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Chapter 4 - English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2022

Mark Chinca
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Christopher Young
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Vernacular literature in English first developed in two separate iterations: the first ‘Old English’, the language brought to the island by Germanic invaders in the fifth century, and used (alongside Latin) in writing from as early as the seventh century; the second, after the hiatus brought about by the Norman Conquest, the twelfth-century re-emergence of ‘Early Middle English’, a non-standardized rendering of a fast-changing vernacular, dialectally highly variant, in constant textual contact with Latin and French. This chapter discusses each in turn, arguing that Old English literature, for all its astonishing precocity, variety, and brilliance, provides us with a fascinating study of a centuries-long, and eventually truncated, ‘beginning’: a vernacular literature sustained over time by a particular, and crucially coterminous, audience and patronage context (the royal or aristocratic court; the monastery) without ever reaching the point of being self-sustaining. In contrast, Early Middle English emerged spontaneously in the margins of multilingual manuscripts, and as an act of translation and adaptation without institutional support or aristocratic patronage; but it emerged into a different world, in which growing community literacy gave it an audience – potentially the whole population – that would drive its development ever forward.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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  • English
  • Edited by Mark Chinca, University of Cambridge, Christopher Young, University of Cambridge
  • Book: Literary Beginnings in the European Middle Ages
  • Online publication: 11 August 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108776912.005
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  • English
  • Edited by Mark Chinca, University of Cambridge, Christopher Young, University of Cambridge
  • Book: Literary Beginnings in the European Middle Ages
  • Online publication: 11 August 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108776912.005
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • English
  • Edited by Mark Chinca, University of Cambridge, Christopher Young, University of Cambridge
  • Book: Literary Beginnings in the European Middle Ages
  • Online publication: 11 August 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108776912.005
Available formats
×