Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Old English Renewed

Tracing Transitional English in the Twelfth Century

Amos van Baalen

The twelfth century is a crucial period in the history of the English language. Traditionally, this century is considered a transitional period between Old English (c. 450–1150) and Middle English (c. 1150–1500), two historical stages of English which differ enormously in terms of grammar and vocabulary.

While prior research into twelfth-century English has focused on a limited number of newly composed texts, another important linguistic source has not yet received the attention it deserves: twelfth-century manuscript copies of Old English texts. This project will examine this underutilised source material in order to establish how twelfth-century scribes updated the language of these older texts, focusing in particular on changes in vocabulary. This research will generate important new insights into lexical developments in the history of English.

Relevant research questions include: 

  • Which words fell out of use?
  • Which words entered the language?
  • In which linguistic contexts did these developments occur and when did they occur

Catholic Homilies

Specifically, this project focuses on late-eleventh- and twelfth-century manuscript copies of Ælfric of Eynsham’s (c. 955–1010) Catholic Homilies, most of which are not readily available in existing historical corpora of English. Therefore, the project will also involve creating new transcriptions of these manuscript texts. Subsequently, this newly created text corpus will be analysed with automatic collation software in order to discover specific lexical changes that recur in multiple manuscripts. These changes will be analysed in greater detail, particularly in terms of their relation to phonological and morphological developments. As such, this project will uncover new information about one of the most obscure periods in the English language. 

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