Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Old English Ea in Middle Kentish Place-Names

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Old English Ea in Middle Kentish Place-Names

Article excerpt


This research paper intends to contribute to the study of Medieval English dialectology by focusing on Kentish, traditionally regarded as a Middle English dialect in which sounds and linguistic changes behave differently. This contribution will be done through the formal analysis of Old English , a relevant dialectal variable, in Middle Kentish place-names. It is common knowledge name-forms provide real (and sometimes unique) information about the behaviour of certain phonological distinctions. Accordingly, we will concentrate on the analysis of this onomastic material and compare our conclusions, firstly, with other place-name studies, and secondly, with other more traditional phonological distributions attained by authors who have based their analyses on individual literary works reflecting this regional variety of the English Middle Ages.

1. Medieval English dialectology and place-names

Middle English is a period in the history of the English language characterised, among other things, by its great dialectal diversity, never witnessed in England before or after. Within this, Kentish or the south-eastern variety, has been regarded, by those who have traditionally studied the so-called anchor texts in search of the regional features reflected in them, as a peculiar dialect of Middle English where sound changes behave differently.

Complementary to these traditional textual analyses is the onomastic approach developed within the field of medieval dialectology during the 20th century. In it, names are regarded as true informants of phonological change. Kristensson claims, in this sense, "the material which has so far proved most profitable for the investigation of OE and ME dialects consists of place-names" (1967: XII). Apart from their inherent condition as accurate locators of dialectal variants, their real importance for a dialectal investigation lies, on certain occasions, in providing the only evidence of specific sound developments.

Serjeantson (1922, 1924, 1927a, 1927b), Ekwall (1931), Smith (1956), Ek (1972, 1975) are all works in which English medieval dialects have been studied from an onomastic standpoint. This perspective yet receives a further boost in the 1950s when Kristensson decides to embark on a survey of the Middle English dialects. So far, this project has produced a volume corresponding to the six Northern counties and Lincolnshire (1967); another one devoted to the West Midland counties (1987); the one that studies the East Midland counties (1995); and finally, the recently published Kristensson (2001), on vowels (except diphthongs) in the Southern counties. This research project, still in process, aims to study Middle English dialects through the analysis of name-forms (place-names and surnames) from c. 1290-1350 and takes as a primary source the Lay Subsidy Rolls, the official documents that, unanimously, seem to reflect more faithfully the local uses.

In the present dialectal research, we intend to participate in this onomastic perspective by doing a formal analysis of OE ea in medieval place-names of Kent. It is our intention to analyse the development of this dialectally relevant Middle Kentish diphthong (in either the first (unique) or second constituent of a compound noun), by checking our early Middle English material (i.e., the 12th century) against the data assembled for late Middle English (i.e., the 14th century).

Our analysis cannot hence be limited to consult solely the above mentioned subsidy rolls. On the one hand, because these rolls date back, in their earlier stages to the second half of the 12th century, a period when these had not been yet regularly established. On the other, because there are authors who consider other documents to be equally important as medieval dialectal sources, for example Arngart, for whom the Assize Rolls "may claim a nearly equal right with the Subsidy Rolls of being described as local documents" (1949: 26-27). …

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