Tuesday, July 12, 2005

1066 and all that

So, news this week of my favourite subject in the study of our language: Old English. No, I don't mean laughing-yer-arse-off old-fashioned English as spoken by your parents and teachers; I mean the English spoken by the Anglo-Saxon peoples in a period usually defined as ending round about 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. If you browse through text books on the topic it's very easy to end up thinking that the minute the Normans pulled the arrow out of Harold's eye, that was it for the English language, pretty much game over for a couple of centuries - particularly where written English is concerned. The usual curmudgeonly idea is that although the peasants carried on speaking English in their everyday lives, literature in English ended.

But hey, think about it logically - why would that happen?!... Unless the Normans had killed all the writers and burned all the manuscripts, why would a well developed cultural practice just stop overnight? Well, one reason might be a writer's desire to access the power and prestige of published work, and Latin and French language and literary forms were very much the key to success. But as a new project at the University of Leeds has set out to explore, trilingualism was an option and there is in fact a rich and varied vein of written texts in Old English during the period from 1066-1200, the one generally regarded as a kind of literary dark age. These may not have the high prestige value of the ruling class's literary tastes, drawing instead on older Anglo-Saxon textual traditions, but they exist nonetheless.

Now come on, how much fun would it be to work on that project, rediscovering texts so long forgotten that we don't even know they exist?! Call me weird if you will, but it's like Time Team for the English Language and I want to know what's down there! Check it out.

Unchronicled Anglo Saxon


At 12:46 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across this post whilst looking for something entirely different, but it caught my eye,as I'd been having a conversation about this over the last couple of days on a forum I often visit.

**Call me weird if you will,**

Well, that makes at least txo of us, not to mention the others who were posting on the same forum.

I wish you luck!

Will you be posting your findings somewhere?


Post a Comment

<< Home