For much of human history, common measurements of length were based on body parts and were variable from region to region. Most other measurements were also inconsistent. During the 1300s, these measurements started to be fixed and standardized for the first time. In this episode, we look at those developments, and we explore the history of our words related to measurements.
The words for numbers are some of the oldest and most conservative words in most languages. The English words for numbers can be traced back to the original Indo-European language, but during the early Middle English period, English speakers began to borrow related number words from Greek, Latin and French. At the same time, the modern Hindu-Arabic numerals were making their first appearance in English documents and inscriptions. In this episode, we explore the history of numbers and the words we use to express numerical concepts.
In this episode, we turn our attention to the south of England and examine some of the unique features of the Middle English dialects spoken there after the Norman Conquest. We also take a look at a poem composed in the Southern dialect called “The Fox and the Wolf.” Finally, we explore how developments in this region informed some of the modern differences between northern and southern speech in Britain.
At the dawn of the 14th century, Edward I was forced to deal with a popular uprising in Scotland. At the same time, a poet in northern England composed the oldest surviving poem in the Northern dialect of Middle English called the Cursor Mundi. In this episode, we turn our attention to northern England and Scotland, and we examine the unique features of this northernmost dialect of Middle English.
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One of Edward I’s most notable accomplishments as King of England was the conquest of Wales, and his desire to extend that authority to the north of Britain led some to call him “The Hammer of the Scots.” But beyond Edward’s attempts to rule all of Britain, he is probably most well-known for his legal reforms including a series of statutes passed early in his reign. As king, Edward was the supreme judge of England. There was no appeal from his decisions. In that regard, Edward thought his legal authority extended to Scotland as well. He even used that authority to decide a dispute over the kingship of Scotland. Edward’s aggressive policies ultimately led to war with his northern neighbor, and in many respects, that war was rooted in this dispute over legal jurisdiction. This time, we’ll explore those events, and we’ll see how Edward’s legal reforms impacted the English language.
In this episode, we explore important role of the wool and cloth industries in Medieval England. Not only was England a major producer of sheep and wool, it also developed its own cloth industry in the 1300s. This was also a period in which clothing fashions were undergoing some major changes. We examine the ways in which clothing was changing, and we look at the cloth-making process. We also explore lots of words and phrases related to the traditional wool and cloth industries.
In the late 1200s, romantic literature started to be composed in English for the first time. The oldest surviving English romance is a poem called King Horn. In this episode, we explore the poem and examine the linguistic developments revealed by the language of the poem. Then we take a look at the oldest surviving secular love song in the English language. These developments took place during the early reign of Edward I, so we also examine the English king known as “Longshanks” and his beloved wife Eleanor.
In this episode, we look at the movement of people and their money in the 13th century. This was a period when international trading networks carried goods and people to the far-flung corners of the known world. This was also the era of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian conquests and Marco Polo’s travels to China. We explore those events and consider the impact of those developments on the English language.
Even though English writing started to re-emerge in the early 1200s, government and legal documents remained the exclusive domain of Latin and French. English finally found a voice in the English government in the mid-1200s with a series of government reforms known as the Provisions of Oxford. The population of England was informed of the reforms through a proclamation issued in English. In this episode, we explore the events leading to those reforms and the important role of English in the political maneuvering that followed.