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The origin of Standard Old English and Æthelwold's school at Winchester

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Helmut Gneuss
The University of Munich


‘In literary culture’, Sir James Murray has said, ‘the Normans were about as far behind the people whom they conquered as the Romans were when they made themselves masters of Greece.’ Indeed when the Normans set foot on English soil Anglo-Saxon England was in possession not only of a remarkable literature but also of a highly developed written standard language, known and used in all regions of the country. Most of our Old English manuscripts were written in the late tenth century and in the eleventh in a form of English – although not always quite pure – which the grammarians call late West Saxon. This form of the language is by no means just a dialect, any more than its literature is merely the literary product of a dialect. This fact is first brought home to us when we examine the negative evidence – the rareness before the end of the tenth century of texts in dialects other than West Saxon and their almost complete absence after this time, a state of affairs for which various explanations might be found, historical factors among others. Considerably more important, however, is a positive criterion: texts in this late West Saxon were written and read in other parts of the country too, in Kent (Canterbury), in Mercia (Worcester) and indeed even in Northumbria (York). Moreover, texts which had originally been written in Anglian were transcribed into late West Saxon, as was a large part of Old English poetry. There can be no doubt: in our Old English texts of the eleventh century we are dealing with a standard literary language which, although based on a dialectal foundation, had extended its domain beyond the borders of this dialect.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1972

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Page 63 note 1 Murray, J. A. H., The Evolution of English Lexicography (Oxford, 1900), p. 14.Google Scholar

Page 63 note 2 Nothing comparable is to be found at this time or earlier in other Germanic dialects; for Old High German see Braune, W., Helm, K. and Mitzka, W., Althochdeutsche Grammatik 12th ed. (Tübingen, 1967), p. 11Google Scholar, and Sonderegger, S. in Kurzer Grundrissder germanischen Philologie his 1500, ed. Schmirt, L. E. 1 (Berlin, 1970), 302–3.Google Scholar

Page 63 note 3 Cf. Sisam, Kenneth, Studies in the History of Old English Literature (Oxford, 1953), p. 153Google Scholar, and Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, ed. Dorothy Whitelock, 3rd ed. (London, 1963), pp. 41–2Google Scholar. See also Derolez, René, ‘Norm and Practice in late Old English’, Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Linguists, ed. Eva, Sivertsen (Oslo, 1958), pp. 415–17Google Scholar, and Randolph Quirk, Ibid. p. 417.

Page 64 note 1 But see Hulbert, J. R., ‘A Thirteenth Century English Literary Standard’, JEGP 45 (1946), 411–14.Google Scholar

Page 64 note 2 Cf. Ker, N. R., Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford, 1957), pp. xv–xix.Google Scholar

Page 65 note 1 King, Alfred's West-Saxon Version of Gregory's Pastoral Care, ed. Henry, Sweet, Early English Text Society o.s. 45 and 50 (London, 1871) I, vvi.Google Scholar

Page 65 note 2 For some recent examples, see the texts edited in The Harvard Old English Series by Francis P. Magoun and Jess B. Bessinger. Professor Magoun explains his principles of normalizing Old English orthography in The Anglo-Saxon Poems in Bright's Anglo-Saxon Reader done in a Normalized Orthography (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), pp. iii–ivGoogle Scholar. Cf. also Pope, John C., Seven Old English Poems (Indianapolis, 1966), pp. vii–viii.Google Scholar

Page 65 note 3 Pastoral Care I, xxxii–xxxiii.

Page 65 note 4 Chambers, R. W., On the Continuity of English Prose, EETS o.s. 191a (London, 1932), p. lxxvii.Google Scholar

Page 65 note 5 Wrenn, C. L., ‘Standard Old English’, TPS 1933, 6588Google Scholar. See also Randolph Quirk and Wrenn, C. L., An Old English Grammar, 2nd ed. (London, 1957), pp. 56.Google Scholar

