English in Its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics

By Tim William MacHan; Charles T. Scott | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
It will be clear from the preceding that we are at the very beginning of sociolinguistic research into Middle English; however, it will also be clear that there are great opportunities, even if they vary between levels of language. Phonology, the traditional first object of attention for the investigator of modern English sociolects, is perhaps the least interesting here. Rhyme evidence, a traditional source of information for Middle English, is always difficult to interpret, and medievalists do not have the orthoepistical evidence available for the Early Modern English period. [For the limitations of the rhyme evidence, see Stanley ( 1988).] It may be possible that some more extrapolation from the later evidence may prove illuminating, however, and Wakelin ( 1982) has suggested some useful new approaches (even though his article does not have a specifically sociolinguistic orientation). More coordination of rhyme evidence already established by individual editors of Middle English texts would be valuable. [ Jordan and Crook ( 1974) could certainly be extended and revised.]However, with the other levels of language there is much more hope of new findings. The study of Middle English orthography has been revolutionised with the recent publication of the Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English ( McIn tosh , Samuels, and Benskin, 1986), whose impact is still being absorbed by the academic community; work on an Atlas of Early Middle English has just begun. Smith's articles ( 1988a, b), deriving their orientation from the Linguistic Atlas, demonstrate (amongst other things) how orthographic evidence can be interpreted sociolinguistically. Romaine's approach to Middle Scots syntax ( 1982) could be fairly easily extended to cover the much larger and more varied Middle English corpus. Above all, the complete lexicon of Middle English will need to be reinvestigated in the light of the completed Middle English Dictionary and Historical Thesaurus of English.The key fact established, however, is that we now have a new, exciting, and above all fruitful approach to the study of Middle English. If this essay has encouraged anyone to look further into this subject, then it will have succeeded in its aim.*
WORKS CITED
Aitken, A. J., and T. McArthur, eds. 1979. The Languages of Scotland. Edinburgh: Chambers.
Bennett, J. A. W., and G. V. Smithers, eds. 1974. Early Middle English Verse and Prose, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon.
Benskin, Michael, and M. Laing. 1981. "Translations and Mischsprachen in Middle English Manuscripts." In Benskin and Samuels, eds. Pp. 55-106.
Benskin, Michael, and M. L. Samuels, eds. 1981. So Meny People Longages and Tonges: Philological Essays in Scots and Medieval English Presented to Angus McIntosh. Edinburgh: Middle English Dialect Project.
____________________
*
I am grateful to David Burnley for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. All errors, however, are my own responsibility.

-65-

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