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This chapter introduces the principal methodologies used in the book. It describes the existing tools for the study of Old and Middle English, including grammars, dictionaries, handbooks and corpora, and explains that while their direct documentation of twelfth-century English is scanty, the information they contain can be reconceptualised to help date texts to the twelfth century, assess the likely effect of twelfth-century texts on their readers and evaluate the extent to which they inherited earlier conventions for writing English. This approach is exemplified with reference to four different English versions of Ps 111.9 found in manuscripts copied in the final two-thirds of the twelfth century and which are typical of the kinds of text that the book as a whole treats: understudied, textually complex and requiring a gamut of philological techniques to be fully understood and contextualised.
This chapter emphasises the principal finding of the book, that the practices for writing English developed before 1066 survived the Norman Conquest. It offers a reading of the short poem, ‘Sanctus Beda was iboren her’, taking it as typical of the texts considered in the book, with no agreed title, an uncertain date of composition and viewed here as “Old” English, there as “Middle” English. It argues the poem, often read as an indictment of post-Conquest cultural rupture, in fact speaks powerfully to the continuities between twelfth-century texts and earlier works. The chapter closes by considering other genres the book has not mentioned but for which English was occasionally used in the long twelfth century, including non-homiletic religious texts, prognostics, glosses, medical works and memoranda.
This chapter examines ten or so English language or bilingual documents obtained, produced, copied, adapted and forged at Christ Church Canterbury between the 1090s and the mid 1150s. Beginning with a remarkable series of bilingual writs issued by Henry I and his successors, it also analyses a purported bilingual notification of Cnut, apparently confected around 1100, and a remarkable English-language version of a diploma of Cnut, relating to the port of Sandwich, produced at approximately the same time, as well as a document of Æthelred contrived from it fifty years later. Consideration of the documents suggests this activity involved monks, both English and French, who felt the use of English made their contentious claims more plausible. In the hundred years after the Norman Conquest, these men continued, and even expanded, the range of ways in which English could be used as a language of documentary record.
This chapter considers the maintenance of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle at Christ Church Canterbury in the first decade of the twelfth century, as well as the acquisition, adaptation, expansion and recopying of earlier manuscripts of the Chronicle contemporary with it. It argues those involved were of both English and foreign descent and worked with a knowledge of the template for vernacular annalistic writing laid down in King Alfred’s reign and developed over the succeeding 150 years. However, in their overt monastic chauvinism, length, use of first person pronouns and direct speech and disregard for chronological organisation, their additions, especially of documents, also anticipated developments in twelfth-century historiography. The Chronicle tradition in effect came to an end at Christ Church by the 1120s, elsewhere by the 1130s, a consequence of changes in the twelfth-century linguistic ecology, the success of Latin translations and, arguably, the innovations introduced by its early twelfth-century adapters.
The Introduction shows that English language writing from the long twelfth century (1050 - 1215) has been seriously neglected in existing literary and linguistic histories because it falls between the subperiods of ‘Old’ and ‘Middle’ English. It argues for a rapprochment between literary and linguistic approaches, finding this in philology and seeing the question of the continuity between the two subperiods as residing primarily in the extent to which texts composed after the Norman Conquest inherited the conventions developed for writing in different genres before 1066 during the process of textualisation (Verschriftlichung). In addition to this focus on genre, the new literary history offered in the book, the chapter explains, sees English texts as the product of a multilingual literary environment, integrates consideration of the revision, adaptation and remediation of older texts alongside the investigation of the composition of new texts, and explores regional modulations in the writing of English.
This chapter argues that sermons are the one genre where there is a more-or-less continuous tradition of using English through the long twelfth century, a consequence of the pragmatic necessity of communicating with a largely monoglot laity. It begins with an account of twelfth-century preaching and the role of written texts vernacular and Latin in its performance. It then considers the Vespasian Homilies, a booklet of four sermons produced in Kent around 1200, focusing on Vespasian 2, which it argues is a distinctively Middle English text, probably composed around 1150, but which shows substantive debts to Ælfric and pre-Conquest textual culture. The final section of the chapter considers, along with two other related manuscripts, the Lambeth Homilies, copied around 1200 in Worcestershire, showing that similar continuities and developments can be traced there. Sermons, in short, were the primary vehicle for the continuity of practices for writing English in the period.
This chapter offers an analysis of the shifting fortunes of Latin, English and French between the mid eleventh and early thirteenth centuries, through the lens of linguistic ecology, drawing evidence from metalinguistic commentary in narrative sources, surviving texts, prosopography and onomastics and the findings of the linguistic subdiscipline of language contact. It argues for distinguishing between the period between 1066 and 1140, when the relatively high status English had enjoyed before the Norman Conquest reduced primarily at the hands of Latin, from that between 1050 and 1215, when emergence of French as a literary language, coupled with other late-twelfth-century social changes, more significantly diminished English’s importance as a written language. The chapter closes with some reflections on the factors that condition language choice in multilingual societies, rejecting a simple equation of language and identity.
A New Literary History of the Long Twelfth Century offers a new narrative of what happened to English language writing in the long twelfth century, the period that saw the end of the Old English tradition and the beginning of Middle English writing. It discusses numerous neglected or unknown texts, focusing particularly on documents, chronicles and sermons. To tell the story of this pivotal period, it adopts approaches from both literary criticism and historical linguistics, finding a synthesis for them in a twenty-first century philology. It develops new methodologies for addressing major questions about twelfth-century texts, including when they were written, how they were read and their relationship to earlier works. Essential reading for anyone interested in what happened to English after the Norman Conquest, this study lays the groundwork for the coming decade's work on transitional English.