Page 66 note 1 See Computers and Old English Concordances, ed. Cameron, Angus, Frank, Roberta and Leyerle, John (Toronto, 1970)Google Scholar and Leyerle, John, ‘“The Dictionary of Old English”: a Progress Report’, Computers and the Humanities 5 (1971), 279–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Page 66 note 2 This is not to deny, however, that in some revisions of Old English prose texts changes in the vocabulary were actually made, although less systematically than one would expect. This is what happened in two manuscripts of the Old English Bede and in the Hatton manuscript of Bishop Werferth's translation of Gregory's Dialogues; cf. Campbell, J. J., ‘The Dialect Vocabulary of the Old English Bede’, JEGP 50 (1951), 349–72Google Scholar, and Schabram, H., Superhia: Studien zum altenglischen Wortschatz 1 (Munich, 1965), 43–4 and 47–8Google Scholar, and see below, p. 81, n. 1.

Page 67 note 1 Cf. Asser's Life of King Alfred, ed. W. H. Stevenson (Oxford, 1904; repr. 1959 with contr. by D. Whitelock)Google Scholar, chs. 87–9; trans. Whitelock, Dorothy, English Historical Documents c. 500–1042 (London, 1955), pp. 271–2.Google Scholar

Page 67 note 2 Cf. Whitelock, Dorothy, ‘The Old English Bede’, Proc. of the Brit. Acad. 48 (1962), 57Google Scholar and n. 5, and Schabram, Superbia, pp. 45–8 and n. 50.

Page 67 note 3 Liggins, Elizabeth M., ‘The Authorship of the Old English Orosius’, Anglia 88 (1970), 289322Google Scholar, and Janet M. Bately, ‘King Alfred and the Old English Translation of Orosius’, Ibid. pp. 433–60. Cf. also Büchner, Günter, ‘Vier altenglische Bezeichnungen für Vergehen und Verbrechen (Fyren, Gylt, Man, Scyld)’ (Ph.D. thesis, Berlin, 1968), pp. 184–5.Google Scholar

Page 68 note 1 Sisam, Kenneth, ‘The Publication of Alfred's Pastoral Care’, Studies, pp. 140–7.Google Scholar

Page 68 note 2 See below, p. 75, n. 4.

Page 70 note 1 But see below, p. 82, n. 4.

Page 71 note 1 Cf. Stockwell, Robert P. and Barritt, C. Westbrook (‘Scribal Practice: some Assumptions’, Language 37 (1961), 7582)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, who even maintain ‘that the England of the eighth through the tenth centuries … could not have had anything but a reasonably thorough system of instruction for its scribes’ (p. 77); they do not deal, however, with the specific question of the origin of the late Old English customs of spelling.

Page 71 note 2 Cf. Dorothy Whitelock, EHD, pp. 831–2. More recently, R. N. Quirk has suggested the possibility that Ælfric was the author of both Lives; the ascription of the longer (and earlier ?) Vita to Wulfstan is in any case not absolutely certain. See Quirk, R. N., ‘Winchester Cathedral in the Tenth Century’, ArchJ 114 (1957), 35–7Google Scholar. There is also a short account of Æthelwold's life by William of Malmesbury, De Gestis Pontificum Anglorum, ed. N. E. S. A. Hamilton, Rolls Series (1870), pp. 165–9.Google Scholar

Page 72 note 1 Cf. Die alt- und mittelenglischen Apollonius-Bruchstücke, ed. J. Raith (Munich, 1956), pp. 816Google Scholar; The Old English Apollonius of Tyre, ed. P. Goolden (Oxford, 1958), p. xxxivGoogle Scholar; and Gneuss, H., Hymnar und Hymnen im englischen Mittelalter (Tübingen, 1968), pp. 160–1CrossRefGoogle Scholar and nn. 4 and 5. See also Stanley, E. G., ASNSL 206 (1969), 137.Google Scholar

Page 73 note 1 The Vespasian Psalter, ed. D. H. Wright and A. Campbell, EEMF 14 (Copenhagen, 1967), p. 82.Google Scholar

Page 73 note 2 Translated from the version of the Vita ascribed to Wulfstan, ch. xxxI, Migne, Patrologia Latina 137, col. 95.

