DIALECTS AND DIVERSITY
Annd whase wilenn shall þiss boc efft oþerr siþe writenn,
Himmbidde icc þatt hêt wríte rihht, swa summ þiss boc himm tæcheþþ.
(‘And whoever may wish to write this book out again on another occasion, I ask him that he write it correctly, just as this book teaches him.’)
MIDDLE English, in the words of Barbara Strang, is ‘par excellence, the dialectal phase of English’.1 This is because it is the period in which dialectal variation was represented in writing and, significantly, in which it was represented without the ideological issues which have underscored the writing of dialects in subsequent times. It is important, however, to recognize developments within the period, and to recognize also that some typical features of Middle English have been manifested in other periods as well. For example, Chapter 2 has shown that dialectal variation in the written medium was more common in the Old English period than was once thought to be the case. And this chapter will suggest that there are other ways in which both the treatment of the language in the Middle English period and attitudes towards it have parallels in other times. One of these is anxiety about how the language should be represented in the written medium: an anxiety which is encapsulated in the lines quoted above.
1 See Strang (1970: 224).