In the 1300s, the scribes of England began a gradual shift from the use of animal hides like parchment to a new material made from plant fibers. That new writing material was paper. In this episode, we explore the history … Continue reading →. . .
In 1363, the king of England tried to ban all sports other than archery in order to ensure English supremacy with the longbow. The ban had little effect, however, as the people of England continued to play ball games and … Continue reading →. . .
In the years immediately following the Black Death, a labor shortage in the countryside led to the rise of yeomen and other rural laborers. The rise of these English-speaking classes led to corresponding rise in the prestige of English. The … Continue reading →. . .
In the mid-1300s, most of Europe was devastated by a massive plague known today as the Black Death. The disease killed about one-third of the population of England, and an even higher percentage of clerics and teachers who were trained … Continue reading →. . .
The Hundred Years War is one of the most well-known conflicts of the Middle Ages. The long, extended war introduced new weapons and new types of warfare, and it marked a transition from the traditional feudal state to the modern … Continue reading →. . .
In November of 2018, I gave a talk at the Harvard Divinity School as part of the Sound Education Conference. The talk was an overview of the history of English called “Regarding English.” The final version of the speech was … Continue reading →. . .
Like much of western Europe, England experienced a significant growth in population during the two centuries after the Norman Conquest. By the 1300s, the percentage of the English population who lived in urban areas had doubled. As towns and cities … Continue reading →. . .
This is a quick update about the next episode. A cold is preventing me from recording the episode, so I am recommending that everyone check out the most recent episode of the Lexitecture Podcast featuring yours truly. The link is … Continue reading →. . .
The origin of modern naming conventions can be traced to the period immediately following the Norman Conquest. Prior to the Conquest, almost all people in England had a single Anglo-Saxon name. After 1066, parents gave their children names borrowed from … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore the state of the English language outside of England in the early 1300s. This story takes us to the regions where Celtic languages were traditionally spoken. In some of those regions, English had little or … Continue reading →. . .
For much of human history, common measurements of length were based on body parts and were variable from region to region. Most other measurements were also inconsistent. During the 1300s, these measurements started to be fixed and standardized for the … Continue reading →. . .
The words for numbers are some of the oldest and most conservative words in most languages. The English words for numbers can be traced back to the original Indo-European language, but during the early Middle English period, English speakers began … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we turn our attention to the south of England and examine some of the unique features of the Middle English dialects spoken there after the Norman Conquest. We also take a look at a poem composed in … Continue reading →. . .
At the dawn of the 14th century, Edward I was forced to deal with a popular uprising in Scotland. At the same time, a poet in northern England composed the oldest surviving poem in the Northern dialect of Middle English … Continue reading →. . .
One of Edward I’s most notable accomplishments as King of England was the conquest of Wales, and his desire to extend that authority to the north of Britain led some to call him “The Hammer of the Scots.” But beyond … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore important role of the wool and cloth industries in Medieval England. Not only was England a major producer of sheep and wool, it also developed its own cloth industry in the 1300s. This was also … Continue reading →. . .
In the late 1200s, romantic literature started to be composed in English for the first time. The oldest surviving English romance is a poem called King Horn. In this episode, we explore the poem and examine the linguistic developments revealed … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we look at the movement of people and their money in the 13th century. This was a period when international trading networks carried goods and people to the far-flung corners of the known world. This was also … Continue reading →. . .
Even though English writing started to re-emerge in the early 1200s, government and legal documents remained the exclusive domain of Latin and French. English finally found a voice in the English government in the mid-1200s with a series of government … Continue reading →. . .
The 12th and 13th centuries saw the saw the transfer of book production from monasteries to professional bookmakers. In this episode, we look at the birth of the Medieval book trade. We also examine how early illuminators worked with color, … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore some of the suffixes that were in common use in the early 1200s at the time the Ancrene Wisse was composed. These include traditional Old English suffixes, as well as several new suffixes that were … Continue reading →. . .
During the early Middle English period, many loanwords from Latin and French were borrowed into English. Very often, those loanwords came in with prefixes and suffixes that were new to the English language. Many of those new affixes appear for … Continue reading →. . .
The early 13th century saw the rise of a monastic movement in which men and women locked themselves away in secluded cells to practice their religion. These monks were known as anchorites, and an early Middle English text called the … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore the notes and translations left behind by scribes in the margins of Medieval manuscripts. Those marginal notes reveal numerous insights about the state of English in the early 1200s. Those early glosses and translations also … Continue reading →. . .
Advances in musical notation allowed the first English folk songs to be preserved in writing in the early 1200s. These songs include “Mirie It Is While Sumer Ilast” and “Sumer Is Icumen In.” In this episode, we explore the Greek … Continue reading →. . .