Page 73 note 3 Cf. Gneuss, H., ‘Die Benediktinerregel in England und ihre altenglische Übersetzung’, in Die angelsächsischen Prosahearbeitungender Benediktinerregel, ed. Schröer, A., Bibl. d. ags. Prosa 2, 2nd ed. (Darmstadt, 1964)Google Scholar. Ælfric, Wulfstan of Winchester and William of Malmesbury do not mention Æthelwold as the translator of the Rule (although William of Malmesbury knew the Old English version; cf. Memorials of Saint Dunstan, ed. W. Stubbs, RS (1874), p. 290)Google Scholar. The translation was first attributed to Æthelwold by the twelfth-century Liher Eliensis. Leland, Bale and Pits do not seem to have known of this. The relevant section of the Liher Eliensis was quoted by Wanley, together with his description of the Old English Rule in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 178 (Librorum Vett. Septentrionalium Catalogus (Oxford, 1705), pp. 122–3)Google Scholar; an abbreviated version of this section was printed, somewhat earlier, by Henry Wharton (Anglia Sacra (London, 1691) I, 604) and again, from Wharton, by Thomas Tanner, Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica (London, 1748), p. 269n., and Thomas Wright, Biographia Britannica Literaria (London, 1842–6) 1, 440n. Wright takes it for granted that Æthelwold was the translator of the Rule, and as far as I can see the attribution has never been seriously questioned since his day. (Æthelwold did not, of course, translate the Regularis Concordia into English, as William Hunt will have it (DNB VI, 904).)

Page 74 note 1 Dorothy Whitelock has demonstrated that there can no longer be any doubt about the attribution of this piece to Æthelwold: ‘The Authorship of the Account of King Edgar's Establishment of Monasteries’, Philological Essays: Studies in Old and Middle English Language and Literature in Honour of Herbert Dean Meritt, ed. James L. Rosier (The Hague, 1970), pp. 125–36.Google Scholar

Page 74 note 2 Cf. John, Eric, ‘The Sources of the English Monastic Reformation’, RB 70 (1960), 197203Google Scholar, and ‘The Beginning of the Benedictine Reform in England’, RB 73 (1963), 83Google Scholar and n. 3. According to Leland, Æthelwold was also a skilled mathematician and the author of a scientific work; see Quirk, ‘Winchester Cathedral in the Tenth Century’, p. 30 and n. 1. Other, theological and historical, works are ascribed to Æthelwold by Bale and Pits.

Page 74 note 3 See Gneuss, Hymnar und Hymnen, p. 246.

Page 75 note 1 Ælfrics Grammatik und Glossar, ed. J. Zupitza, 2nd ed. with contr. by H. Gneuss (Berlin, 1966), p. 3Google Scholar: ‘ac heo byð swa ðeah sum angyn to æðrum gereorde’.

Page 75 note 2 Cf. Clemocs, Peter, ‘Ælfric’, Continuations and Beginnings: Studies in Old English Literature, ed. Stanley, E. G. (London, 1966), pp. 176209Google Scholar, and Pope, John C., Introduction to Homilies of Ælfric: a Supplementary Collection 1, EETS 259 (London, 1967).Google Scholar

Page 75 note 3 Numerous small revisions to the Catholic Homilies show how painstakingly and systematically Ælfric sought to regularize his use of English; see Sisam, Studies, pp. 183–5, and Clemoes, Peter, Ælfric's First Series of Catholic Homilies: BM Royal 7 C. xii, ed. Eliason, Norman and Clemoes, Peter, EEMF 13 (Copenhagen, 1966), p. 33.Google Scholar

