the Ormulum. This early Middle English text appeared near the end of Henry’s reign, and it contained the first known usage of many Modern English words.
The massive realm of Henry II extended from southern France through the British Isles. The administration of the so-called “Angevin Empire” required an extensive bureaucracy. In this episode, we examine some of the key government officials who administered the government of England. We also explore the first English settlements in Ireland.
In the wake of civil war and anarchy in England, a crime wave gripped the nation. Murders and other violent crimes were rampant. Henry II sought to reimpose law and order throughout the country by reforming the English legal system. In this episode, we look at Henry’s criminal justice reforms and the emergence of the English common law. We also explore the linguistic consequences of this legal reform.
During the reign of Henry II, the speech of England was dominated by three languages – English, French and Latin. In this episode, we examine the relative roles of those three languages, and we also explore how the social barriers between those languages were breaking down in the 12th century.
The marriage of Matilda’s son, Henry, to Eleanor of Aquitaine was a crucial event in the history of England and France. It produced a powerful realm which contributed to the return of peace and the end of Anarchy. In this episode, we explore these political developments, and we also examine the state of marriage in 12th century Europe. We also explore how these events shaped the vocabulary of the English language.
While civil war raged in England, a completely different culture was flourishing in southern France. In this episode, we explore the opulent court of Aquitaine and the rise of the troubadours. Love was in the air as a new type of poetry was created in the 12th century. We also examine words associated with Medieval entertainment and courtly life.
Check out the 10 American Presidents podcast for an episode about the development of American English and the influence of presidential speech on American English.