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Writings in Middle English

Writings in Middle English
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Writings in Middle English

During several centuries after the Norman conquest the business of writing was in the hands of French scribes. They introinto English some peculiarities of French graphic habits. Traces of French traditions in writing have stayed on in English to the present day.
First of all we must note some changes in the alphabet. Several letters typical of OE gradually came out of use, and some new ones were introduced: The alphabet of the 14th century is basically the same that is in use in our days.
The letter , which was used in OE to denote several distinct consonant phonemes is gradually replaced by the letters g and y. Thus, OE now appears as god, and the OE as .
The ligature also comes into disuse in ME. This change accomthe phonetic change of short into a , and that of long into e.
The new letters introduced during the ME period are all consoThe letter g (as hinted above) is introduced to denote the sound [ ] as in god and also, the sound [ ] as in singe
The sound [ ] is also denoted (in words of French origin) by the letter j, as in joy, judge, June.
The letter v is introduced to denote the consonant [v], which in ME became a separate phoneme. However, this letter soon came to be treated as an allograph of the letter 11, which had been in use since the earliest OE times. The allographs u and v became interchangeable. Thus, we can find the "following spellings in ME MSS: over, ouer; use, vse; love, loue, etc.
The letter q, always accompanied by, is introduced to denote either the consonant [k], as in quay, or the cluster [kw], as in quarter or queen. In the latter case it replaces OE cw.
The letter z is introduced to denote the consonant [z], which in ME became a separate phoneme. However, the letter z is not used systematically, it does appear m such words as zel 'zeal', Zephyrus, 'Zephir', but the sound [z] is still spelt s in chesen 'choose', losen 'lose' and in many others.
289. Next we come to changes in spelling habits. In the sphere of vowels French influence made itself felt in the following points:
1. The sound [u:], which was represented by the letter u in Old English, came to be spelt ou, the way it was spelt in French. This French spelling was due to the fact that in Old French the diphthong [ou] had changed into [u:] but the spelling had remained the same. From borrowed French words such as trouble, couch, this spelling was transferred to native English words: hous (OE has); out (OE ut); loud (OE hind), etc. In final position, and occasionally in me-dial position as well, instead of ou the spelling ow was introduced: cow (OE cu); how(OE hu); down (OE dun), etc.
2. The vowel [u] is often represented by the letter o. In many modern grammars this o is accompanied by a tack: o. This spelling is probably partly due to graphic considerations. The letter o denot-ing [u] is found mainly in the neighbourhood of such letters as u (v), n, in, that is, letters consisting of vertical strokes. A long series of vertical strokes might be confusing: thus, it might be hard to distinguish between cume, cmue, cimie, etc. Replacing u by o would avoid this difficulty.
Another factor favouring the introduction of the letter o to denote [u] might be the narrow quality of Anglo-Norman [o], which was close to [u]. Examples: come ['kuina] (OE cuman), som [sum] (OE sum), sone ['suna] (OE sunn), love ['luva] (OE luju), bigonne [bi'guna] (OE onjunnen — second participle of the verb ).
3. The vowel [e:] is sometimes denoted by the digraph ie. In Old French this digraph had originally denoted the diphthong [ie], which in Anglo-Norman changed into [e] in the 12th century, the spelling remaining the same.
From French loan words like chief [t e:f], relief [re'le:f] this spelling penetrated into native English words like field [fe:ld] (OE feld), thief [0e:f] (OE of), lief [le:f] (OE leof).
4. To denote the vowel [u] in the dialects where it was preserved the letter u was used, as in fur 'fire' (OE fyr).

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