Page 75 note 4 See above, p. 66, n. 2, p. 67, n. 3 and p. 72, n. 1; Bäck, Hilding, The Synonyms for ‘Child’, ‘Boy’, ‘Girl’ in Old English (Lund, 1934)Google Scholar; and Käsmann, Hans, ‘Tugend und Laster im Alt- und Mittelenglischen’ (unpub. Ph.D. thesis, Berlin, 1951)Google Scholar. A considerable number of studies of Old English semantic fields and dialect words are listed by Holthausen, F., Altenglisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, 2nd ed. with new bibl. H. C. Matthes (Heidelberg, 1963), pp. xxiii–xxviiGoogle Scholar; Campbell, A., Old English Grammar (Oxford, 1959), pp. 366–8Google Scholar; and Funke, O., ‘Altenglische Wortgeographie’, Anglistische Studien: Festschrift zum 70. Gehurtstag von Friedrich Wild, ed. Brunner, K., Koziol, H. and Kominger, S., Wiener Beiträge zur englischen Philologie 66 (Vienna, 1958), pp. 3951.Google Scholar

I have to thank Miss M. Gretsch and Mr J. Kirschner for making available to me material and results of their work in progress on the Old English Benedictine Rule and the Old English words for ‘crown’ and ‘wreath’ respectively.

Page 77 note 1 For Ælfric's usage, see especially Pope, Homilies of Ælfric I, 99ff. and the literature quoted there.

Page 77 note 2 The manuscript was edited by Uno Lindelöf, Der Lambeth-Psalter, Acta Societatis Scientiarum Fennicae 35, no. 1 and 43, no. 3 (Helsingfors, 1909–14). Lindelöf (II, 56) lists a number of rare words, which Ælfric and the Lambeth Psalter have in common; he also lists (II, 41–2) words which are characteristic of our Winchester group. In connection with correspondences of usage between the Lambeth Psalter and the Spelman Psalter, C. and Sisam, K. are thinking of ‘some influential monastic school in which these standard equivalents were taught’, The Salisbury Psalter, EETS 242 (London, 1959), p. 74Google Scholar. For the dependence of the Lambeth glossator on earlier models see Schabram, Superbia, p. 27. Stracke, J. R., ‘Studies in the Vocabulary of the Lambeth Psalter Glosses’ (unpub. Ph.D. thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1970)Google Scholar, who deals with the double glosses, does not seem to recognize the real significance of many of these (esp. pp. 134ff.).

Page 77 note 3 The only Old English glossed psalter which shows a number of definite links with the Lambeth Psalter is BM Stowe 2, the Spelman Psalter, written about the middle of the eleventh century. D. H. Turner thinks that Stowe 2 and Le Havre 330, an eleventh-century missal from New Minster, Winchester, ‘seem to have a scribe or scribes in common’. See The Missal of the New Minster, Winchester, ed. D. H. Turner, Henry Bradshaw Society 93 (1962), pp. xi–xiiiGoogle Scholar. Turner's discovery might indicate where we have to look for the ‘influential monastic school’ mentioned by C. and K. Sisam (see above, preceding note).

Page 78 note 1 For text and introduction see Gneuss, Hymnar und Hymnen, esp. pp. 69–74 and 91–101.

Page 78 note 2 The Old English Rule of Bishop Chrodegang and the Capitula of Bishop Theodulf, ed. A. S. Napier, EETS o.s. 150 (London, 1916)Google Scholar; Max Förster, ‘Lokalisierung und Datierung der altenglischen Version der Chrodegang-Regel’, Sitzungsherichte der Bayer. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-hist. Abt., Jg. 1933, Schlussheft, pp. 7–8.

Page 78 note 3 See Schabram, Superhia, pp. 55–8. However, of the two instances of ofermettu, one does not translate superhia but exaltatio (Schröer's ed., 23.9) while the other occurs only in BM Cotton Faustina A. x, in a chapter which is not part of the actual Rule (Schröer, 138.30).

Page 79 note 1 There will be a much fuller treatment of the vocabulary of the Old English Benedictine Rule in the forthcoming thesis by M. Gretsch. It is interesting to note that the ‘Account of King Edgar's Establishment of Monasteries’ (see above, p. 74 and n. 1) holds about the same place as the Old English Rule in the development of word usage.

Page 79 note 2 Der altenglische Regius-Psalter, ed. Fritz Roeder, Studien zur englischen Philologie 18 (Halle, 1904)Google Scholar. See also Wildhagen, Karl, ‘Studien zum Psalterium Romanum in England und zu seinen Glossierungen’, Festschrift für Lorenz Morsbach, ed. Holthausen, F. and Spies, H., Studien zur englischen Philologie 50 (Halle, 1913), pp. 448–53Google Scholar; C. and K. Sisam, The Salisbury Psalter, pp. 52–6; and Ker, Catalogue, no. 249.

