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cipal grammatical forms which chiefly discriminate the Anglo-Saxon and English, as well as those which severally mark what may be called the old English (Henry III. to Edward III.), and middie English (Edward III. to Elizabeth), we must content ourselves with referring the curious to the excellent chapters of Dr. Latham's work which treat of these
There was undoubtedly a certain infusion of French derivatives; but these were far too few sensibly to colour the stream of diction, as may be easily seen if any one will be at the pains to inspect the earliest specimens. Perhaps it would have been well had we avoided the term Anglo-Norman in tracing the pedigree of our speech; it is certainly apt to suggest an idea, never realised in the history of our language,— probably in the history of no language under heaven, -the deliberate blending together of two totally different tongues, in equal proportions and as co-ordinate elements. This idea is apt, we say, to be suggested to the reader who is not acquainted with the documents which disclose to us the history of the language; and, in some cases, the term has certainly been employed to express some such idea. Thus, Ellis, in his 'Specimens of the Early English Poets,' has used the term to designate the 'jargon,' as he calls it, employed in the commercial intercourse between the conquerors and the conquered.' Hallam justly remarks that Ellis has drawn upon his imagination in this account. Ellis more correctly describes the
grown out of use, and that other so generally prevailed, that I dare not presume to set this afoot again. Albeit (to tell you my opinion), I am persuaded that the lack hereof, well considered, will be found a great blemish to our tongue. For, seeing Time and Person be, as it were, the Right and Left hand of a Verb, what can the maiming bring else, but a Lameness to the whole Body?' *Part II. ch. ii. sections 48-54.
matter, when he says, 'that the language of the Church was Latin,—that of the king and nobles, Norman, that of the people, Anglo-Saxon.' There he should have stopped. When applied to any remains, not imaginary, Anglo-Norman means, as already said, compositions essentially French, in which the original language-like the Anglo-Saxon -may have suffered grammatical degradation, but exhibits comparatively little foreign tincture.
On inspecting the remains of early English and Anglo-Norman (as for example in the Political Songs' published by the Camden Society, where the specimens of either language lie in convenient proximity), we see these statements as to the nature of the change illustrated. Each language, indeed, exhibits some deflection from the grammatical structure of the language from which it is derived, but each retains its vocabulary nearly incorrupt; the interchange of words is comparatively very slight. The so-called Anglo-Norman is in diction French, -the so-called English, Anglo-Saxon.*
It would be easy to show that much later, even when that powerful agent, extensive translation from French by Chaucer and others, had led to a much more extensive adoption of French terms, -the coinage or importation of new words was not so large as seriously to alter the ratio of the elements of the language. That the infusion of such foreign terms, during the important period in which the change was principally effected,—that is, from 1150 to 1250,— was almost a vanishing quantity, is proved by all the literary remains which have come down to us. For
The Anglo-Norman language is a phrase not quite so unobjectionable as the Anglo-Norman constitution; and as it is sure to deceive, we might better lay it aside altogether.'-Literature of Europe, vol. i. p. 58.
example, the Saxon Chronicle, which was continued by different compilers till the death of Stephen (1154) just within the critical century, is all written in AngloSaxon. There are, indeed, some French words in the latter parts; but they are very few. Several of the grammatical rules, however, are neglected, which shows that great changes in the grammatical structure of the language had already taken place. * Another proof that the infusion of French words was small, is afforded by Layamon's translation of Wace's 'Romance of Brut.' The best authorities do not fix this translation by our 'English Ennius' earlier than 1200. A long extract may be seen in Ellis's Specimens; who admits that it contains no word which we are under the necessity of referring to a French root. But the entire translation has since been published by the Society of Antiquaries. They describe it on the title-page as a semi-Saxon poetical paraphrase; and on a stricter comparison of the two versions of Layamon (for there are two, the second being some years later than the first), Sir Frederick Madden observes, that if we reckon ninety words of French origin in both texts, containing together more than 56,000 lines, we shall be able to form a tolerably correct estimate, how little the English language was really affected by foreign converse even as late as the middle of the thirteenth century.' For details of the extent to which the Anglo-Saxon predominates over every other element of our language, we must refer the reader to our previous article; contenting our
* This was compiled at Peterborough, a purely English monastery; its abbots were Saxon; consequently a greater change may be supposed to have taken place in the vicinity of London and the court. The political spirit the chronicle breathes in some passages is that of the indignant subjects, servi ancor frementi, of the Norman usurpers.'-Literature of Europe, vol. i. p. 59.
selves with remarking, that few but those who will take the pains to inspect the Anglo-Saxon, have any adequate idea how large a bulk of Anglo-Saxon words, with various alterations, indeed, of form, have been transferred to modern English. Even of those which are no longer used, very many are still preserved in derivatives from them; while many others which have lost their original meaning are still retained in a secondary one.
Of the language in its transition state, it is not our purpose to give any specimens; which, to confess the truth, are not very seducing compositions even to the antiquary. A more harsh and rugged vehicle of thought it is hardly possible to conceive; nor can there well be anything more inharmonious than those first preludial strains in which the English Muse indulged herself before Chaucer strung her lyre. As to the prose, the little that we have is still harsher. Suffice it here to say, that the resemblance between the words and those of our own day is, to the young student of our elder language, greatly disguised by the differences of form; not merely by those which are the consequence of the natural development and progress of the language, the abbreviations and elisions which have taken place; nor, again, by those interchanges of letters of the same organ, to which all languages are liable, and which being comparatively few, and complying with certain laws, are soon learnt and remembered; but by those enormously capricious varieties of spelling, which a language little written necessarily displays. Each man, to a great extent, forms his own system of orthography; and so it must be, till a tolerably general habit of writing prevails, and grammar and criticism are, to some extent, cultivated. Even the interchanges of the most similar letters,— similar we mean in power to the ear, though totally
unlike to the eye,- few as they are, make a great show on paper, and often strangely disguise, in appearance, the most familiar words; and when to this are added the influences of caprice or ignorance in orthography, we must, of course, expect those infinite variations which Ritson so sacredly preserved with all the zeal of a 'purist in barbarisms. His scrupulosity was not absolutely useless, however, though his estimate of the importance and sacredness of his duty was ludicrously extravagant. From the very variations of faithfully edited MSS. the philosophical philologist will always deduce many facts worth knowing.*
We may imagine what would be the consequence if, by some strange hallucination, men all at once forgot the actual modes of spelling, while they remembered pretty well the powers of the letters, and proceeded to give, by ear alone, the notation which, in their extemporaneous orthography, seemed to convey the sounds. We should have, doubtless, many examples of the ingenuity of the man who managed to spell his name (Jacob) without a single letter which there ought to
* The same thing of course affected the Anglo-Saxon, and every language which is rarely written; or when written, written only by the imperfectly educated. The Anglo-Saxon orthography,' says Rask, 'is extremely confused; yet, to judge of it from Hickes and Lye, it appears to be much more so than it is in reality; for those scholars were quite ignorant how to extract rules for it, and to separate that which is of rare occurrence, or the result of carelessness, from that which is essential and correct.' The imperfect achievement of such a perplexing task may well be pardoned even to a Rask. Perhaps the lexicographer in such a case has no other choice than that of presenting the varieties of orthography, however anxiously he may endeavour to establish some general rules. This is the course taken by Bosworth in his lexicon. Specimens of varieties may be taken in the word 'heaven;' spelt heofon, heofen, heofun, hiofon; and in the word 'hinge;' spelt heor, hior, horr, hearre, heorra.