A monumental dictionary of medieval British Latin has been completed after a century of research and drafting, in a project that spanned the careers of three editors and a small army of contributors.
The 17th, and final, part of The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources is published this week, drawing on more than 1,400 sources from the sixth to the 16th century, including the Domesday Book, the Magna Carta and the Bayeux tapestry.
Latin was used for writing and record-keeping across Europe by clergy, scientists, philosophers, and lawyers for more than a thousand years after the fall of the Roman empire. Medieval British Latin was particularly distinctive because it was affected by the diversity of native spoken languages, including English, French, Irish, Norse, and Welsh.
"If they didn't know the Latin word for something, it was very common to borrow it from the everyday language," said Richard Ashdowne, current editor of the dictionary, who took over in 2011 from David Howlett when he retired after 31 years on the project. "We came across lots of examples of where an Old English or Middle English word turns up in writing in Latin text, and only later in writing in English."Here is an article of how the Hundred Years War influenced the English language. To quote:
One such is the British medieval Latin word "huswiva", which was found in a survey of 12th-century Latin documents in the Diocese of Durham, referring to a lady of the house who was exempt from the obligation to reap the harvest. The word, which combines the Old English words for house, "hus", and woman/wife, "wif", first appears in written English 100 years later.
Another, "rennet", the animal extract used to curdle milk, appeared in 1276 and 1352 in British Latin, but not until 1450 in written English.
"This is the first ever comprehensive description of the vocabulary of the Latin language used in Britain and by Britons between AD 540 to 1600," Ashdowne said. "For the last 100 years, the project has been systematically scouring the surviving British medieval Latin texts to find evidence for every word and all its meanings and usage. Much of this fundamental work was done in the early years of the project by a small army of volunteers, including historians, clergymen, and even retired soldiers; they provided the project with illustrative example quotations copied out from the original texts onto paper slips – an early form of crowd-sourcing." (Read more.)
During the same time period that the battles of Crecy and Poitiers were fought, schools began to use English in the classroom as a medium with which to teach Latin. And in 1363, a couple years after the treaty of Bretigny, “parliament was opened by a declaration of the summons in the native tongue,” something that had previously always been done in French. According to the philologist Oliver Farrar Emerson, “Soon English petitions to parliament, English wills, letters, and gild statutes appear.”Share
Because of the war with France, the language of English began to be used by all levels of English society for all manner of purposes. Books were the last hold out. But by the last quarter of the century, Geoffrey Chaucer showed that the vernacular could be a fitting vehicle for great literature, and English began to be used in that arena as well.
The change in language effected by the Hundred Years' War was radical. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, French was the accepted language of all formal discourse in England. By the end of the fourteenth century, Oxford University was forced to urge the learning of French “lest the Gallic tongue be utterly forgotten.” (Read more.)