ENG6361F: Middle English Vocabulary (20%)

Due:    1 December 2004, at 4:10 in class


Tell a plausible and engaging tale about semantic change between OE and ME within a specific/very limited semantic field. Then, briefly assess the usefulness for this assignment of such reference works as the Oxford English Dictionary, Clark-Hall’s OE dictionary, Bosworth-Toller’s OE dictionary, the Toronto Dictionary of Old English (if relevant), and the Middle English Dictionary.

This assignment is designed to introduce you to

1. Select one group of words from the list below. Some groups consist of OE words, others of OE word(s) and a ME loanword (fiend, foe, enemy), some consist of cognates loaned from different dialects of French (cattle, chatte l) during ME. Many of these topics have been concocted by me rather hastily and carelessly, so be attentive to other synonyms! If you have picked a pair of ME words, you must also find the equivalent OE word(s): use the Thesaurus of Old English (PE 279 R62 1995 STL) You’re most welcome to select your own semantic field, if you have a personal obsession ; you must get my written permission for a topic not on this list.

2. Find and analyze entries in relevant historical dictionaries: all of you will have to use the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition is online at http://www.oed.com; 2nd edition at PE 1625 M7 1989, out of sequence) and the Middle English Dictionary (PE 679 M54—we’re lobbying for an online subscription too!) and Bosworth-Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (PE 279 B55). The Toronto Dictionary of Old English A-F is supposedly linked to the U of T library catalogue (so far I can’t get it to work) but was once accessible in fiche form (PE 279 D53 1986 mfe). All of these can be found on the fourth floor of Robarts, the DOE in one of the fiche cabinets.

3. Do read the relevant chapter on semantic change in Lehmann (P121 L45 on 2-hour reserve at short-term loans). You can also find information on semantic change in other books with a similar call number (P120-140: other authors include Hock, McMahon, Schenl, Sihler)

4. In no more than 1000-1500 words, write a persuasive account of how and why semantic change might have occurred. You will have to focus this; how you focus it depends upon the words you’ve chosen. It is often helpful to make one word your focus—i.e. how and why has OE feond (the ancestor of PDE fiend) changed in meaning? Why do we eat pork but not pig (or do we ever eat pig?) This is a highly artificial exercise: if you wish, you may find and discuss other OE words from the same semantic field (the Thesaurus of Old English (PE 279 R62 1995 STL) might be useful here), but keep the assignment in perspective. Entire dissertations have been written on tale and story in Chaucer, for instance!

5. Briefly compare and contrast the dictionaries you’ve used: what are their strengths and weaknesses for doing this assignment?

Some words to start with

OE mid "with", with

yode (OE eode), went (pt. of go)

fowl, bird

warp, throw, cast

witie (OE witega), prophet

riche, rike (OE rice), kingdom, realm

sooth, true/truth

stow, place

yearn (adjective), eager

shirt, short, skirt

hue, shade, colour

tale, story, history

fiend, foe, enemy

deer, beast, animal

chapman, merchant

sheep, lamb, mutton

wood, forest

burgh, borough, town, city

OE cynelic, kingly, royal, regal

ghost, spirit

sweven, dream, joy

holy, saintly

maiden, virgin

deem, judge

moody, proud

nim, take

creep, crawl

heaven, lift, loft, sky

cattle, chattel

reward, regard

swine, pig, pork

knave, knight, boy