Sara Pons-Sanz, Louise Sylvester


Medieval English in a Multilingual Context

In spite of a late start, the study of the impact that medieval multilingualism had on the development of English is a very active field of research in historical linguistics. With this workshop we aim to reflect on recent developments in the field and thus continue the conversations that we fostered as part of an AHRC-funded network of the same title that run from 2018-20. We have already received interest from a number of scholars, whose papers will focus on a broad range of topics:


  • (1) Lexical items associated with North Germanic in pre-Viking Old English: the paper ‘The “Scandinavian” component of pre-Viking Old English’ will analyse the terms in the Epinal Glossary which have direct cognates only in the North Germanic languages, and thus represent a Scandinavian component in the Anglo-Saxon conquest of  Britain. Identifying this basic level of lexical similarities provides a baseline for the interpretations of Anglo-Scandinavian lexical parallels in later periods.
  • (2) The integration of the earliest French loans in English: the paper ‘Laȝamon’s Lexis and the First French Loans in Earliest Middle English’ will investigate the relatively scarce lexical inventory of French borrowings, mainly Anglo-Norman, recorded soon after the Norman Conquest by focusing on the two manuscripts of Laȝamon’s Brut.
  • (3) Possible parallels between the semantic developments of French and Latin terms and the sense developments in Middle English of these loanwords: the paper ‘The Semantic Development of Loanwords in Middle English: An Investigation of Polysemy Across Borrowing and Source Languages’ will report on results of a pilot study associated with the Leverhulme Trust-funded project ‘The Semantics of Word Borrowing in Late Medieval English’. The project addresses the question of whether apparent semantic shifts in loanwords into Middle English reflect polysemy in the source language(s).
  • (4) The interaction between native and borrowed terms in the make-up of specific semantic domains: the paper ‘Language Contact in the Medieval Countryside: A Diachronic Study of a Middle English Domain’ will focus on diachronic development of and the semantic relations amongst Middle English terms (native and borrowed) referring to manorial locations.


  • (5) Loss of the i-formative in weak class 2 verbs: the paper ‘Morphological Reduction in Language Contact Scenarios: Evidence from the Old Northumbrian Gospels’ will focus on the tenth-century Old Northumbrian glosses that Aldred, a member of St Cuthbert’s community at Chester-le-Street, added to the Lindisfarne Gospels, and will discuss the extent to which this process of morphological simplification can be attributed to Anglo-Scandinavian linguistic contact.

Sociolinguistics and pragmatics

  • (6) Communicative strategies in multilingual encounters: the paper ‘Cross-Language Communication Strategies in the Book of Margery Kempe’ will analyse the lexical, pragmatic and visual strategies that Margery, a self-identified monolingual English speaker who travelled all over the Christian world, reports employing in her encounters with speakers of other languages.

We also welcome proposals from other scholars whose work fits within the remit of the workshop.