In this special 100th episode, we review the major consonant sound changes that have impacted English since the Proto-Indo-European language. These sound changes provide us with a set of general rules that we can use to distinguish loanwords from native … Continue reading →. . .
The early 13th century saw the arrival of a new wave of Frenchmen on the English shores. Some came as conquerors, and some came as nobles and courtiers looking for land and titles. During this period, Norman French started to … Continue reading →. . .
Magna Carta is often presented as the culmination of a dispute between King John and his barons, but it didn’t settle the debate. In fact, the charter actually sparked a new debate over the power of the king. That debate … Continue reading →. . .
The early 13th Century saw a massive increase in the production of government documents, including charters and official letters. In this episode, we explore the changing role of the written word in the Middle Ages. We also examine how King … Continue reading →. . .
During the early Middle English period, the long vowel sound represented by letter A started to shift to a new sound represented by letter O. In this episode, we explore this early vowel shift, and we also explore the dispute … Continue reading →. . .
The 12th and 13th Centuries saw the rise of new institutions of higher learning called “universities.” In this episode, we look at the changing educational system in Western Europe and the rise of Oxford and Cambridge. We also explore the … Continue reading →. . .
The first version of the King Arthur legend to be composed in English is found in Layamon’s 13th century poem called Brut. In this episode, we explore Layamon’s version of the story, and we examine how the text reveals certain … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we look at the rivalry between John “Lackland” and Arthur of Brittany for control of the Angevin Empire. John eventually emerged victorious, but in the process, he set in motion the events that led to the loss of Normandy and most … Continue reading →. . .
During the Middle Ages, lions were adopted as symbols of European royalty. Many monarchs also acquired nicknames related to lions. That included Richard the Lionheart. In this episode, we explore the origin of that nickname, and we examine the popular … Continue reading →. . .
During the Crusades, Christian forces and Muslim forces traded blows in the Holy Land. At the same time, Europeans and Arabs traded goods through an extensive trading network that passed through the Near East and the Mediterranean. In this episode, … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we turn our attention to the Near East to explore the spread of the Islam and rise of Muslim science in the Middle Ages. This scientific and literary revolution in the Near East contributed to the English language in some … Continue reading →. . .
During the Middle English period, scribes developed a variety of spelling innovations to distinguish the sound of the various vowels. Some of those innovations were borrowed from French, and some were native to English. In this episode, we explore those spelling … Continue reading →. . .
The Middle English document called the Ormulum is a goldmine for historical linguists because the text explicitly indicated how the vowel sounds in the text were to be pronounced. The text was written at a time when the vowels in many words were changing. … Continue reading →. . .
Following the Norman Conquest of England, the French-educated scribes encountered the English language used by the Anglo-Saxons. The new scribes discovered unfamiliar letters and strange spellings. Early Middle English documents like the Ormulum show several spelling innovations introduced during this … Continue reading →. . .
The final years of Henry II’s reign were consumed with putting down rebellions. Those rebels included Henry’s sons and wife. In this episode, we explore Henry’s family of rebels. We also examine the book of homilies known as the Ormulum. … Continue reading →. . .
The massive realm of Henry II extended from southern France through the British Isles. The administration of the so-called “Angevin Empire” required an extensive bureaucracy. In this episode, we examine some of the key government officials who administered the government … Continue reading →. . .
In the wake of civil war and anarchy in England, a crime wave gripped the nation. Murders and other violent crimes were rampant. Henry II sought to reimpose law and order throughout the country by reforming the English legal system. … Continue reading →. . .
During the reign of Henry II, the speech of England was dominated by three languages – English, French and Latin. In this episode, we examine the relative roles of those three languages, and we also explore how the social barriers … Continue reading →. . .
The marriage of Matilda’s son, Henry, to Eleanor of Aquitaine was a crucial event in the history of England and France. It produced a powerful realm which contributed to the return of peace and the end of Anarchy. In this … Continue reading →. . .
While civil war raged in England, a completely different culture was flourishing in southern France. In this episode, we explore the opulent court of Aquitaine and the rise of the troubadours. Love was in the air as a new type of poetry … Continue reading →. . .
Much of the devastation of the Anarchy was carried out by knights who acted as thugs and bullies. For several generations, knights had served as the strongmen of western Europe. By the 12th century, the nature of knighthood was starting to change. … Continue reading →. . .
In the years after Matilda’s return to England, the country descended into chaos and civil war. This period is known by modern historians as the Anarchy. The events were recorded by a scribe in Peterborough who wrote in an early … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore the outbreak of civil war in England as forces loyal to Matilda took up arms against King Stephen. The civil war led to a breakdown of central authority. The power vacuum was filled by local … Continue reading →. . .