Page 80 note 1 A recent attempt to see in the West Saxon Gospels a product of the Alfredian movement which in turn goes back to an Anglian gloss has not convinced me: Grünberg, M., The West-Saxon Gospels: a Study of the Gospel of St Matthew with Text of the Four Gospels (Amsterdam, 1967), pp. 366–71.Google Scholar

Page 80 note 2 Cf., e.g., Schabram, Hans, Anglia 84 (1966), 83–8.Google Scholar

Page 80 note 3 P. 75 and n. 4.

Page 81 note 1 ‘entsprechend dem Sprachgebrauch der Schule Æthelwolds, der er angehört, ersetzt er eine sehr beträchtliche Anzahl von Wörtern des älteren Textes durch andere …‘, Bischof Wærferths von Worcester Übersetzung der Dialoge Gregors des Grossen, Bibl. d. ags. Prosa 5 (Leipzig und Hamburg, 1900–7) 11, 131. See also Hecht's ‘Wortlisten’ II, 136–70, and Scherer, Günther, ‘Zur Geographie und Chronologie des angelsächsischen Wortschatzes im Anschluss an Bisehof Waerferth's Ubersetzung der Dialoge Gregors’ (Ph.D. thesis, Berlin, 1928)Google Scholar; and cf. Schabram, Superbia, p. 44, n. 41.

Page 81 note 2 For some notes on the vocabulary of the Old English glosses in the Canterbury hymnal (Durham, Cathedral Library, B. III. 32) see Gneuss, , Hymnar und Hymnen, pp. 188–9.Google Scholar

Page 82 note 1 Cf. Ker, Catalogue, pp. xxv–xxvii.

Page 82 note 2 Many of Ælfric's emendations referred to above, p. 75, n. 3, regularize syntax.

Page 82 note 3 Karl Wildhagen, who coined this term (‘Studien zum Psalterium Romanum in England’, p. 437), seems to have been thinking of a kind of Mischsprache, but see Campbell, A., The Vespasian Psalter, EEMF 14, pp. 82–3Google Scholar. For the importance of Mercian as a pre-Alfredian ‘literary dialect’ see The Life of St Chad, ed. R. Vleeskruyer (Amsterdam, 1953), pp. 3962.Google Scholar

Page 82 note 4 Pierre Chaplais has shown that before the time of Edward the Confessor, no central royal secretariat seems to have been in existence in England. His findings about the production of charters in Anglo-Saxon England strengthen the case for a monastic, or at least ecclesiastical origin of Standard Old English. Cf. Chaplais, P., ‘The Origin and Authenticity of the Royal Anglo-Saxon Diploma’, Jnl of the Soc. of Archivists III, no. 2 (1965), 4861CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chancery: from the Diploma to the Writ’, Ibid. III, no. 4 (1966), 160–76. I owe the knowledge of these papers to Mr Peter Hunter Blair. For earlier views on the question of an Anglo-Saxon secretariat, see Drögereit, R., ‘Gab es eine angelsächsische Königskanzlei?’, Archiv für Urkundenfor schung 13 (1935), esp. 335–41 and 418Google Scholar, and Dorothy Whitelock, EHD, p. 345. For the rôle played by the Abingdon and Winchester scriptoria in the development of handwriting in tenth-century England, see now Bishop, T. A. M., English Caroline Minuscule (Oxford, 1971), pp. xxi–xxii.Google Scholar

Page 83 note 1 This paper was first delivered in 1966 as an Antrittsvorlesung in the University of Munich. It was subsequently revised in the light of recent work dealing with the vocabulary of Old English. In the summer of 1970, when I held a Visiting Fellowship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, I was given the opportunity to present the revision to expert audiences in the Universities of Cambridge and London, and the version here printed owes a number of valuable suggestions to colleagues in these universities, in particular to Professor Peter Clemoes.

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