Main peculiarities of OE poetry.

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Main peculiarities of OE poetry.

OE poetry is mainly restricted to three subjects: heroic, religious and lyrical. It is believed that many OE poems, especially those dealing with heroic subjects, were composed a long time before they were written down; they were handed down from generation to generation in oral form.

Perhaps, they were first recorded in Northumbria some time in the 8th c., but have survived only in West Saxon copies made a long time afterwards—the 10th or llth c. The greatest poem of the time was BEOWULF, an epic of the 7th or 8th c. It was originally composed in the Mercian or Northumbrian dialect, but has come down to us in a 10th c. West Saxon copy. It is valued both as a source of linguistic material and as a work of art; it is the oldest poem in Germanic literature. BEOWULF is built up of several songs arranged in three chapters (over 3,000 lines in all). It is based on old legends about the tribal life of the ancient Teutons. The author (unknown) depicts vividly the adventures and fights of legendary heroes some of which can be traced to historical events.

OE poetry is characterized by a specific system of versification and some peculiar stylistic devices. Practically all of it is written in the OG alliterative verse: the lines are not rhymed and the number of the syllables in a line is free, only the number of stressed syllables is being fixed. The line is divided into two halves with two strongly stressed syllables in each half and is bound together by the use of the same sound at the beginning of at least two stressed syllables in the line.

The style of OE poetry is marked by the wide use of metaphorical phrases or compounds describing the qualities or functions of the thing, e.g. OE heapu-swdt— 'war-sweat* for blood, OE breost'hord— 'breast-hoard' for thought. This kind of metaphor naturally led to the composition of riddles, another peculiar production of OE poetry. (Some riddles contain descriptions of nature; many riddles describe all kinds of everyday objects in roundabout terms and make a sort of encyclopedia of contemporary life; for instance, the riddle of the shield which describes its sufferings on the battle-field; of an ox horn used as a trumpet and as a drinking cup: a swan, a cuckoo, a book worm).


1)alliteration (the repetition of the same consonants in one line)- every stressed syllable in each line begins with the consonant.

2)Every line contains equal amount of stressed syllables.

3)Synonym lines

4)Caesura (pause) – in the middle of the line

5)Kenings – name a thing using imagery ( sund wið sande- вода с песком – море)


Grimm’s Law.

The first consonant shift or Proto- Germanic consonant shift (1822)-Grimm’s law: 3 categories

-- IE voiceless plosives (p,t,k) corresponded to Germanic voiceless fricatives(f,θ,h) ex: пять-five, три-three, cardia-heart

-- IE voiced plosives (b,d,g ) changed into Germ voiceless plosives(p,t,k) ex: яблоко-apple, два- two ego- ic

--IE aspirated plosives (bh, dh, gh) corresponded to Germ voiced plosives without aspiration.(b,d,g) ex: bhratar- brother, manhu- medu, ghosti- gasts.

Later in West Germ lang-es there have appeared smaller subgroups: High and Low German distinguished by another changes in stop sounds- the second consonant shifts, which occur recently.

-(Proto Germanic)p →pf(High German)

-t → ts[z]

-d → t

Verner’s law.

Another important series of consonant changes in Proto-Germanic was discovered in the late 19th c. by a Danish scholar, Carl Verner. They are known as Verner‘s Law. Verner's Law explains some correspondences of consonants which seemed to contradict Grimm's Law and were for a long time regarded as exceptions. According to Verner's Law all the early PG voiceless fricatives [f, θ, x] which arose under Grimm's Law, and also [s] from Proto-IE, became voiced between vowels if the preceding vowel was unstressed; in the absence of these conditions they remained voiceless. The voicing occurred in early PG at the time when the stress was not yet fixed on the root-morpheme. The process of voicing can be shown as a step in a succession of consonant changes in prehistorical reconstructed forms; consider, e.g. the changes of the second consonant in the word ‘father’: pater-faθar

If the preceding vowel is unstressed, [s] in germ lang-es becomes voiced. So, it changed into [z]. The later history of devoiced fricatives is that this [z] becomes [r] in Western Germ and Northen Germ lang-es. This change is called rhotacism.

Verner's Law, accounts for the appearance of voiced fricative or its later modifications [d] in place of the voiceless [θ] which ought to he expected under Grimm's Law. In late PG, the phonetic conditions that caused the voicing had disappeared: the stress had shifted to the first syllable.

As a result of voicing by Verner's Law there arose an interchange of consonants in the grammatical forms of the word, termed grammatical interchange. Part of the forms retained a voiceless fricative, while other forms—with a different position of stress in Early PG—acquired a voiced fricative. Both consonants could undergo later changes in the OG languages, but the original difference between themgoes back to the time of movable word stress and PG voicing.

32. Chaucer and his “Canterbury Tales”

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) was by far the most outstanding figure of the time. A hundred years later William Caxton, the first English printer, called him "the worshipful father and first founder and embellisher of ornate eloquence in our language." In many books on the history of English literature and the history of English—Chaucer is described as the founder of the literary language.

