Some Characteristics of
The Principal Middle English Dialects.


  The main dialects of Middle English are:

Northern (Middle Scots is a distinct dialect, not considered here)
Midlands (with a distinction between East and West)
Southern (with a distiction between Kent and the rest of the South)
Some of the main characteristics of these dialects are:

Plural pronouns

verb 3 pers. sing.

verb pl.

Old Enlish long o

Old English c

Old English f







Northern they, their, them
Midlands they, hir, hem
Southern hi, hir, hem

Northern -s (e.g. hits)
Midlands -th (i.e, hitteth)
Southern -th (i.e. hitteth)

Northern -s (i.e. hits)
Midlands -en (i.e., hitten)
Southern -eth (i.e., hitteth)

Northern a (e.g., stan)
Midlands o (stone)
Southern o (stone)

Northern k (ik, kirk)
Midlands ch (ich, chirch)
Southern ch (church)

Northern f (fox)
Midlands f (fox)
Southern v (vox)

Some examples:
The Northern Dialect:
The Bee has three kindis, Ane is, that scho is never ydill and scho is nought with thaim that will not wrok, but castis thaim out and puttes them away. Amothire is that, when scho flies, scho takes erthe in her fette, that scho be not ligntly overheghed [carried too high] in the air of wind.
. . .
The fyrste comandement es, "Thy Lorde God thou sall loute and til him anely thou sall serve."
[From Richard Rolle of Hampole (d. 1349); in addition to the features listed above, note the "es" (Chaucer "beth)," "sall" (Chaucer "shal"), scho (Chaucer "she"), and "til" (Chaucer "to"). all characteristic of the Northern dialect.]
The Southern Dialect
Tho heo was fiftene yer old, the biscop of the lawe
Het uche maide of thulke elde to hire contreie drawe
To take husbonde, as lawe was; the maidnes weren alle vawe
Of thulke heste, bote Marie ne likede noght the sawe;
Tho heo with other was i-hote go hosbonde to take,
"Sire," heo seide, "That the lawe wole, I nul noght vorsake."
[South English legendary, c. 1300; in addition to the features listed above, note "heo" (Chaucer "she") and "uche," "thulke" (Chaucer "ech," "thilke").]
The Kentish Dialect (given here, since Chaucer lived for a while in Kent):
"Oure blisse is ywent into wop, oure karoles inro zorge; gerlondes, robes, playinges, messinges, and alle guodes byeth ous yfayled." Zuyche byeth tho zonges of helle as the writing ous telth, ous vor to ssewy that this world is but a wendynge wel ssort.
[Dan Michel of Northgate, The Ayenbite of Inwit (1340); the most notable characteristic of Kentish is the initial "z" in "Zonges" (Chaucer "songes") and "zuyche" (Chaucer "swiche").]

For advanced treatments of this complex subject see:

Mossé, Fernand. A handbook of Middle English; tr. James A. Walker, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1952. [Widener: 9287.120]

Hans Kurath, ed., Sherman M. Kuhn, assoc. ed., Middle English dictionary, Plan and bibliography, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1954 [Widener Reading Room].

McIntosh, Angus, M.L. Samuels, Michael Benskin ; with the assistance of Margaret Laing and Keith Williamson, A linguistic atlas of late mediaeval English, Aberdeen : Aberdeen University Press, 1986-1987 [PE1705.M45x 1986].
For discussion and bibliography on Chaucer's use of the Northern dialect in the Reeve's tale, see the notes in The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 850 ff. (beginning with note 4022).

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