Following the death of Henry I, the king’s nephew Stephen seized the throne and claimed the English throne before Matilda could get to England. We examine the reasons why Stephen was considered an acceptable alternative to Matilda. As soon as … Continue reading →. . .
The final continuation of the Peterborough Chronicle captured a major change in the history of the English language. That change was the loss of grammatical gender. The traditional distinctions between masculine and feminine nouns disappeared in the final few entries … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we continue our look at the gradual emergence of Middle English from the linguistic rubble left in the wake of the Norman Conquest. English remained fractured and broken, and foreign influences continued to come in. We explore … Continue reading →. . .
The population of England grew significantly in the centuries following the Norman Conquest of England. That development led to the growth of villages, towns and cities. During that period, London also emerged as the capital of England. In this episode, we … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore the connections between possessions and power – especially political power. No Medieval king exemplified that connection better than Henry I of England. Henry valued his possessions, and he made sure to collect every penny that was … Continue reading →. . .
The early part of the 12th century represented the darkest days of the English language. English writing had almost disappeared, and spoken English was divided among a variety of regional dialects that were often incomprehensible to speakers in other parts … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore the events leading to the death of William the Conqueror. And we’ll look at the reign of his son and namesake, William Rufus. The story of William’s succession is also the story of a sibling … Continue reading →. . .
For more than a century following the Norman Conquest, English writing fell out of favor. During that hiatus, French words continued to flow into English. A lot of those words were associated with the manors that dotted the English countryside … Continue reading →. . .
In the two decades that followed the Norman Conquest, most of the land in England passed into the hands of French-speaking nobles. This process not only brought the feudal system to England, it also brought the French language to the … Continue reading →. . .
It may come as a surprise that William the Conqueror embraced English after the Norman Conquest. He also maintained much of the existing Anglo-Saxon bureaucracy. Had William continued those policies, the English language would be very different today. Despite William’s attempt … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we look at the events of 1066 – one of the most important dates in the history of English. Of course, this was the year of the Norman Conquest and the beginning of the end of Old … Continue reading →. . .
Many scholars consider the Norman Conquest of England to be the most important event in the history of the English language. The man who directed that conquest was William of Normandy. In this episode, we examine William’s rise from a … Continue reading →. . .
In the century before the Norman Conquest of England, Normandy gradually emerged as a powerful player in the politics of northern Europe. Meanwhile, the language of the Normans underwent a major transition. The original Scandinavian language of the Normans gave … Continue reading →. . .
The Normandy of William the Conqueror was a product of the feudal age of Western Europe. In this episode, we explore the history of feudalism, and we examine words associated with feudalism which entered the English language. We also look … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore two different types of restorations. We begin with the restoration of the traditional West Saxon monarchy under Edward the Confessor. Edward’s nickname reflects his piety and his purported ability to cure sick people with his … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode we explore two aspects of the term ‘flesh and blood.’ We examine the human body from the perspective of the Anglo-Saxons by looking at their words for parts of the body. We also explore Old English words associated … Continue reading →. . .
During his reign as King of England, Canute established a new class of nobles who became known as earls. The authority of the earls was second only to the king himself. The king and the nobles ruled over the common … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we explore the Danish Conquest of England in the 11th century. The Danish victory brought a temporary end to Anglo-Saxon rule, but it didn’t bring an end to death and taxes. We examine the etymology of words … Continue reading →. . .
The decline of the Anglo-Saxon Golden Age occurred in the late 900s as the English kingdom passed from King Edgar to his son, Aethelred the Unready. it was a period surrounded by many deals, contracts, bargains and treaties. We examine … Continue reading →. . .
The late 10th century and early 11th century was the Golden Age of Old English literature. But much of the literature produced during that period was lost to history. Thankfully, a handful of book collectors realized the value of those … Continue reading →. . .
After the defeat of the Vikings in York, England was permanently unified under Wessex leadership. A period of peace and prosperity followed. Under the supervision of a cleric named Dunstan, the churches and monasteries were re-built and a great literary … Continue reading →. . .
Do you say ‘dived’ or ‘dove’? How about ‘shrank’ or ‘shrunk’? And when do you say ‘hanged’ instead of ‘hung’? We’ll explore the answers to these questions in this episode. The answers lie in the history of the English language … Continue reading →. . .
‘To be or not to be?’ That may be the question. But where did the various forms of our modern verb ‘to be’ come from? And what about other Shakespearean phrases like ‘he hath,’ and ‘thou shalt,’ and ‘fear not?’ … Continue reading →. . .
