Studies on Old and Middle English Language in Poland (1900-2000). (Linguistics)

By Fisiak, Jacek | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, Annual 2000 | Go to article overview

Studies on Old and Middle English Language in Poland (1900-2000). (Linguistics)


Fisiak, Jacek, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


Interests in Old and Middle English in Poland go back to the beginning of the 20th century. However, Medieval English did not occupy an important place in English studies in Poland before 1939. There were only two scholars who pursued serious studies in the field, i.e., Prof. Roman Dyboski (1883-1945) in Cracow and Dr. Zygfryd M. Arend (d. 1944) in Poznan.

Professor Dyboski published the edition of Songs, carols and other miscellaneous poems from the Balliol MS 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace-book (EETS, ES 101) in 1908 (which was accepted by the University of Vienna as a habilitation dissertation). In 1910 he also published a study on English medieval language and literature which was used as a handbook at Polish universities until the 1950's.

Arend's interests centred on Middle English phonology, particularly in Cursor Mundi. He was completing a major work on the subject (his habilitation dissertation) when World War II broke out. Part of it, devoted to the phenomenon of linking, appeared in Transactions of the Philological Society 1925-1930 in 1931. Arend unfortunately lost his life in 1944 and did not finish the work.

In 1935 Dyboski and Arend jointly edited the Middle English MS Knyghthode and bataile for the Early English Text Society (EETS, OS 201).

The premature death of both these scholars left Polish departments of English immediately after the war with no real specialist in the field of Medieval English. This situation lasted almost until 1950. A breakthrough came with the return of Alfred Reszkiewicz from his postgraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame, Ind., USA and with Professor Margaret Schlauch's arrival in Warsaw in 1951. The rise of interest in the subject was also enhanced by the reform of higher education which introduced to the curriculum of English studies inter alia a two-semester (four hours a week) course on Old English and a two-semester course (also four hours a week) on the history of English with one semester devoted to Middle English (also four hours a week). Both courses were obligatory for all students of English. This continued until 1971 and encouraged a number of students to take up M.A. studies in the area of Medieval English.

The situation changed somewhat for the worse in 1971 when the courses on Old English and the history of English were reduced to one two-semester course on the history of English taught two hours a week. The course was still obligatory for all undergraduates. Since 1981, when universities gained a fair amount of autonomy, in some English departments, e.g., the University of Warsaw, students can hardly have a glimpse at Old or Middle English since the course on the history of English has been reduced to one semester (two hours a week). Some departments (e.g., Poznan) still offer a two-semester (three hours a week) course on the subject. The Poznan School of English additionally offers more advanced courses on various aspects of Old and Middle English for 3rd and 4th year students.

In the fifties major contributions to the field came from Professor Margaret Schlauch (1898-1986) and Professor Alfred Reszkiewicz (1920-1973) both in the form of handbooks for students as well as original papers and larger works.

Professor M Schlauch published a paper on Chaucer's colloquial English (1952b) and an outline history of English (1952a) covering the period from late Middle English until 1950's. The former was later reprinted in several collections of papers and the latter, thoroughly revised and updated, was published under the title The English language in modern times in 1959 (2nd ed. 1964). It was favourably reviewed among others by R. W. Zandvoort, R. M. Wilson, T. Finkenstaedt and E. J. Dobson. M. Schlauch in her analysis of the development of the English language devoted ample space to external social, political and cultural factors determining the course of language evolution and particularly the history of the rise of a standard variety. …

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