THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN THE FOURTEENTH
§ 1. GENERAL. Gower's work shows that at the end of the century Latin and French still shared with English the place of a literary language. But their hold was precarious.
Latin was steadily losing ground. The Wiclifite translation of the Bible threatened its hitherto unchallenged position as the language of the Church; and the Renaissance had not yet come to give it a new life among secular scholars.
French was still spoken at the court; but in 1387 Trevisa remarks (p. 149) that it was no longer considered an essential part of a gentleman's education: and he records a significant reform--the replacement of French by English as the medium of teaching in schools. After the end of the century Anglo- French, the native development of Norman, was practically confined to legal use, and French of Paris was the accepted standard French.
English gained wherever Latin and French lost ground. But though the work of Chaucer, Gower, and Wiclif foreshadows the coming supremacy of the East Midland, or, more particularly, the London dialect, there was as yet no recognized standard of literary English. The spoken language showed a multiplicity of local varieties, and a writer adopted the particular variety that was most familiar to him. Hence it is almost true to say that every considerable text requires a special grammar.
Confusion is increased by the scribes. Nowadays a book is issued in hundreds or thousands of uniform copies, and within a few months of publication it may be read in any part of the world. In the fourteenth century a book was made known to readers only by the slow and costly multiplication of manuscripts. The copyist might work long after