The Modern English pronouns were largely inherited from the Anglo-Saxons. While many of them have survived intact, others have changed quite a bit over the centuries. Some disappeared, some new ones were created, and some were even borrowed from the … Continue reading →. . .
In the 10th century, several factors came together in northern England which resulted in the loss of Old English inflectional endings. This was a fundamental change to English grammar which simplified word forms and led to a fixed a word … Continue reading →. . .
In the mid-900s, the English king battled a grand alliance of Celtic and Viking leaders at a place called Brunanburh. The result was an Anglo-Saxon victory, and one of the more important poems composed during the Old English period. But … Continue reading →. . .
During the 10th century, the English language spoken in northern and eastern England began to change under the influence of Old Norse. These changes resulted in a north-south linguistic divide which still exists today. In this episode we examine how … Continue reading →. . .
In the early 10th century, King Alfred’s children and grandchildren conquered the Viking region known as the Danelaw. This brought all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms under the rule of a single monarch. That monarch was Aethelstan who became the first … Continue reading →. . .
Following the death of Alfred, there was a decade of relative peace between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes. During this period, Scandinavian settlers continued to migrate to the Danelaw. In this episode, we explore the early Scandinavian influence on English … Continue reading →. . .
After defeating the Danes, King Alfred set about reforming the educational system of Wessex. His reforms promoted English to an unprecedented level. His reforms required the translation of many texts from Latin to English, and Alfred himself assisted with those … Continue reading →. . .
King Alfred is the only English monarch to be known as “the Great.” His struggles and ultimate victory over the Danes ensured the survival of the Anglo-Saxon culture and the English language. In this episode, we explore the life of … Continue reading →. . .
In this episode, we look at the English terms associated with kings and nobility and explore the concept of Anglo-Saxon kingship. We also look at the poetry of the 9th century poet Cynewulf. The link between kings and Cynewulf is … Continue reading →. . .
At the end of the 8th century, Western Europe saw its most powerful kings to date. That included Charlemagne in Francia and Offa in Britain. Those kings shared a close relationship which extended to their currency. The establishment of an … Continue reading →. . .
The modern French language evolved from a Latin dialect spoken in Gaul during the period of the late Roman Empire. That language ultimately became mixed with Old English after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Approximately half of the words in … Continue reading →. . .
Many Anglo-Saxons believed in a world inhabited by monsters and mythological creatures. They also believed in the power of sorcery and witchcraft. These ideas are reflected in the literature of the Anglo-Saxons, most notably the epic poem Beowulf. In this … Continue reading →. . .
The Viking-era states of Denmark, Sweden and Norway emerged from several North Germanic tribes in Scandinavia. These tribes also included the Geats who were prominently featured in Beowulf. In this episode, we explore the early history of these tribes and … Continue reading →. . .
In this bonus episode we explore a few odds and ends which didn’t make into the earlier episodes. We examine the Old English words related to knowledge and wisdom. And we also look at the original terms for the … Continue reading →. . .
The Anglo-Saxons created new words within Old English through the use of compound words, as well as standard prefixes and suffixes. This process expanded the vocabulary of Old English and enabled the language to emerge as an important literary … Continue reading →. . .
Long before the Normans arrived in England, the Anglo-Saxons were borrowing Latin words from the monastic culture which was emerging in the 7th and 8th centuries. In this episode, we explore the spread of monastic schools and scholarship in Anglo-Saxon … Continue reading →. . .
The early Christian Church in Britain gradually embraced English as a way to spread to the message of the Church to the masses. This required the translation of Christian words and concepts from Latin into English. In this episode, … Continue reading →. . .
The kingdom of Northumbria emerged as a center of scholarship and learning during the 7th century. We explore the political and religious events which led to the Northumbrian Renaissance. We also explore the importance of strategic marriages and marital terms … Continue reading →. . .
Old English poets were ‘word weavers’ who often created new words to comply with the strict requirements of Germanic poetry. In this episode, we explore the role of the traveling minstrel in Anglo-Saxon culture. We also explore the etymology of … Continue reading →. . .
We complete our look at the first Old English alphabet by exploring the remaining letters of the original alphabet. The north-south divide resulted in distinct letters and different spelling conventions. But over time, these differences blended together. Once again, we … Continue reading →. . .
As the sounds of English evolved in the 7th century, the first English scribes began to write the language with the Roman alphabet. But the English scribes had to invent ways to represent the unique sounds of Old English. In … Continue reading →. . .
The sound of English began to change as soon as the first Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain. We explore the specific sound changes which occurred and the impact which those changes had on modern English.. . .