Chaucer was born in London about the year 1340 and had the most varied experience as student, courtier, official, and member of Parliament.

His early works were more or less imitative of other authors — Latin, French or Italian—though they bear abundant evidence of his skill. He never wrote in any other language than English. The culmination of Chaucer's work as a poet is his great unfinished collection of stories THE CANTERBURY TALES.

The Prologue of this poem, the masterpiece of English poetry, describes how the poet found himself at the Tabard Inn, in Southwark, bound on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. There he met twenty-nine other pilgrims, who, at the suggestion of the host, agreed to liven up the journey by story-telling. Chaucer lived to write only twenty-four stories out of the intended sixty, but in the Prologue he managed to give a most vivid picture of contemporary England: he presented in the pilgrims a gallery of life-like portraits taken from all walks of life. In social position they range from knight and prioress to drunken cook and humble plowman — a doctor, a lawyer, a monk, a sailor, a carpenter, an Oxford scholar and many others. These people are shown as they appear on the road, with their distinctive dress and features, and with a bit of their personal history. Even in their choice of tales they unconsciously reveal themselves, the stories being in harmony with the character of the narrators (e. g. the knight relates a story of chivalry).

Chaucer wrote in a dialect which in the main coincided with that used in documents produced in London shortly before his time and for a long time after. Although he did not really create the literary language, as a poet of outstanding talent he made better use of it than his contemporaries and set up a pattern to be followed in the 15th c. His poems were copied so many times that over sixty manuscripts of THE CANTERBURY TALES have survived to this day. His books were among the first to be printed, a hundred years after their composition.

Chaucer's literary language, based on the mixed (largely East Midland) London dialect is known as classical ME; in the 15th and 16th c. it became the basis of the national literary English language. |

The rise of articles

In OE texts the pronouns “se,seo,pat”were frequently used as noun-determiners with a weakened meaning, approaching that of the modern definite article(D.A). In the course of ME there arose an important formal difference between the demonstrative pronoun&D.A.:as a demonst.pronoun “that”preserved №distinctions whereas as a D.A-usually in weakened form “the”-it was uninflected.In the 14c.the article had lost all traces of inflection&became a short unaccented form-word.The meaning&functions of the D.A.became more specific when it came to be opposed to the indef.artc,which had developed from the OE numeral&indefin.pronoun “an”.In OE there existed 2words:an(a numeral)&sum(indef.pronoun)which were oft used in functions approaching those of the modern indef.artc.”An”seems to have been a more colloquial word, while sum tended to assume a literary character. In early ME the indef.pronoun “an” which had 5-case declension in OE lost its inflection. Its believed that the growth of articles in early ME was caused by: the development of the D.A is connected with the changes in the declension of adject., namely with the loss of distinctions b/n strong&weak forms;&the changing function of the word order(now the parts of the sentence had their own fixed places.



The most conspicuous feature of Late ME texts in comparison with OE texts is the difference in spelling. The written forms of the words in Late ME texts resemble their modern forms, though the pronunciation of the words was different. Before considering the evolution of English sounds one must get acquainted with the system of ME spelling in order to distinguish between sound changes and graphical changes.

1) In ME the runic letters passed out of use. þ and ð were replaced by the digraph th, which retained the same sound value: [θ] and [ð]; the rune "wynn" was displaced by "double u" — w —; the ligatures æ and œ fell into disuse.

2) many innovations in ME spelling reveal an influence of the French scribal tradition. The digraphs ou, ie, and ch which occurred in many French borrowings and were regularly used in Anglo- Norman texts were adopted as new ways of indicating the sounds [u: ]. [e:], and [tч].

3) a wider use of digraphs. In addition to ch, ou, ie, and th mentioned above Late ME notaries introduced sh (also ssh and sch) to indicate the new sibilant [ш] e.g. ME ship (from OE scip),

the digraph wh replaced the OE sequence of letters hw as in OE hwset, ME what [hwat] (NE what).

The introduction of the digraph gh for [x] and [x'l helped to distinguish between the fricatives [x, x1], which were preserved in some positions, and the aspirate [h]

4)Long sounds were shown by double letters, for instance ME book [bo:k],

Some replacements were probably made to avoid confusion of resembling letters: thus o was employed not only for [o] but also to indicate short [u] alongside the letter u , it happened when u stood close to n, m, or v,

5)The letter y came to be used as an equivalent of i and was evidently preferred when i could be confused with the surrounding letters m, n and others. Sometimes, however, y, as well as w, were put at the end of a word for purely ornamental reasons, so as to finish the word with a curve; ME very I'veri], my [mi:] (NE nine, very, my), w was interchangeable with u in the digraphs ou, au, e.g. ME doun, down [du:n]

6) Long sounds in ME texts are often shown by double letters or digraphs. The length of the vowel can sometimes be inferred from the nature of the syllable; open syllables often contain long vowels, while closed syllables may contain both short and long vowels. The succeeding consonant groups can also serve as indicators: vowels are long before a sonorant plus a plosive consonant and short before other consonant sequences.

The dropping of deocreatic signs (“ - “ долгота)

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