In this episode, we explore the events which led to the first document written in the English language – the laws of Aethelbert of Kent. We look at the rise of monasteries, the role of St. Patrick in the conversion … Continue reading →. . .
During the period of the Anglo-Saxon migrations, the West Germanic tribes of northern Europe continued to fight for power against the Romans and against each other. This period saw the emergence of the High German dialects, the creation of the … Continue reading →. . .
The Anglo-Saxons arrived in the British shores as permanent settlers in the 5th century. They encountered native Britons who spoke Latin and Celtic languages. The two groups soon fought for control of the region we know today as England. We … Continue reading →. . .
We explore the origins of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians in the North Sea region of northern Europe. The early raids on the coasts of Britain and Gaul set the stage for the later mass migrations. The similarities between … Continue reading →. . .
Parchment books begin to replace papyrus scrolls as the Western Roman Empire crumbles. New Germanic Kingdoms emerge in the west, but Latin remains the dominant language in Western Europe. Latin itself begins to fracture without the Roman educational system to … Continue reading →. . .
Rome is racked by ‘Imperial Crisis’ while strong Germanic tribes gather along the Rhine and Danube. The Alamanni, Franks, Vandals and Goths rise to power and provide us with many words in modern English. The Goths translate the Bible into … Continue reading →. . .
We explore the expansion of Germanic tribes into the Danube region where the Germans encounter the Etruscan alphabet. The Germanic runes develop and provide the first opportunity for the Germanic tribes to write their own language.. . .
We explore the Germanic languages during the 1st century AD. The society of the early Germans is examined in the context of ‘Germania’ by the Roman historian Tacitus. Modern English words originating during this period are also discussed.. . .
The first Germanic-speaking tribes emerge in northern Europe. We explore the connection between these tribes and the original Indo-Europeans. We then look at the expansion of the Germanic tribes into the Celtic region of central Europe and their early conflicts … Continue reading →. . .
The Roman Empire emerges following the death of Julius Caesar. Emperor Claudius sets his sights on Britain, and the native Celtic culture becomes Romanized. We look at the evolution of Latin words related to law, money and social classes.. . .
We explore the origin of modern English words related to time. A direct connection is made to the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar. The etymology of English words related to time illustrate the combined influences of the Germanic languages and … Continue reading →. . .
We look at the arrival of Celtic speaking people in Europe, and the invasion of Celtic Gaul by the Romans. Celtic is replaced by Latin in Western Europe, leading to the modern Romance languages. Celtic words in modern English are … Continue reading →. . .
We look at the rise of the Roman Republic from a small Italian city-state to the dominant political and military power of the Mediterranean. The expansion of Rome also led to the expansion of Latin which emerged as a common … Continue reading →. . .
The first Indo-Europeans settle into Italy, but they encounter an existing civilization known as the Etruscans. The Etruscans borrow the alphabet from the Greeks, and soon pass it on to the Romans. Our modern alphabet finally begins to emerge.. . .
Mycenaean Greek writing disappears during the Greek Dark Age, but the Greeks encounter the Phoenicians and adopt their alphabet. The Greek alphabet results in the spread of literacy. Modern English words from this period of Greek history are examined.. . .
The first Greek and Hittite civilizations emerge from Indo-European tribes in the eastern Mediterranean. The Greeks adopt an early form of writing and fight the Trojans. An alphabet allows the ancient history of the Greeks to be recorded in the … Continue reading →. . .
We look at the emergence of the Usatovo culture which spoke an Indo-European dialect believed to be the ancient ancestor of the Germanic languages – including English. We also look at the later migrations of the Indo-European tribes throughout Europe … Continue reading →. . .
The grammar of the original Indo-European language is compared to Modern English. We explore the word endings called ‘inflexions’ which were a prominent feature of the original Indo-European language.. . .
A look at words used by the original Indo-Europeans and the clues such words provide to the identity of the first Indo-Europeans. The etymology of modern English words is explored in relation to the original Indo-European words.. . .
A look at the early division of the Indo-European languages into the Centum and Satem languages. The sound shift which marks the division of the Centum and Satem languages is then explored in the context of the modern English letter … Continue reading →. . .
The famous fairy-tale collector Jacob Grimm formulated the rules which help modern linguists reconstruct the ancient Indo-European language. In this episode, we look at Grimm’s Law and how the Germanic languages evolved from the original ancestral language.. . .
A look at the family tree of Indo-European languages and the relationship of English to those related languages. The closest relatives of English are highlighted, including the Germanic languages, Latin and Greek. We explore the background of English from the … Continue reading →. . .